Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Wed, July 30, 2014

Latte e Miele owner closes Jefferson Highway caf, looks to sell

Two years after opening Latte e Miele at 7809 Jefferson Highway, near Bocage, co-owner Luca Di Martino has closed the popular caf and gelato shop for good. Di Martino made the difficult decision to shutter the restaurant after spending several months caring for his father and business partner, Corrado Di Martino, who died recently from brain cancer at the age of 64. Di Martino says the restaurant did good business and had a loyal and dedicated following, as well as a talented staff that included chef Marcus Day. But Di Martino had also spent more than $100,000 renovating and expanding Latte e Miele—not including all new kitchen appliances he purchased—and could not afford to keep the business running while also tending to family obligations. "What small business owner can afford to be away for four months and not lose money?" Di Martino says. "They did an amazing job running things while I was away, but you can only sustain that for so long … Marcus deserved more money. I deserved a paycheck. I didn't expect my father to die." Corrado Di Martino opened the original Latte e Miele, which served true Italian gelato and pastries, on Highland Road near the Country Club of Louisiana in 2009. In 2012, Luca Di Martino opened the second location on Jefferson Highway, eventually closing the Highland Road location. Di Martino now hopes to sell his business, including the furniture, fixtures and equipment, in the coming months. He has no immediate plans to get back into the restaurant business. —Stephanie Riegel Read the full story.

Zachary restaurant acquires 20 acres in Central

Cajun Catch, a dine-in, take-out and drive-thru restaurant in Zachary, has purchased approximately 20 acres of land in Central as Cajun Catch Properties LLC, according to land records filed with the East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court. The restaurant, located at 4347 High St. in Zachary, exclusively features farm-raised catfish, Gulf shrimp, Gulf oysters and Angus beef on its menu of poboys, burgers and catfish plates. The sellers in the deal were Glenda, Monica and Laurice Denham, and the purchase price was $240,000. Calls to Cajun Catch to inquire about the restaurant's plans for the Central property were not returned in time for publication this morning. Meanwhile, The Rum House—located at 2112 Perkins Palms Ave., on Perkins Road near Essen Lane—has purchased an approximately 0.63-acre plot behind McAlister's Deli and next to Investar Bank for additional parking, according to Eric Nicaud, the restaurant's general manager. Island Time Properties LLC, managed and represented by The Rum House's three partners, purchased the property for $515,000, and Nicaud says they hope to have the new parking lot—which should hold around 80 spots—paved by the end of August. "They've been working on this deal for a while now, because we've been spread thin for parking," Nicaud says. "We had to jump on this now." —Rachel Alexander

BR worst city by which to gauge US home value trends, report says

While it's impossible to know exactly what U.S. home prices will look like in a given year ahead of time, Baton Rouge appears to be the worst predictor on a local level of what nationwide trends will be. A report out this morning from real estate company Trulia shows that home price movements in Minneapolis-St. Paul tended to run ahead of national trends from 1980 to 2014, while the Baton Rouge market was the worst predictor of the coming year's prices, followed by the Texas metropolitan areas of Houston, San Antonio and Austin. "There are a lot of local markets that are really bad guides as to what will happen with national home prices," says Jed Kolko, Trulia's chief economist and author of the report. "When we think about public policy and housing problems that Washington might be trying to solve, it's a reminder that some local markets are more in sync with the broader national trend than other local markets." Relative to most other U.S. markets, Baton Rouge has seen its home prices remain remarkably steady throughout the recession and recovery, which is likely why it isn't a good guide for U.S. trends at large. Kolko calculated predictability by using the correlation of the year-over-year home price change in a given metro area with the year-over-year home price change for the U.S. overall. So the higher the correlation, the stronger the forecast. Minneapolis-St. Paul had a "crystal-ball score" of 0.79; Baton Rouge was -0.02. U.S. News & World Report has the full story.

'Business Report': After six decades, Jay's Bar-B-Q remains a family-owned culinary fixture in BR

In April 1954, a Pak-a-Sak convenience store manager in Baton Rouge named Jay Prothro got the itch to open his own business. As Business Report details in a feature from the current issue, the married young father didn't know what kind of venture to launch; he was simply driven by the idea of entrepreneurship. But inspiration wasn't far away. A friend was opening a barbecue restaurant in Lake Charles at the same time, and owning a barbecue eatery seemed as worthy a prospect as any. Prothro quit his job and sunk his savings into transforming a former hot dog stand on Government Street into a small barbecue spot he called Jay's. The simple menu consisted of barbecue sandwiches and poboys served with an unusually thin, savory sauce that diverged from Texas-style molasses-based sauces common at the time. Prothro set his prices higher than the norm in Baton Rouge in the mid-50s, but customers didn't balk. By 1960, Jay's Bar-B-Q had moved into new, larger quarters a block away on Government Street and had become a firm fixture in the community. "I remember eating there as a child, from the time I was about 5 years old," says Tommy Doherty, WAFB national sales manager. "I still eat at Jay's about once a week." Sixty years later, Jay's still enjoys a loyal following, both on Government Street, a location now owned by Milton LeBlanc, the son of Prothro's 30-year employee Floyd LeBlanc, and on Sherwood Forest Boulevard, a location run by Prothro's daughter and son-in-law Connie and Rick Newton and their son, Rich. Read the full feature. Send your comments to editors@businessreport.com.

