On Out to Lunch we invite people to have lunch and talk about their business. Our general rule of thumb is, we don’t invite them to come back a second time, unless something has materially changed in their business. Well, the Covid-19 pandemic has certainly expanded our list of potential return guests on Out to Lunch. In the past 12 months almost everybody’s business has been affected in one way or another.
When we first met Desiree Ontiveros, in 2017, she’d recently launched her business, Badass Balloon Co. Basically, the company made balloons with sayings printed on them. Sayings that were too raunchy to repeat on radio. Under Desiree’s savvy leadership, Badass Balloons grew into something much more than a novelty business. It grew into a company with an international footprint that does massive balloon art installations for major events.
When Covid hit and brought her business to a standstill, Desiree was so incensed by what she saw as a government response that was impotent, incompetent, and indifferent to the professional and personal plight of so many people and businesses, that she’s decided to try and change the government. While still running Badass Balloon Co, Desiree is also running for Congress.
We first met Amanda Dailey back in 2014. Amanda had recently opened a store in the French Quarter called Queork. At Queork they sold stuff made from cork. Wallets, shoes, briefcases, handbags, dog collars, and much more. Then they started designing and manufacturing their own cork products, and business boomed. Within a few years, Amanda and her partner had a chain of 5 Queork retail outlets, including stores in Florida and New Mexico.
When Covid hit, they had two stores in New Orleans – one in The French Quarter and another on Magazine Street. The sudden disappearance of tourist traffic resulted in the French Quarter store closing permanently. The continuing changing landscape of retail has forced Queork to adapt to e-commerce and online marketing, while fighting to keep a single store open, in an environment that has seen their retail sales plunge by 95%.
All of us are caught up in the continuing health and financial crisis brought about by the Covid 19 pandemic. One the one hand, we’re all going through this together. On the other hand, we all have individual struggles that are uniquely our own. Desiree has both personal and public struggles going on at the same time with her efforts to keep her business, Badass Balloons, operating while running for Congress. And Amanda’s personal battle to keep Queork open is a part of a nationwide struggle for the survival of brick-and-mortar retail outlets.
Amanda and Desiree’s skills that made them successful business people in the first place haven’t deserted them. Although times are extraordinarily tough right now, you can be confident we’ll be meeting back here to catch up again in the years ahead.
Photos by Jill Lafleur.