Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Thu, April 17, 2014

City Pork purchased by owner of Leroy's, Frankie's Dawg House

City Pork, the charcuterie that opened near the Perkins Road overpass in December, is under new ownership. The restaurant was acquired in late January by Exclamation Point Hospitality Group, a newly formed restaurant company that also owns Leroy's on Nicholson Drive and Frankie's Dawg House on Perkins Road. “We have three unique concept restaurants and obviously, right now, City Pork is the hot one,” says Stephen Hightower, who created Exclamation Point Hospitality early this year when he decided to buy City Pork. “But I think they all complement each other and will grow.” Exclamation Point Hospitality acquired a majority of City Pork's ownership from Trey Williams, who co-founded the charcuterie with Chase Lyons. Lyons is still a partner in City Pork. “I had a great time creating the concept and bringing something new to Baton Rouge,” says Williams. “But it's a tough business and I did not see myself able to take City Pork to the level that I think Stephen and Chase—who is still very much involved—will be able to take it.” Williams is a full-time real estate broker with NAI/Latter & Blum. Hightower is a veteran of the restaurant industry and has managed several restaurants locally, including Ruth's Chris Steak House and Bocage Racquet Club. He has long aspired to own his own restaurant company and intends to grow City Pork and create synergy with the other restaurants in the group. “We ultimately see City Pork bacon being served at Leroy's and City Pork hot dogs on the menu at Frankie's,” he says. “Plus we will do the sort of bulk buying we are already doing.” Hightower's partners in Exclamation Point Hospitality include Troy Deano, the former executive chef at L'Auberge, as well as Derek Ponamsky and Brian Reames. —Stephanie Riegel

Deluxe Inn on Airline to become ELF Express Hotel following $1M sale

The Deluxe Inn at 10245 Airline Highway near Interstate 12 sold yesterday for $1 million to California-based ELF Homes Inc., says Louis Sirico, CEO of ELF. With an estimated $1.5 million remodel already in progress, the new ownership will upgrade the rooms and change the name to ELF Express Hotel. ELF provides furnished short-term corporate housing in California, but this will be the company's first hotel. "Our goal is to create a really clean, nice space for the working man to stay," Sirico says, identifying the hotel's target market as temporary workers in the manufacturing, petrochemical and film industries. "The nice thing is that we're right across the street from Celtic studios and the new Costco, and that's perfect for us," he says. "I don't expect any of the HBO actors and actresses to stay here, but there are a lot of people behind the scenes. That's our clientele." ELF Express will charge approximately $48 a night, $210 a week and $850 a month, Sirico says, adding, "I think that's what Baton Rouge needs. Baton Rouge is building, and the hotels here are too expensive for most of the people who are doing that work." Each of the hotel's 225 rooms will include a flat-screen TV, mini-fridge and microwave, as well as Wi-Fi and pool access. The hotel's occupancy rate is at 85% right now, Sirico says, and the 6,800-square-foot conference center stays booked for weddings and other events. ELF finalized the purchase from Connecticut-based BMR Funding LLC, a publicly traded real estate investment trust, yesterday. The deal was brokered by Carmen Austin of Saurage Rotenberg Commercial Real Estate. —Rachel Alexander

Publisher: McAllister making La. a national punchline

In his latest column, Business Report Publisher Rolfe McCollister notes that the political class in Washington, D.C., had scarcely finished having a good laugh about Louisiana's ex-con, ex-governor running for Congress at 86—with a 36-year-old wife and newborn baby in tow—when out pops another knee-slapper: Vance McAllister, the "kissing Congressman." "Just what we need," McCollister writes. "While we all pray for the day when Louisiana can stop making negative headlines, politicians like Congressman Bill Jefferson, Mayor Ray Nagin, Gov. Edwin Edwards, Sen. David Vitter and now McAllister make for pretty embarrassing reading, and the nation eats it up. Don't you hate being the butt of national jokes?" McCollister predicts the scandal will spell the end of McAllister's already-short political career, if not by his own resignation—which he has thus far resisted, despite the state Republican Party and Gov. Bobby Jindal calling for him to step down—then by his defeat in November at the polls. "Maybe the biggest impact this incident will have will be on Vitter in his run for governor," McCollister adds. Also in his new column, McCollister notes that BREC recently got its 10-year dedicated tax renewal—which is vital to its operating budget—passed with just 59% of the vote. "But now it must look to the future and see how the organization will meet the needs of a changing and growing market—and there will be important and tough decisions to make," writes McCollister, who has long championed eliminating golf from City Park. "One will be dealing with golf. The status quo is not sustainable." Read the full story. Send your comments to editors@businessreport.com.

