SHRM Festivities Aren’t Limited to the Convention Center

By Rick Bell

Jun. 24, 2009

This probably comes as no surprise, but the people of New Orleans really love to show off their city.

And Tonya Armbruster is among those who bubble over with pride when touting New Orleans to visitors. As vice president of human resources and adult development for the Girl Scouts Louisiana East, Armbruster normally spins her city’s epicurean and cultural qualities to visiting friends and family. But as public relations director for the SHRM-affiliated HRMA New Orleans Chapter 0063 and a true Crescent City insider, she gladly lays out for all the HR practitioners descending on her city what to see and do while in town for the 61st annual SHRM convention.

“Our chapter’s been excited about SHRM coming to town for the past year and a half,” says Armbruster, who was born in Mississippi and moved to New Orleans when she was 6. “We have a lot to show off here.”

And she begins her tour with the obvious.

“Food and music, food and music, food and music,” she says. “Anything from barbecue to haute cuisine, jazz to reggaeton, you can find it here.”

For value, Armbruster says, there’s Angeli’s and Port of Call in the French Quarter. NOLA, an Emeril Lagasse restaurant also in the Quarter, is pricey, but she adds, “It’s not just a meal, it’s an experience.”

But the best restaurant no one knows about?

“One of my new favorite restaurants that is still relatively undiscovered is Boucherie,” says Armbruster, who’s in her second year as the SHRM chapter’s PR director. “It’s located uptown in a renovated home and serves everything from grit fries to roasted duck breast. It’s tiny, but fabulous and reasonably priced.”

For live music, Armbruster recommends going past the French Quarter to the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood, where live music of all types flows from numerous venues.

“You can walk down the street and hear everything—folk, jazz, blues, Latin—and people are playing in the street too,” says Armbruster, a seven-year member of SHRM. “Closer to the hotels, there’s Tipitina’s and Howlin’ Wolf, and the Maple Leaf is in the Garden District.”

There’s also culture beyond restaurants and nightclubs, she says.

“One thing visitors don’t realize about our city is the volume and quality of our arts and culture,” she says. “We have a large artists’ community of painters, sculptors, writers and actors. Not many people know this, but New Orleans is home to the oldest continuously operating community theater in America—Le Petit Theater du Vieux Carre.”

There’s also the National World War II Museum and the Audubon Nature Institute that includes the Aquarium of the Americas, Audubon Park, Audubon Zoo and the Audubon Insectarium, she adds.

“We’re more than just a party town,” she says.

Armbruster admits that after four years, the city’s still trying to regain its pre-Hurricane Katrina atmosphere. “Is the city back to the way it was? No, and I don’t think it ever will be,” she says. “But the vibe is still there, certainly. The special je ne sais quoi that makes New Orleans so unique really never left.”

With that in mind, Armbruster says her HR colleagues will enjoy their visit.

“We’ll put on a good show,” Armbruster says, slipping into her best Crescent City drawl. “After all, it’s N’awlins, dahlin’.”

Rick Bell is Workforce’s editorial director. For comments or questions email

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