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National Restaurant Association - Program aims to help Louisiana restaurants buy local

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Program aims to help Louisiana restaurants buy local

Louisiana is finalizing a new pilot program to help restaurants afford local food.

Under what's believed to be a first-of-its-kind law, Louisiana restaurants will qualify for a 4 percent rebate on food produced in the state. The money will be drawn from a pool created by grower associations, marketing cooperatives and private-sector grants. The law specifies that no state funds will be used.

The measure is intended to promote the state's farmers, artisan food processors and fishermen by lowering one of the biggest hurdles to buying locally.

"For restaurants, it's almost always a matter of how much more it will cost to get a local product," says Dickie Brennan, a member of the National Restaurant Association's board of directors. The New Orleans restaurateur, whose family name adorns some of the city's most famous eateries, is a member of the NRA board's Sustainability and Social Responsibility committee.

Brennan, who helped to conceptualize the new law, says he's yet to peg how much it will save his three high-end restaurants. But the benefit "absolutely" will run into tens of thousands of dollars per year, he stresses.

The measure also bolsters longstanding efforts to whet tourists' appetites for genuine Louisiana specialties cooked in true Louisiana style in Louisiana's celebrated restaurants.

"If I see a case of South Carolina sweet potatoes outside my back door, people know I'm going to be screaming all day about it," says Brennan, who's active in tourism promotion and the Louisiana Restaurant Association. "Louisiana doesn't get any benefit from that."

The Louisiana Buy Local Purchase Incentive Program is a three-year test. Although a start date has yet to be finalized, the rules and regulations are being written, leading Brennan to hope for a Jan. 1, 2012, start date.

"The trend right now is that customers want to know where the food on the menu comes from, and they want it to be local," says Brennan. "This will help our restaurants give them that."

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