Panamanian ambassador visits LSU, seeks stronger ties with business, agriculture

Mario Jaramillo, Panamanian ambassador to the United States, says his country's relationship with Louisiana could be key to economic and educational development in the Central American country. The LSU AgCenter says Jaramillo visited LSU on Tuesday to discuss higher education with administrators and Panamanian students. A 1969 graduate of LSU in business management, Jaramillo says increased cooperation with universities like LSU would help equip more Panamanians with internationally competitive skill sets as well as an understanding of how other countries do business. Panama has undergone many changes in recent decades, Jaramillo says, which has placed new demands on the workforce. "We are not only a country that has economic growth—we're also the highest in middle-class growth," he says. Still, he says, Panama needs to improve in two areas: business ethics and education, particularly in the English language. With more international companies moving into the area, Panama must be able to meet the world economy's standards to succeed, he says. Louisiana and Panama have many things in common, such as issues with wetlands, which Jaramillo believes are areas for cooperation and learning. LSU President F. King Alexander says the university used to have a stronger relationship with Panama and other Central American countries, but those relationships have been in decline since the 1970s. According to data from LSU's Office of International Programs, only 11 undergraduate students and five graduate students from Panama are enrolled at LSU this semester. It's important to revitalize ties between LSU and Panama, Alexander says, partly because America is changing demographically and students should be exposed to the Spanish language more. The LSU AgCenter has the full story.

'225': Local blogs plug in with Baton Rouge mothers

One of the hottest trends on the Internet is the "mommy blog," a specific genre of online entertainment that acts as an interactive support system complete with event calendars, networking opportunities and news. Oftentimes, these web pages start as hobbies for the mom, a way to pass time while the youngsters are underfoot. "But bloggers who produce strong content and click with a loyal audience often find themselves steering a lucrative and all-encompassing venture," 225 contributor Amy Alexander writes in a feature from the April issue. Local Tiany Davis is hoping to pour her know-how into the site Baton Rouge Moms. For Davis, blogging is perfect for her unpredictable schedule. "I share it all," she says with a chuckle. Maggie Howes is another example of a Baton Rougean who has made a successful mom blog. Howes' is My Baton Rouge Mommy, which is geared to helping locals save using coupons and deals. The challenge for these blogs is making money off of them while balancing those various tasks that come with being a mother. There are sponsorship opportunities with local businesses and teaming up with other blogs throughout the country. However, the best chance of success comes from that trade of information between moms. "Since the beginning of time, we go to our moms and our grandmothers for advice," Davis says. "Moms get most of their information from other moms." Read the full story.

LSU law professor tapped to lead three-member oil spill settlement audit panel

A former U.S. attorney in Baton Rouge is heading up a new three-member audit panel appointed to review the settlement program arising from the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf. The Associated Press reports Raymond Lamonica, now a law professor at LSU, was appointed Wednesday by the federal judge overseeing litigation that followed the spill. Also named to the panel were accountant Lloyd Tate and LSU accounting professor Larry Crumbley. The panel was appointed in response to a motion by claims administrator Patrick Juneau's office. The panel will review the work of a firm hired to do an audit of the claims process. It also will make recommendations for a quality control system aimed at preventing errors in paying claims from a property damage and economic loss settlement.

Jindal to deliver commencement address at Liberty University next month

Gov. Bobby Jindal will be in Lynchburg, Va., on May 10 to deliver the commencement address at Liberty University, which was founded by Jerry Falwell and is the nation's largest private, nonprofit university—as well as the largest Christian university in the world. "Many believe he could hold the highest office in the land someday," says Jerry Falwell Jr., the university's president, in a prepared release. "I believe he will be an inspiration to our graduates, not only because of his life's story, but because he shares many of the conservative and Christian values that Liberty University graduates hold dear." The Washington Examiner reports that another possible Republican presidential hopeful and tea party favorite, Ted Cruz of Texas, spoke at Liberty earlier this year. "An appearance at Liberty University has become a familiar stop along the early presidential campaign trail, similar to states like Iowa and New Hampshire where voters and party activists get the first shot at winnowing the field of Republican and Democratic candidates," the paper comments. On Wednesday, Jindal injected himself into a debate in New Hampshire about school vouchers by penning a guest column for the New Hampshire Union Leader about a case before that state's supreme court. —Staff report

News roundup: Jobless claims in US hover near lowest level since '07 … Industry opposes push to tighten oil field safety rules … Obamacare effects are bigger than expected, poll finds

Positive signs: Fewer Americans than forecast filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, a sign the labor market continues to strengthen. Jobless claims increased by 2,000 to 304,000 in the week ended April 12 from a revised 302,000 the prior period that was the lowest since September 2007, according to a Labor Department report released this morning. Bloomberg has the full story.

Pushing back: More than a dozen oil companies and trade groups have lined up to oppose plans to broaden the federal government's oversight of safety practices at wells, saying existing standards are enough to protect workers nationwide. OSHA would be foolish to force new and producing wells to satisfy process safety management standards that have governed other industrial operations for decades, says the American Petroleum Institute and other groups in comments filed with the agency. FuelFix.com has the full story.

More at the door: President Barack Obama's health law has led to an even greater increase in health coverage than previously estimated, according to new Gallup survey data, which suggests that about 12 million previously uninsured Americans have gained coverage since last fall. The Los Angeles Times reports that is millions more than Gallup found in March and suggests that as many as 4 million people have signed up for some kind of insurance in the last several weeks as the first enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act drew to a close. Read the full story.

Today's poll question: Are you spending the holiday weekend in the Capital Region or traveling?

Editor's note: In observance of the holiday, Daily Report will not be published on Friday, and will return on Monday. Have a safe and happy holiday weekend.

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