Monday, January 6, 2014

Louisiana Congressmen experience the story behind Drago's Restaurant

Bipartisanship may be rare in Washington, D.C., but it’s alive and well in Louisiana. Two members of Congress, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), found they had a lot to agree about on Dec. 6, when National Restaurant Association Director Tommy Cvitanovich hosted the pair at his family’s famous Drago’s Seafood Restaurant in Metairie, La. Scalise and Richmond got a glimpse of how a restaurant operates, from vendor relations all the way to the dining room.

The congressmen were introduced to several restaurant staff members and vendors, with Cvitanovich noting the important role each plays in the success of Drago’s. He told the congressmen stories of several staff members who have overcome adversity to become valuable, contributing members of the Drago’s team.

Stan Harris, Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) President and CEO, pointed out that the personal stories of success within the restaurant industry, at all levels, are a valuable tool in advocacy.

“Congressman Scalise and Congressman Richmond, when we go talk to them, are always interested in the ‘people stories,’ of how our industry connects to what’s going on,” Harris said. “We are the largest employer in the state of Louisiana. [The restaurant industry] employs over 10 percent of the people here. It’s a good group of people, and when you work for people who care about you, and know your story…that’s what helps us personalize [the industry] for them.”

Scalise spoke of the importance of the restaurant industry to New Orleans and how it teaches hard work and discipline for those who enter and work up the ladder.  The restaurant industry, he said, plays a vital role in allowing leaders to see how their decisions in Washington affect numerous stakeholders.

“This is the small business story that you always hear about,” Scalise said. “Our restaurants are the classic, epitome of what a small business is. When you look at our delegation…you hear a lot about the partisanship in Washington, and it’s very real, unfortunately, there are a lot of people who just don’t like working with someone who’s from a different party…Cedric and I will vote differently on a whole lot of stuff, but when it comes to things that are important to our restaurants here in New Orleans, the policies and things that allow you to keep doing what you’re doing to serve us great food, we love working together to get that done.”

The restaurant industry is a critical part of the New Orleans culture, Richmond said.  It’s the friendly culture of the city, he said, that drives tourism. The opportunity for growth that small businesses like Drago’s provide is a main reason why people who grow up in New Orleans choose to stay there, he said.

“The fact that you all have the ability to come to a place with great leadership, that gives you the chance to work hard and stay here, you’re not looking for the next opportunity because you know if you stay here and work hard, [Cvitanovich] and his family are going to nurture you, watch you grow and watch you succeed. You can’t say that about a bunch of places, but you can say that about Drago’s,” Richmond said.

The Drago’s Seafood Restaurant tour was organized through the NRA’s Congressional Visit Program, a member advocacy initiative that connects restaurateurs with their federal lawmakers.  Helping legislators understand the stories behind our industry is a powerful advocacy tool and demonstrates how policies enacted in Washington can affect small businesses in their home districts and states.  For more information or to host your own congressional visit, contact Jon Simons at or 202-331-5907.

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