Establishing a life post-Katrina

Marketplace Contributor Aug 17, 2012

Establishing a life post-Katrina

Marketplace Contributor Aug 17, 2012

Tess Vigeland: It is hard to believe it’s been seven years since Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast. The anniversary of that horrific event comes in a couple of weeks. Today we have several stories about the recovery effort that is still underway.
One of the more remarkable features of Katrina was the diaspora created by hundreds of thousands of people leaving the area and never coming back. Many New Orleaneans ended up going north to Shreveport and never coming back.

Kate Archer Kent of Red River Radio reports on the storm’s entrepreneurial awakening and a two-time refugee determined to restore his American dream.

Kate Archer Kent: From his second-story apartment overlooking the 17th Street Canal, Duc Duong had a front-row view of water gushing into New Orleans. That image is the centerpiece of a photo collage on the wall of his restaurant in Bossier City near Shreveport, almost 350 miles from his former home. It’s a mini Katrina memorial — right next to the cash register — for every customer to see.

Duc Duong: I look at it every day, and it reminds me of what devastation that Katrina has done, and the reason why I’m up here. And it’s to remind people, to let people see how bad it is.

Duong was born in Vietnam. His refugee family came to New Orleans when he was nine. He says the U.S. government placed them there because his father, a fisherman, could land work right away. Duong is a middle school dropout. At age 14, he went to work as a dishwasher and part-time shrimper. Over the years, he learned how to run the family restaurant in New Orleans.

After the storm, Duong’s family scattered. His five siblings to cities in Louisiana and Texas; only one moved back to New Orleans. His father made the most drastic change.

Duong: After the hurricane, my dad decided to just move back to Vietnam, never to come back here. He retired over there.

Duong used his $3,000 FEMA stipend to open a kiosk in the Bossier City Mall selling trinkets. As he got his bearings in his new city, he realized it lacked an authentic New Orleans po’ boy shop. He sensed opportunity. But the banks wouldn’t loan him the money. So he borrowed $100,000 — not from a bank — but from family and friends to open Kim’s Seafood Restaurant. All he says about that is that they believed in him. And a bank eventually came around.

Duong: Eight months after I opened, Chase came and gave me a line of credit. When I first established, for the first three years, me and my wife never did take a day off.

Duong has since paid off his family with the help of a credit line, and Kim’s Seafood is profitable. Business owner Carl Roussel frequents the restaurant at least once a week. A regular from day one, Roussel is a fan of the crawfish po’ boy. But it’s Duong’s sheer will that’s made the biggest impression.

Carl Roussel: Foreign people, so to speak, come and they work. They just put their mind in whatever it takes, seven days a week, until they figure out a way to be successful. And he’s put out a good product. And so he’s been very successful at it.

On this Katrina anniversary, for the first time, Duong plans to take a few days off to return to the Crescent City. He’ll catch up with extended family, but he doesn’t know how many of his siblings will make it back. And, he says, it’s just a visit — nothing more.

Duong: I wouldn’t move back, no. I love it here.

Kent: And it’s an important business decision to be here.

Duong: Yes.

Duong will also see his daughter off to art college in California. She doesn’t plan to pursue the restaurant business. He says his greatest gift is watching her follow her dream of education and a better life.

I’m Kate Archer Kent for Marketplace.

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