New Orleans is a city built on hard-crusted, soft-bellied loaves of french bread. If you ask around for the best po-boy in town, many New Orleanians will point you out toward Bayou St. John and the Parkway Bakery, home to two of the city's most beloved po-boys: roast beef and fried shrimp.
Parkway first opened its doors in 1911. “They made french bread, pastries, donuts, and they made sandwiches, too,” explains Justin Kennedy, co-owner of Parkway. The American Can Company was just across the bayou and kept the bakery bustling. When the whistle blew thousands of workers would stream over to Parkway for a po-boy lunch. After the can company closed in the 80s, many of the surrounding businesses followed suit, and finally Parkway was forced to shut its doors in 1993.
Justin's uncle, Jay Nix, had lived across the street from Parkway for thirty years. “They put it up for sale in 95 and my uncle bought it. Not to reopen it, he didn't know anything about cooking, about the po-boy business or the bakery business.” Jay, a contractor, bought it and started using Parkway as his toolshed. “It was a raggedy old building,” Justin recalls. “I was working with him on the weekends. If we did a job on the North Shore, in Chalmette, Uptown, he would tell people that his toolshed was Parkway and they all knew it! They'd tell us stories about how they'd gone there as a kid and it'd been the best sandwiches. In 2003 Jay thought, I need to open up this sandwich place myself.” Justin (along with his mom and sister) joined in to make it a family affair and two years later, Parkway Bakery was back in business.
“The first day we opened, people were lined up,” Justin remembers. “It's an institution. It's just been amazing how close the people are to this place. It's more than a sandwich shop here, it's more than filling your belly. People come here and even before they buy a sandwich, before they eat their roast beef, they walk in the door and you can tell they're happy already.”
He's right. First of all, it's hard not to be happy with a delicious heap of goodness billowing out from between two pieces of french bread in front of you. There's something else, though, just as important. “Everybody comes here. That's when you know you've have something special. You'll have the guy in the $500 suit rubbing elbows with the guy that just scraped up the money to buy a sandwich eating the same thing. It feels like now, in today's time, we're keeping it going. I'm proud. This is a part of the city. It keeps em going. You've got your crooks, you got your artists, your judges, your big business men, your sewage and water guys and your carpenters. They all come here. We feed a thousand people a day. It's amazing, a whole mix of people. If you want to see New Orleans, just come in here and watch people come through."