He was an executive at Fuelman, but these days you're more likely to find Danny Kattan in an excavator instead of an office. Kattan's contracting business evolved out of a community's need for help with clearing trees and other debris from their homes and yards into Lakeview Demolition, which demolishes New Orleans homes and prepares lots for rebuilding.
When Kattan left Fuelman in 1999, he began flipping houses — buying old homes and fixing them up, then selling them for profit. After Katrina hit the city of New Orleans, Kattan used his skills in construction and his entrepreneurial spirit to start helping others and building a new business.
Kattan lived in a neighborhood on the West Bank that was 11-1/2 feet above sea level, so he was able to stay in his home in the aftermath of Katrina. Not satisfied with sitting around and waiting for things to clear up, Kattan contacted Duhon Machinery in search of a skid steer to help clear roads and remove trees from homes. "I bought a T200 and some chain saws and started taking trees out of houses. We did that for 6 months, and then it started evolving into a demolition-type scenario where people had structures down and they needed them cleaned up."
Kattan's first demolition was the removal of a damaged garage. He used his Bobcat and grapple bucket to get the job done. The next demolition was taking down a home. Kattan rented an excavator for this job. When complete, he saw the potential for demolition contracting in New Orleans, and purchased his first excavator, a 26,000-pound machine.
"I used the first excavator to take a few houses down, but I could see that it was going to be too small. It didn't have enough strength to pull up the concrete slabs."
Kattan purchased a Cyclone breaker from Duhon Machinery for his Bobcat T200 to help break up the slabs and make it easier for the excavator to remove the concrete, but still felt he needed a larger piece of equipment. Scott Equipment helped him find a 2005 Volvo 160E, a 38,000-pound machine with a Central Fabricators 42-inch bucket and AIM thumb. The excavator was large enough to suit Kattan's needs, but still within the state's limits for weight, height and width, which meant it could be moved around the city without a permit.
"I am loving that machine," says Kattan. "I am born and raised here in New Orleans, I'm native. I love the Rebirth Brass Band with their new second line Mardi Gras-style music. I put that music on, close the door, and set the temperature control, and get down to business. If it's cold outside, I have a seat warmer."
Kattan also upgraded his skid steer, trading in his T200 for a T300 with an enclosed cab, something he appreciates after spending time in an open cab during muggy summer months, and around the large and menacing mosquitoes of south Louisiana. Kattan uses a variety of attachments with his skid steer, including a Cyclone breaker, a 90-inch BRUSHCAT™, a sand bucket for spreading dirt, and a grapple bucket for removing debris.
"We recycle as much as possible. Whatever I can, I give away to people who can use it," says Kattan of materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill. He also uses the excavator to walk over the wood of demolished structures and break it up, to save on space when hauling debris.
"If I didn't walk over this material, I'd probably have eight trucks of debris to haul out of here. The most I'll have after compressing the material is four trucks."
Kattan uses C. Lee Trucking LLC, another small contractor, to haul debris away. "We moved to Atlanta after the hurricane, but came back to New Orleans because there was more work," said Charlie Lee, owner of the trucking company. Before the hurricane C. Lee Trucking hauled materials. These days, he mainly hauls debris.
Demolishing a home can be a pretty emotional experience for its owner. Kattan makes the arrangements to secure the demolition funding from the insurance companies, takes care of all the paperwork and demolition permits, orders elevation surveys and obtains city damage certificates.
"Many of these people were born and raised in these houses," says Kattan. "When I meet with (homeowners) it's a turnkey thing. I look at the house, I give them a price, they say yes or no, and that's it. The day before I demolish the home, I call them up and let them know."
More often than not, the homeowner will attend the demolition, or send a family or friend. Kattan says their reactions are varied, from optimistic anticipation of their rebuilding plans to a deep sense of loss. "When the excavator hits that house, sometimes they just go to tears."
Other families have held jazz funerals, a New Orleans tradition where family, friends and a brass band march to somber music, which transitions into more upbeat music and dancing to signify letting go, and, in this instance starting fresh.
"I tell folks when I do the demolition, 'I'm the last one you'll see in your house post-Katrina, but I'm the first one you'll see on your property for your rebirth, and your new future.' That's a very comforting thing to most of them, it gives them closure." Most of Kattan's customers have plans to rebuild and return, a hopeful note for the city of New Orleans.
"I'm excited about this city's rebirth," says Kattan. "For guys like me, this is an opportunity of a lifetime. If you have skills, and you have vision, you can make it out here. I keep my prices in line, and treat people like I like to be treated myself, and the business keeps coming. I'm not the biggest guy on the block, I don't want to be the biggest guy on the block, but I do well."