After the hurricanes demolished their home and business in St. Bernard Parish last year, a Chalmette family traveled from one end of the Louisiana Purchase to the other and opened a bakery in Bozeman, Montana.
From Chalmette, Louisiana, to Bozeman, Montana . . . this was the journey taken by one family of hurricane evacuees that Lorna Bourg and Helen Vinton found when they visited Bozeman in late May.
Helen and Lorna were there taking their first real break since the hurricanes hit Louisiana last fall. But when a shop keeper mentioned that a Louisiana family had relocated to Bozeman after the hurricanes and opened a superb “French Bakery,” Helen and Lorna couldn’t resist visiting them — not once, but three times to sample the delicious baked goods and learn more about the family’s story.
Stephanie and Ken Martinez and their two sons evacuated to Bozeman in early fall 2005 after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Prior to the hurricanes, the Martinez family was carrying forward their family tradition as bakers in Chalmette (St. Bernard Parish). Stephanie is the fourth generation of the Bracato family bakers who had immigrated from Sicily. Ken originally came from the small town of Delecroix in St. Bernard Parish.
After the two hurricanes hit St. Bernard Parish and destroyed their home and bakery, the family remembered a frequent customer from Bozeman who often came to Louisiana to look after his oil/gas interests. They e-mailed the “Montana Man” after they saw their devastated business and home and realized that even IF they could get a bakery up and running any place in Chalmette, they would have no market. So they collected the insurance on their delivery van, (around $14,000), were assured by FEMA of six months’ rent in Bozeman, and said a sad farewell to family and friends.
Once in Bozeman, Stephanie and Ken managed to put their two sons in school, find an apartment they could afford after a FEMA notification informed them they would only get two months’ rent, borrow some money from a cooperative, obtain the necessary certifications and licenses to open a bakery, find an affordable location for their new business and obtain bakery equipment.
On Helen and Lorna’s first visit to what ended up being an Italian bakery, not a French bakery, they discovered a very small but newly decorated establishment with a bright red door and a small metal table out front. The “Mezzo Matto Bakery” had opened on April 15 thanks to donations of used equipment such as counters and shelves, but they still needed other equipment. The family was working night and day to make the business a success. Even the children helped after school.
The couple shared photos of the destruction they had experienced when the hurricanes hit St. Bernard Parish. Ken mentioned that most people in Bozeman were friendly and helpful but really did not have an appreciation of their photos of destruction and the devastation they had experienced. But when Lorna and Helen saw the photos, they were reminded of so many similar sights in southern Louisiana. Their appreciation and empathy seemed to be a comfort to the Martinez couple, as was Southern Mutual Help Association’s offer of a grant and low-interest loan.
On Lorna and Helen’s third and last visit to the bakery, Stephanie and Ken quietly said that they had thought about the offer and would like to accept it.
When asked what the name “Mezzo Matto” meant, Stephanie replied “My family told us we must be half crazy to leave Louisiana and go to Bozeman, Montana, so we named our new business Mezzo Matto Bakery which is Italian for Half Crazy Bakery.”