The NYC Restaurant Industry Gets to Work, No Matter What


Here’s what’s going on right now: Cooks are wearing construction helmets fitted with lights to work in the dark, or cooking by flashlight to serve free food. Restaurants without power are using barbecues to shift service to the streets, while mobile vendors park in the darkest shadows they can find, offering us light and food to gather around again.

Hurricane Sandy has hit our restaurants hard and the impact on the industry, especially in low-lying areas damaged by flooding, and places where the power outage is keeping restaurants shut, will be severe. Meanwhile, restaurant workers have been commuting in extreme conditions to get back to work, no matter what.

The restaurant industry has a make-it-happen attitude throughout the year, but in tough times it’s truly extraordinary — I hope you’re finding contentment in the darkness, ordering from the most limited of limited menus, and I hope you’re tipping as generously as you can.

Of course, many restaurants aren’t able to open. Their basements are filling with water, even as they bail them out. Their kitchen equipment and dining rooms are ruined. Their food is spoiled. Their power is out. They don’t have enough hands around to clean up, but they are working around the clock to make it happen.

St. John Frizell considered it his civic duty to open Red Hook’s Fort Defiance after reading The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg. It inspired him with the concept of the “third place,” a space between home and work that becomes the center of “a vital informal public life.” Frizell’s place on Van Brunt Street is exactly this to the community here. Vital. But it’s one of the many restaurants, battered and flooded, that remains closed.

If you’re looking to help, many of our city’s bars and restaurants need volunteers this week. You can show up in disaster zones and lend a hand, or make sure the small businesses around you know about the resources available to them:

Restaurant owners who sustained losses can apply for federal disaster relief by registering here or calling 1-800-621-3362. FEMA can offer unemployment payments for as long as 26 weeks for workers who lost jobs. Restaurant owners registered with FEMA can also apply for disaster loans. SBA provides loans as high as $2 million for small businesses with property damage or loss of cash flow. (1-800-659-2955 or

How is your favorite restaurant doing? Your local bodega? Find out. Businesses that aren’t on Twitter, without press representatives to send us updates, cut off from us insufferable, loudmouth food writers, are the ones that need you most right now. Consider it your civic duty.