On September 9th 2014 Burnell Cotlon and his wife Keasha opened the Lower 9th Ward Market at the corner of Galvez and Caffin Avenue just a few blocks away from where the Industrial Canal collapsed and brought disaster to the community.
The market was the only grocery store in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, a vast neighborhood that thousands of people call home.
The Cotlons partially funded the opening of their store with proceeds from Cross the Canal Beauty and Barber Shop, a small business they opened in a portion of the building that now houses the grocery store.
Oh, that building.
A large blow-up photo of that burned-out hulk that now contains the grocery sits right above a fetching display of fresh fruits and vegetables. Burnell and wife Keasha bought the structure in 2010 for $4,000 and immediately began breathing life back into it.
That meant long days with a sledgehammer, demolishing the top floor that had sustained heavy damage in a fire. The patient was nearly d.o.a.
Even Lazarus needed the occasional po boy and that’s exactly what the Cotlon’s newest venture entails: a tiny po boy kitchen run out of their bootstraps grocery by Lillie, Burnell’s mama.
Our po boy cook today, Tony, is a veteran of New Orleans kitchens for nearly 20 years. He comes by the trade honestly telling us that he learned at the knee of the women folks in his family including his aunts, mother and grandmother “I just love cooking. I cook here all day long and go home at night and start cooking again. This is my life”
Spoken like a veteran kitchen man.
The tiny cooking space is spotless and cozy, the lighting is ambient and it feels like your aunt Margie might go bustling by you at any moment. It’s homey in here.
Our shrimp po boy is a case foot long and rings in under $9. Dressed at the Lower 9th Ward Market means mayo, mustard, ketchup, lettuce, tomato and pickle. We opt out on the ketchup as we still haven’t found a po boy it can improve.
A dozen or so shrimp are crisp-fried then tucked into a toasted hunk of French bread. A steady stream of patrons begin walking in to place their orders as we chat with Keasha Cotlon. She explains that Burnell is on an airplane ride from the West Coast right now. He appeared on the Ellen show the evening before and is eager to return home.
This marks the first time I’ve visited the little store when he is not at the counter but can you blame a man when fame comes calling?
The last time I was at the store a film crew from ABC was there and the time before that a journalist from the daily out in San Antonio was in the house.
The Cotlons are celebrities.
For owning a grocery store where nobody else had the temerity to to build one.
Lower 9th Ward Market is located at the corner of Galvez and Caffin Avenue
Hours of the cafe are Monday-Saturday 11am – 7pm