One Meal at a Time

Focusing on culinary revitalization and philanthropy, John Besh helped bring New Orleans back to life.

September 17, 2014

After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, restaurant maverick and chef John Besh had his doubts about the city’s revival. Slowly but surely, the damage and suffering receded, and a commercial and cultural revitalization is now in full swing. Today the city has 500 more restaurants than before the storm, and six are owned by Besh. He is proud of the role he’s played in the turnaround, which extends far beyond his entrepreneurial successes.

“It’s not often when an inner city—and so many of our inner cites are struggling—has been able to right some of the wrongs of the past,” Besh says. “You have people moving here with the intention of making a difference, and in the business community there’s a sense of stewardship, whether it’s philanthropic in nature or about civic involvement.”

Besh established the John Besh Foundation in 2011. The foundation offers small loans to local farmers through a program called Milk Money. The loans—which range from $500 to $20,000—provide financial support while he and other volunteers help the farmers develop and market a business strategy. What’s more, his Chefs Move! program awards education scholarships and mentorship opportunities to minority youth from the Greater New Orleans area.

Community involvement goes hand-in-hand with business, says Besh, who volunteers at his sons’ schools and sits on boards where he believes he can make a difference—such as Audubon Louisiana, which is working to protect wetlands. “People will see that we’re not only trying to serve wonderful food or make a profit,” Besh says, “but we want to leave New Orleans in a much better place.”