Restaurants may be putting out metaphorical fires every night, but sometimes an actual disaster can show how well a team works together. Il Mulino New York’s (37 East 60 Street; 212-750-3270) uptown location just had one such disaster, a presumed electrical fire on Wednesday, November 5, that closed the restaurant and blanketed the place with smoke. Roughly 24 hours after the damage occurred, though, the restaurant was back to normal, preparing plates of homemade pasta while diners chatted about Taylor Swift’s new album.
How’d the management team do it?
Licensed public adjusters Anthony Luparello and his partner Steve Libal were onsite shortly after the fire was extinguished. Hired by businesses in the wake of a catastrophe, they often enter restaurants as everyone else heads for the exit. Luparello noted that he personally handles “anywhere from 15 to 20 restaurant disasters” in an average year, while his company, The New York Adjustment Bureau, handles somewhere between 30 and 50. Disasters can range from small kitchen fires to cars plowing through bagel stores.
There are a few things restaurants can do to help set them up for a quick recovery, says Luparello. “Lay out a game plan and go through with it,” he says. “The longer you leave smoke and water damage, the worse it gets. Thankfully, the location of the fire [at Il Mulino] was in an area that didn’t seat customers and had nothing to do with the kitchen or prep area for employees. However, any type of fire damage can cause smoke and water issues. “
For restaurants, which depend on Thursday-to-Sunday crowds, reopening as soon as possible is crucial. A lost weekend due to closure can be devastating. Since the fire occurred on Wednesday afternoon, the team had to make decisions fast in order to ensure the business wouldn’t lose more customers.
At Il Mulino, “the management and staff were precise in getting things done correctly and fast,” says Luparello. “They have a standard of excellence, and it was shown through intense organization following a problem. We were able to organize a cleaning company to come in and sanitize everything. The staff was extremely helpful in getting it done right away. Basically, everything was done overnight. There was no break. The key was getting the smoke out of there as soon as possible so it didn’t really set in to the carpets. It was all cleaned.”
Michael Greco, director of operations at Il Mulino, worked with owner Brian Galligan and his partners to oversee a staff game plan. After dealing with the initial shock of the fire and making sure that all staff members onsite were OK, Greco moved forward with contacting those who had a reservation that evening. “We had to contact all of the staff, and call all of the reservations and let them know we had a fire and we would be open as soon as we could,” Greco says.
To the team, Greco reiterated the mantra, “Let’s try to do something that couldn’t be done.”
Then they worked around the clock to get rid of the smell of smoke. “One thing we did was to make the restaurant smell like food,” says Greco. Chefs began cooking garlic and rosemary on one side of the kitchen, with orange and cinnamon boiling together to produce pleasant fragrances on the other. Tablecloths and carpets were replaced, and the kitchen ordered an entirely new inventory of food.
For restaurant owners and managers who face a similar situation, Greco advises decision-makers to keep their cool. “I think the first thing is keep a calm head, and have some sort of training with your staff ahead of time if a fire should break out,” he says. “Come up with a fire recovery plan.”
In the end, the dining room was as good as new: “If I didn’t see it, I would never have believed there was a fire there,” Luparello says.
Check out photos of Il Mulino’s brief ordeal on the next page.