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Katrina can’t stop a great Coast party

It’s a widely-accepted fact that Coast residents know how to throw a party. Each year while the Legislature is in session, folks from the three coastal counties pool their resources to entertain lawmakers with a reception at the Mississippi Trademart. It’s an opportunity to showcase what the Coast has to offer and bend the ear of officials on matters dear to the heart.

I wondered if this year’s reception would be held and if held, would the same quality be there. There’s such widespread destruction from Katrina. Many restaurants and other businesses have not reopened and thousands of residents are homeless. Very little rebuilding has begun as hapless property owners wrangle with insurance companies and the government. From state line to state line, the landscape — at least south of the railroad tracks and farther inland in some places — is bleak indeed.

Still, we needed the reception more than ever and this is a determined, resilient bunch of people. The event took place as always and as always was a hit. All of the key ingredients were there: plenty of tasty food and drink, smiling people and Gulf Coast Mardi Gras beads.

This year’s chairman, Norman Collins, who’s manager of major accounts for Mississippi Power Company, estimates that 1,800 people attended. “There was some debate after the storm about having it. A lot of the restaurants and businesses that always donated are gone,” he said. “We met with Coast legislators and they wanted to have it.”

He says financial support was available for the event’s $30,000 to $40,000 yearly budget, so organizers decided to go with it. There were fewer restaurants to contribute dishes so those participating prepared more food and some new ones were asked to help, too. The result was a wide variety of dishes associated with the Coast.

“I think based on contributions from local businesses, the community thinks it’s a value to get in front of legislators. They would not have donated if they didn’t think it’s a good thing,” Collins said. “In addition to legislators, we had the lieutenant governor, secretary of state and an impressive list of state department heads.”

Before and after

A striking and sad addition to this year’s reception were before and after photos that played on overhead screens throughout the meeting hall. They were reminders of how much work there is to be done and how much we need the help of all Mississippians.

The photos were provided by The Sun Herald and WLOX-TV. Mississippi Power Company and the GodwinGroup advertising agency edited and put the presentation together.

Collins praised Karen Sinopoli for the outstanding job she did of coordinating the food. “She did a fabulous job of pulling this together this year with all she was up against,” he said.

A few anxious moments

Sinopoli, whose family owns Catfish Charlie’s Restaurant, said she had some anxious moments when she began to organize the food. “I wanted the whole Coast to be represented, but some places just couldn’t get it together,” she said. “Some who’ve helped for years just aren’t there anymore.”

Restaurants that prepared food include the following: Scranton’s and LaFont Inn, Pascagoula; Petit Bois Café, Gautier; Al Fresco’s, Jocelyn’s, Bayview Gourmet, Tay’s Barbeque, Honey Baked Ham and Bangkok House Thai Cuisine, Ocean Springs; Outback Steak House, D’Iberville; Mary Mahoney’s, Sakura, IP Casino and Palace Casino, Biloxi; Blow Fly Inn, Lookout 49, An-jac’s Barbecue and Catfish Charlie’s, Gulfport.

Naomi’s Catering of Gulfport also provided food and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources provided 400 pounds of shrimp. The shrimp was cooked by Desporte and Sons Seafood and Quality Poultry and Seafood of Biloxi. Students from the West Harrison County Culinary School also cooked and were assisted in serving by students of the University of Southern Mississippi Culinary School.

I think it’s safe to say that a good time was had by all. There are some things that even a hurricane can’t change.

Freelance journalist Lynn Lofton writes regularly for the Mississippi Business Journal. Her e-mail address is mbj@msbusiness.com.

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