La Petite Grocery Restaurant and Bar in Uptown New Orleans Tuesday (6/26) hosted the first of several fundraisers this week at local restaurants and bars for dashTHIRTYdash. La Petite will donate 30% of Tuesday’s dinner proceeds to the fund and also politely solicited diners for additional, direct donations to the fund. (Please see text at bottom of the image, left.)
Although we don’t yet have a final report on the evening, business was reported as very “robust” (to borrow a new favorite word in the newsroom) and many Times-Picayune staffers joined friends and family at the restaurant.
The evening’s only real drama occurred early, when incoming Times-Picayune Publisher Ricky Mathews and David Francis, the Picayune‘s VP and GM, accompanied by another man, entered the restaurant. A sharp-eyed and quick-Facebook-posting Times-Picayune staffer waiting at the bar for a friend almost spit out her cocktail when she saw them.
Mathews, who has encountered every manner of scorn and ridicule in NOLA because of the plans to reduce the Times-Picayune’s daily publication to thrice weekly, lay off one-third of its employees and reallocate remaining resources to the newspaper’s widely derided website, recently wrote about the changes on the front page of the newspaper in an article titled “The Times-Picayune and NOLA.com are here to stay.” He also spoke about them with NOLA.com Editor James O’Byrne at a recent gathering of New Orleans tech industry professionals. Mathews also has been the subject of a grassroots “Ricky Go Home” campaign. (He’s coming to New Orleans from Times-Picayune sister newspapers in Alabama.)
After taking a seat at a table near the bar, Francis, Mathews and the other man abruptly left only a couple of minutes later, according to the T-P staffer, who will lose her job on Sept. 30 along with about 200 other employees, but asked that her identity not be disclosed because of concerns about her severance. The employee asked the maître d’ why they left so quickly and the maître d’ responded that Francis and Mathews “said they had an emergency and kind of giggled when they said it.” Francis had made the dinner reservation, the maître d’ told the staffer.
Based on how quickly the trio left, the staffer believes their selection of La Petite on the same evening as the dashTHIRTYdash benefit was purely coincidental. As soon as they opened their menus and saw a flier promoting the benefit, they thought better of dining at the restaurant, at least on that particular evening, she speculated.
Before talking to the staffer, it never would have occurred to me that Mathews’ and Francis’ dining selection was anything other than reconnaissance at best, superciliousness at worst. (Reporters, even former ones, are big on conspiracy theories and evil lurking around every corner.) Before speaking to her, I had sent the following email to Mathews and Francis, and copied outgoing Times-Picayune Publisher Ashton Phelps and Editor Jim Amoss. Mathews, Frances and Amoss all have opened the email, according to “read” receipts I’ve received, but I haven’t received any responses yet.
Subject: May we count on you to make a dashTHIRTYdash contribution in light of your aborted LaPetite dinner?
Dear Messrs. Mathews and Francis:
I’m a Times-Picayune alum and one of the primary organizers of dashTHIRTYdash, the fund that’s raising money to benefit newspaper staffers who will lose their jobs as the paper makes the changes Mr. Mathews and others have been writing and speaking about so much recently.
Because you’ve both been in the business for so long, I know you understand the challenges many of these dedicated individuals face, particularly if they want to stay in the business or remain in their beloved New Orleans. For that reason, I assume you support our grassroots efforts to make their upcoming unemployment a little more comfortable as they chart a course to the next chapter in their working lives.
We were disappointed that you and your companion could not stay for your dinner reservation tonight at LaPetite Grocery, which you no doubt knew is hosting the first of several dashTHIRTYdash fundraisers this week. I hope the emergency that you mentioned to the maître d’ as you left before having dinner wasn’t too serious.
Especially given that you were unable to stay and show your support of the fund, may we count on you to make direct and personal contributions to dashTHIRTYdash? If so, please make your checks payable to the Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans, which is serving as our fiscal agent, and write “dashTHIRTYdash” in the check’s memo line. You may then mail your checks to dashTHIRTYdash, c/o The Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans, Att’n: Glenn W. Gruber, Associate Director/CFO, 900 Camp St., New Orleans, LA 70130.
Because the CAC is also our 501(c) sponsor, any donation you make to the fund is fully tax-deductible.
I understand that some may find our modest effort amusing, or even comical enough to elicit a giggle or two, but I’ve been once again amazed by the generosity and kindness of New Orleanians as they rally behind these wonderful people. We raised several thousand dollars before we were even formally capable of accepting contributions, so I’m hopeful we’ll do some genuine good for these dedicated, soon-to-be-former staffers of the wonderful publication you will continue to helm.
I thank you both in advance for your consideration of my request.
REBECCA THEIM, Times-Picayune Alum (1988-94)
Next up on the dashTHIRTYdash fundraising circuit is a triple header Thursday night (June 28): a pub crawl along St. Charles Avenue at The Avenue Pub, Mia’s Balcony and The Irish House. The venues are donating anywhere from 10% to 100% of the proceeds from various offerings throughout the day and evening. Then on Sunday, July 1, Slim Goodies Diner, 3322 Magazine St. also in the Lower Garden District, will contribute 20% of its 6 AM-3 PM breakfast/brunch receipts to the fund.
UPDATE, 6/27/2012, 10:12 AM CDT: No responses to my email, although I did receive a “read” receipt at about 10:30 PM CDT last night that Francis also had opened his copy of it. Phelps’ copy to his Times-Picayune address generated an automated response asking that any emails be re-sent to his personal address, which I did.