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A Resurrected Retreat
For decades, scores of tourists flocked to New Orleans for world-class jazz, cuisine and a haunted history rich in voodoo lore and ghost stories. But when Hurricane Katrina and subsequent flooding ravaged the city in 2005, the Big Easy became home to ghosts of a different sort. Even when the waters receded and the city started to rebuild, many residents who had fled during the storm didn’t return, and myriad local business owners never reopened their shuttered doors.
Among those casualties was the first floor of the locally owned Avenue Plaza Resort Hotel in the tony Garden District. Mackie Shilstone, local businesswoman and owner of several health food stores, had originally planned to develop the 5,600-square-foot space into a high-end fitness center and spa. In fact, all the plumbing and much of the design were already in place when city officials began issuing storm-related evacuation orders. After the flood, the project was abandoned and, for nearly three years, the space sat empty. Finally, in 2008, an area businesswoman began using a small portion of that space as an extension to her mobile spa business, Spa Laje. In early 2012, local tech entrepreneur Mike Melito and his wife Mary bought that business, renamed it Le Jardin Day Spa, and set their sights on finishing the grand project that Shilstone had initially envisioned, while still maintaining the lucrative mobile aspect of Spa Laje.
“The story of how we came to be is really symbolic of New Orleans, post-Katrina,” says Le Jardin’s general manager, Sarah Cuartas. “We know about starting over, and we believe in this city.” —Shari Goldhagen