Torres's metamorphosis into Mr. Clean emerged out of equal parts necessity and entrepreneurial spirit. A real estate hotshot and the owner of three hotels when Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005, Torres was facing a growing mountain of garbage in the aftermath of the disaster. When he researched much-needed waste pickup for his hotels in the absence of government service, he found "the prices were insane," he says So, he bought his own truck. Upon discovering that people were desperate for efficient, affordable garbage collection, he soon purchased another truck. Then he submitted the winning bid to collect garbage in New Orleans's neighboring St. Bernard Parish. Before he knew it, his SDT Waste and Debris Services had secured an annual $9 million, 10-year city contract for the French Quarter and beyond.

Torres's unabashed enthusiasm surely plays a role in his success. "I love the garbage business," he blurts out merrily. "We're adding class to trash!" Torres's newfound passion is even more incongruous given his youth (32) and his résumé: In his late teens, he led a rock-and-roll lifestyle as personal assistant to music legend Lenny Kravitz.

"For Kravitz it was a business," explains Torres, "but for me it was a nonstop party. I hit rock bottom and knew I had to stop." So Torres went straight, turning his attention away from drugs and toward mentoring atrisk youth and purchasing real estate.

I FIRST MET TORRES in 2000, when he was just opening a second boutique hotel, Hotel Royal, an 1827 Creole town house in the French Quarter. I was staying at his other property, Melrose Mansion, an impeccably restored Victorian manor where a six-foottall, tuxedo-and-ball-gown-wearing papiermâché couple greet you at the entrance and a life-size wooden farmer lurks in the hallway. I was immediately struck by Torres's style - elegant with unexpected flashes of whimsy. Torres was one of several young businesspeople accenting a city reputed for its traditional jazz roots and old-world charm with a more youthful, hip vibe.