What Does Hurricane Sandy Mean for NYC Restaurants?

We look at how the NYC food world is responding to the hurricane, and what you can do to help.

  • Click through the gallery to see how the New York food world has responded to Sandy.
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As we enter the second full-day of blackout in lower Manhattan and the flash floods dissipate in areas Battery Park and Red Hook, many are beginning to take stock of the damage—both long-term and short—to the city’s restaurants. The tweets above, gathered from NYC chefs and food writers, paint a distressing portrait of the situation, but they also demonstrate the impressive resilience and camaraderie of the New York dining scene.

We’ve been following these updates closely, and also reaching out to chefs and owners directly, to get a hold on what’s happening and what’s in store. Below are some of the issues that have emerged, as well as ways you can help. We’ll continue to update as we hear more.

The worst of it. The restaurants facing the toughest road to recovery seem to be those that have experienced severe water damage. HuffPost Food has some sad photos from the historic River Cafe, whose situation on the banks of the East River left it exposed to massive flooding. Meanwhile, Twitter has seen a huge outpouring of support for Mile End, whose commissary in Red Hook—where they make their famous smoked meat—has apparently been decimated.

Other problems: Spoilage and lost business. Though less severe than flooded kitchens and dining rooms, the lack of refrigeration—not to mention customers—is forcing restaurateurs to swallow some major losses. Joe Bastianich told HuffPo about all the food that will need to be thrown away at the restaurants he owns with Mario Batali, estimating that Del Posto alone will lose “between $50,000 and $70,000.” Hearth’s Marco Canora tweeted about the rancid smell of rotting food in his kitchen, while chef Dan Kluger of ABC Kitchen noted that it’s the empty seats, moreso than the tossed ingredients, that really hurt the bottom line.

“We’re losing 200 customers a day, and around 350 if we’re [without power] into the weekend,” says Jesse Alexander of EN Japanese Brasserie.

This afternoon, we spoke to Jesse Alexander, co-owner of EN Brasserie on Hudson Street, who shut down operations when the subways stopped running on Sunday. He says that while a generator in the building has helped them keep their walk-in refrigerator running, they’ll still have to throw out sashimi and other hyper-fresh produce they serve. “We’re losing 200 customers a day, and around 350 if we’re [without power] into the weekend—so yeah, it hurts.”

The plus side: Further evidence that nothing stops New Yorkers. We saw the Gray’s Papaya on the Sixth Avenue firing up the gas to serve hot dogs, Mud Coffee trucks venturing into blackout areas to caffeinate those without hot water, and restaurants on Greenwich Avenue serving diners by candlelight. Similar tales of restaurants bucking the odds to feed customers have been coming in all day. Fort Defiance is hosting an outdoor cooking in Red Hook, Northern Spy Food Co. was giving out free food, and Village Voice critic Robert Sietsema filed word that some powerless West Village restaurants were alive and kicking last night—particularly the ones with wood-fired ovens. Looks like last year’s big restaurant trend is paying dividends in crisis time.

If you’re wondering why other lower Manhattan restaurants aren’t doing the same, the answer is probably liability. Jesse Alexander of EN Japanese Brasserie noted that while his staff members are itching to get back to work, the risk of opening without lights, ventilation systems, or hot water is too high. “We wouldn’t even be able to wash our hands or dishes properly.”

Those restaurants that can stay open are bustling—and struggling to keep up with demand. Making our way from the darkness of lower Manhattan up to midtown and the Upper West Side last night, we noticed huge crowds of people at restaurants that wouldn’t be nearly as busy under normal circumstances. We’re told Paul Krug of Teriyaki Grill had to shut down his Union Square location, but he and his staff have been hustling to keep up with delivery demand (lawyers!) in midtown. If you’re trying to go out tonight, or for the rest of the week, make reservations. If you’re ordering in, be patient. Eater and Grubstreet both have running lists of restaurants and bars that have reopened.

You can help by purchasing gift certificates and booking for fall events. Jimmy Carbone, owner of Jimmy’s No. 43, sent us grim dispatches from the scene in his’ hood last night: “East village is a no-man’s land disaster zone. No stores open, streets dark.” He says that until Con-Ed powers back up and the “open for business” signs go back up, the best way people can help restaurants is by buying gift certificates (stash them away for the holidays) and purchasing tickets for upcoming events. These measures are not just a vote of confidence, but also a boost to the bottom line during what might turn into an entire week of lost business. Check out the upcoming schedule of Jimmy’s events, including Meat Week 2012, right here.

Jimmy Carbone (Jimmy’s No. 43) says the best way people can help restaurants is by buying gift certificates (stash them away for the holidays) and purchasing tickets for upcoming events.

It’s time to celebrate the heroism of waitstaff and delivery teams. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that transportation lockdown + well-staffed restaurants = some folks working very, very hard. Some staffers have been making epic commutes by foot and bike to make their shifts, while others never left when the storm hit and have been filling in for coworkers who can’t make it into work. Other places have even recruited non-restaurant staff to pitch in and help them stay open. Meanwhile, Seamless has kept going strong, with some intrepid restaurants even servicing blacked-out parts of the city.

And, related to that, it’s time to be a big tipper. While office workers are waiting out what amounts to a paid vacation, restaurant and bar staff who depend on tips for their livelihood and are hemorrhaging rent money fast. As Time Out NY Food & Drink editor Mari Uyehara tweeted, “Be a good New Yorker—TIP BIG.” That goes for right now, as well as in weeks to come when closed venues get back on their feet. Restaurateur Danny Meyer concurred, urging people to “return to your favorite [lower Manhattan] restaurants early and often” when the lights come back on.

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