New Orleans’ hot-dog monopoly is coming to an end, and no one is happier than “glizzy” enthusiast Jimmy Robb.
From the location of Robb’s hot-dog cart, Glizzies by Poppa, on the corner of St. Charles Avenue and MLK Boulevard, he can almost see his childhood home.
“It’s just two red lights that way,” he says, gesturing down the street with his tongs.
In the opposite direction is New Orleans’ iconic French Quarter. Even on a chilly November day like this one, the Quarter is bustling with tourists, many of whom will be looking for a quick bite to eat. It would be the perfect place for Robb to set up shop – if he was legally allowed.
Despite having lived in New Orleans his entire life, Robb is prohibited from selling food in the city’s most lucrative district. So are all other pushcart vendors, in fact, except for one: Lucky Dogs.
“Everyone knows it ain’t fair,” he says.
The two-time winner of New Orleans Hot Dog Safari has dedicated his waking hours to crafting the perfect dog – from sourcing the softest buns (crisp on the edges and soft on the inside), to the freshest bacon. And yet, due to one single sentence in the city charter written twenty years before his birth, Robb is restricted to the outskirts of the French Quarter.
Luckily for him, that’s all about to change.
The story starts in 1972, when the New Orleans City Council passed an ordinance aimed at cracking down on unlicensed street vendors. The ordinance declared that no one would be permitted to sell food in the French Quarter unless they had already been operating there continuously for the last eight years.
Only one business fit the criteria. Now, more than 50 years later, the red-and-white striped vendors of Lucky Dogs Hot Dogs continue to run the only pushcart on Bourbon Street.
The co-owner of Lucky Dogs, Kirk Talbot, is not only a Republican state senator, but also sits on the board of the French Quarter Business Association.
Over the years, all legal challenges to the monopoly have been unsuccessful.
In 1972, Nancy Dukes, operator of Louisiana Concessions, sued the city after one of her salesmen was arrested for vending in the Vieux Carre. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court.
Dukes argued that the ordinance constituted economic discrimination and violated her right to equal protection under the 14th amendment.
The city’s lawyers argued that Lucky Dogs deserved to maintain its monopoly because their carts looked like giant hot dogs.
“It is argued that this vendor has been selling hot dogs ‘from distinctive little carts, which are actually enlarged model versions of the product itself,’” reads the court memo. “These carts are attractive and appealing to tourists.”
After hearing both sides, Judge Warren E. Burger didn’t seem to feel particularly strong about the outcome: “This is certainly not a ‘great case,’ and I may conclude that it can be decided either way,” he wrote.
However, Burger ruled in favor of the city in 1976, determining that the law “was necessary to preserve the ‘beauty and charm’ of the Quarter,” according to the New York Times.
For several decades, there was no progress in changing the ordinance. That is, until this spring, when Council Member Freddie King III took up the fight.
“We have a lot of talented and gifted cooks in this city,” King said in a March interview with WWL News. “Given the opportunity to showcase that talent in the French Quarter, it could springboard [their businesses].”
He went on to explain that opening up a legal pathway for vending might help crack down on Bourbon Street’s illicit market: from shot-girls selling fluorescent tubes out of ice chests, to unregulated vendors slinging sandwiches from truck-beds.
Increased permitting would also give economic opportunity to Black-owned businesses: the historic heart of New Orleans’ food scene.
“I think this is a city that, far too often, the minorities, DBE’s, or Black-owned businesses have been overlooked,” King said in an interview with Fox 8 Live. “And I want to be the change agent for that.”
Finally, yesterday, after months of back and forth with residents and local businesses, came a decision.
The city council voted unanimously to allow five new permits for pushcart vendors in the French Quarter. A separate ordinance, expected to come before the council in the next few months, would open up a lottery for 14 additional permits in the area.
Robb is one of those five original vendors.
Sitting in a chair at the back of city hall, wearing a “Glizzies by Poppa” sweatshirt designed by his wife Tamika Sullivan, he nearly leapt from his seat in excitement.
“I’m so happy, my heart is pumping,” he said. “This is a historic day.”
Several other pushcart vendors in the room hugged, clapping each other on the back as the news sunk in. Eric Rothschild, owner of New Orleans Trap Kitchen, says he felt a wave of relief at the decision.
“These local businesses have been working hard to do the right thing,” he said. “And now we’ve leveled the playing field.”
Lucky Dogs appears to have remained out of the decision. Co-owner Talbot told nola.com that his company voluntarily relinquished seven permits for the city to redistribute in the lottery, and that they respect the will of the council.
After fifty-one years, it appears New Orleans’ French Quarter is about to look a little different.
The real mystery is, what took so long?
Rothschild glanced around the government building and raised an eyebrow: “Exactly how long have you lived in this city?”
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