La. lawmakers call for funds to finance oil-spill restoration

Louisiana lawmakers say federal agencies have been too slow to act on a law that steers money to Gulf Coast states to help them recover from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. "Louisiana is ready to go," Sen. Mary Landrieu testified at a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee hearing on the status of restoration efforts under the 2012 RESTORE Act. "We don't want to delay or wait any longer." As The Advertiser reports, Congress passed the act two years after the spill killed 11 workers, polluted the Gulf Coast's ecosystem and devastated its economy. The region is still waiting on billions of dollars in fines and other payments from BP. Under the law, the five Gulf Coast states will finance restoration efforts using 80% of the spill-related fine money to be paid by BP. Lawmakers estimate the fines could range from $5 billion to $20 billion. The amount of the fines will be determined by an ongoing lawsuit under the Clean Water Act. Republican Sen. David Vitter and other Gulf Coast lawmakers complained that other funding is trickling down too slowly to their states, some of which are still feeling the impact of the spill. Louisiana lawmakers were instrumental in pushing for passage of the RESTORE Act. In April, Vitter, along with Louisiana Reps. Bill Cassidy, R-6th District, and Steve Scalise, R-1st District, wrote to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew calling on the agency to speed up the process. Read the full story.

After offending workers, lab cancels 'Southern Accent Reduction' class

Almost as soon as the program was announced, Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee yanked its plan to offer a six-week "Southern Accent Reduction" class to its employees, The Knoxville News Sentinel reports. "Feel confident in a meeting when you need to speak with a more neutral American accent, and be remembered for what you say and not how you say it," a notice distributed to Oak Ridge employees reads. The notice so offended workers at one of the nation's largest federal research laboratories that the class was canceled within hours. "It probably wasn't presented the right way and made it look like Oak Ridge National Laboratories had some problem with having a Southern accent, which of course we don't," spokesman David Kein told the News Sentinel. National Public Radio notes that this isn't the first time it has been suggested that having a Southern accent is something that requires correction. It quoted a Scientific American article that says: "Studies have shown that whether you are from the North or South, a Southern twang pegs the speaker as comparatively dimwitted." Take heart, Southerners. Other studies show that people with a Southern accent are more likely to be nicer people than "folks who speak like a Yankee," and a survey last fall found that Southern accents are considered the nation's sexiest.

Today's poll question: After offending workers, Oak Ridge National Laboratory dropped its plan to offer a six-week class to help employees curb their Southern accents. How do you think people typically react to a Southern accent?

US economy rebounds in Q2 with 4% growth

After a dismal winter, the U.S. economy sprang back to life in the April-June quarter, growing at a fast 4% annual rate on the strength of higher consumer and business spending. The rebound reported today by the Commerce Department followed a sharp 2.1% annualized drop in economic activity in the January-March quarter. That figure was revised up from a previous estimate of a 2.9% drop. But it was still the biggest contraction since early 2009, in the depths of the Great Recession. Last quarter's bounce-back was broad-based, with consumers, businesses, the housing industry, and state and local governments all combining to fuel growth. The robust expansion will reinforce analysts' views that the economy's momentum is extending into the second half of the year, when they forecast an annual growth rate of around 3%. The government this morning also updated its estimates of growth leading into this year. They show the economy expanded in the second half of 2013 at the fastest pace in a decade and more than previously estimated. The revised data also show that the economy grew faster in 2013 than previously estimated, though more slowly in 2011 and 2012 than earlier thought. The second quarter's 4% growth in the gross domestic product—the economy's total output of goods and services—was the best showing since a 4.5% increase in July-September quarter of 2013. The Associated Press has the full story.

News roundup: Care center closures help boost Amedisys profit in Q2 … Financing plan for Cameron Parish LNG plant will reportedly be finalized next week … #movienightBR is tonight in North Boulevard Town Square

Beating expectations: Baton Rouge–based Amedisys, which runs hospices and provides home health care, reported a better-than-expected rise in adjusted quarterly profit after cutting its operating costs by closing 29 care centers and consolidating another 25. Adjusted net income from continuing operations attributable to Amedisys rose to $8 million, or 25 cents per share, for the three months ended June 30, up from $5.8 million, or 18 cents, a year earlier. The company, which says it delivers home health and hospice care to more than 360,000 patients annually, generated net service revenue of $305 million for the quarter. Reuters has the full story.

The big deal: Following on a report by Bloomberg late last week, The Wall Street Journal is also now reporting partners in a project that will ship natural gas to Japan from Louisiana plan to give the final financial go-ahead next week after securing $7.5 billion in loans. Like Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal is also citing unnamed people who are familiar with the deal. The final investment decision on Sempra Energy's liquefied natural gas plant in Cameron Parish will mark a milestone in Tokyo's efforts to secure U.S. energy supplies. Read the full story (subscription may be required)

Tonight's the night: Don't forget that tonight is #movienightBR, a BYOB event at North Boulevard Town Square. Attendees are encouraged to bring their favorite beverages and food for a picnic-style outing. 225 magazine is teaming up with the Downtown Development District and the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge to present the outdoor movie night for adults in downtown Baton Rouge. Lawn chairs, blankets and coolers will all be allowed. The movie—Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby—will begin at sundown. The event is free, but you must register to attend.

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