Though power is back on in Lower Manhattan and the subways are mostly running smoothly, many New Yorkers are still recovering from the disastrous impact of Hurricane Sandy. Devastated restaurants in "Zone A," the red zones where residents were evacuated and streets flooded, are still reeling from the effects of the storm.
In a city already known for its cutthroat restaurant industry, Sandy was the death knell for many establishments. Restaurant sales for all of Manhattan were down 55 percent in the week immediately following Sandy, and sales were down 88.3 percent on average for restaurants in SoPo—the area that was "South of Power." For some eateries, that was just too big of a hit to take.
And even though the power for most came back on within five days, for many restaurant owners in Manhattan's South Street Seaport or Brooklyn's Red Hook neighborhood that was the least of their worries. A thick, green mold is now growing on wood and in the concrete of many coast-adjacent restaurants, and owners are contending with lost revenue, an inability to pay their staff, and destroyed inventory in the wake of the biggest storm in recent East Coast history.
Now restaurants are struggling to procure the funds to repair the damage. Most restaurants are suffering through the bureaucratic mess of applying for government compensation and emergency loans, but a few intrepid businesses are taking the fundraising to the internet.
"Everything in our restaurant was destroyed including pots, pans, furniture and expensive restaurant equipment," says the Smallknot page for South Street Seaport restaurant Donagallo.
"We had five feet of water inside the restaurant," says ACQUA on its Fundly page. "We lost our computers, refrigerators, POS system, and all [our] inventory!"
Many are close to reaching their goals already. At press time, the Good Fork in Red Hook, Brooklyn, had already raised over $40,000 of its $50,000 goal, and Ted & Honey had exceeded its target amount of $10,000 by $1,000.
Restaurateurs Michelle Mannix and Chris "Ted" Jackson own two restaurants in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, both of which were devastated by the storm. So they took to fundraising on Smallknot.com.
"The Smallknot.com campaign was a great resource for us to raise funds and awareness that we were affected," Michelle Mannix, co-owner of Ted & Honey, wrote to Business Insider in an email. "We were able to reach our Smallknot fundraising goal within 4 days, but I would have liked their fundraising ceiling to be a bit higher as the amount we raised covers only about 25% of what we need that will not be covered by insurance."
New Yorkers found other ways to save local restaurants. Liftsall.org paired functioning restaurants with damaged ones to help provide any available assistance (such as throwing fundraising dinners or lending supplies), and Eat Down, Tip Up, urged diners to leave generous tips at downtown establishments.
Some restaurants in hard-hit areas were more fortunate than others. Felice 15 Gold, a new restaurant on Gold street in lower Manhattan, was able to keep its kitchen open with just one emergency light while serving family-style pasta and sandwiches to guests stranded in Gild Hall, a nearby hotel. They also kept the bar open by candlelight to serve the neighborhood in its time of need.
But with entire neighborhoods destroyed, homes totaled, and people killed in New Jersey and Staten Island, critics aren't happy that New York restaurants are getting all the attention.
"Saving restaurants is important, but it's less important than the other needs," Robert Sietsema, food critic at the Village Voice, told the Los Angeles Times. "Although it's nice to see people coming together, let's be honest — New Yorkers don't need to be talked into going out to eat more often."
No one is arguing that Manhattan fared better than its geographical neighbors in the wake of the hurricane. But 300,000 people are employed in restaurants around the NYC area, and owners have lost millions in investments and their sole source of income. Shouldn't we be helping all of those in need as much as we possibly can?
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