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Hurricane Sandy's Aftermath: Atlantic City's Casinos, Restaurants, and Workers Struggle to Recover

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Atlantic City skyline.
Atlantic City skyline.
Photo: Facebook

News out of Atlantic City, New Jersey, last week was pretty bleak with the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy. It was not so much physical destruction — though there was that, too — but also the economic pain inflicted by the five-day mandatory shuttering of the casinos and their many restaurants. According to Reuters, a Moody's report today says that revenues in Atlantic City "will be down by 25 percent in both the fourth quarter and the first quarter, and earnings will be down by up to 50 percent."

And while the casinos are no longer losing the reported nearly $5 million a day combined, it's still devastation for the casinos' many, many hospitality workers. Here's a look at the situation for restaurateurs and food service employees in Atlantic City.

How Hurricane Sandy is Affecting Casino Employees

Union leader Bob McDevitt, president of UNITE HERE Local 54, tells Eater that he expects a long-term and very slow recovery from Hurricane Sandy, describing what he calls "a cascading effect of a bad situation." Essentially, casino employees have been out of work for verging on two weeks — first with the mandatory shutter and now, he says, most casinos still have only reopened about 25 to 50 percent of their food and beverage operations. And, to add to that cascade, the casinos are heading into their slow holiday season, likely to prolong recovery even more.

Further, while these casinos didn't sustain much damage, McDevitt explains that a lot of homes in Atlantic City are basement apartments — meaning a lot of people who work in casinos likely had their homes flooded with four or five feet of water. "So not only are they not working, but they're semi-homeless," McDevitt says.

Indeed, Tom Davidson of the Atlantic City Rescue Mission told the Washington Times on Sunday that the city's homeless shelter expected an influx of new residents. In particular, the "waitresses, cabdrivers, food-service employees, hotel housekeepers — people who get by on tips, the lower-middle-class backbone of this city." Yesterday evening, Davidson explained to Eater that he couldn't offer any definite intel on the numbers of now-homeless food service industry workers, but noting that one of the hardest hit neighborhoods was a section of town where Hispanic and Asian families live, at least some of whom work in kitchens, too.

What the Casinos Are Doing For Employees

While the mandatory shutter certainly hit the casinos hard, most of them came through with little to no damage. According to Caesars Entertainment Vice President of Food and Beverage Joseph Giunta, the Caesars properties emerged virtually unscathed. There was no real loss of power and a storm plan in place meant that they had already reduced inventory, canceled purchases and packed product on dry ice in time for the storm, serving the more perishable food to employees who stayed at the hotels during the storm.

Even now, a spokesman explains that Caesars is still putting up employees at its hotels and is distributing food and goods to them and to the general public. While still operating under certain labor principles such as tenure when assigning shifts, Caesars is "certainly compassionate to people who need" to work, he said. And apparently the food and beverage team reports no problem with staffing the restaurants that are open — though acknowledging that as of Friday they were only about 50 percent operational. By this weekend, though, that number should be closer to 75 percent.

Meanwhile, over at the Borgata, labor leader McDevitt says that casino is offering employees paid time off for last week and this period of ramping back up to full operations. If employees don't have any of that time left, McDevitt explains, they're allowed to go up to 16 hours negative.

How Non-Casino Restaurants Are Coping


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Piccini, Ocean City. Before the storm. [Photo: Facebook]

Meanwhile, Davidson also notes that it's not just the casino employees who are in trouble — after all, the casino restaurants are "in pretty good shape" — but small restaurant owners throughout the area who aren't getting the attention they need. According to Davidson, the boardwalk restaurants "a lot of them that had to be completely rebuilt or closed." Davidson also explains that, "Some of the higher end restaurants sustained water damage," such as Steve & Cookie's in Margate. Insurance should cover some of that damage but not all.

That said, Davidson notes that restaurant owners are helping out in a big way. The owners of Ocean City's Piccini donated an entire freezer of food when that restaurant was severely damaged in the storm, per Davidson. The Mission is serving breakfast, lunch and dinner and has also been taking boxed lunches and food baskets to the affected communities.

In spite of all the damage, McDevitt says workers have not yet been filing for unemployment in any big numbers. He acknowledges that other areas have been hit harder and faced worse, but for Atlantic City, "This combination of hardships is very difficult... It's going to be a real psychological burden for the workforce."

What's Open and What's Not


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Billboard welcoming people to Atlantic City. [Photo: Facebook]

Atlantic City Club Casino Hotel
The coffee bar over at Cappuccino's has reopened serving coffee and pastries, while diner-meets-Jewish-deli The Coffee Shop is also open once more. A spokesperson for the casino explains that the opening schedule for the other restaurants is still under evaluation and "a determination will be made in the next day or so."

Caesars Entertainment
Caesars Entertainment is back up to at least 50 percent food and beverage operational and has posted the following statement to the Facebook pages for its four Atlantic City properties: "The damage of Sandy and the wake of its aftermath can be seen on the faces of every single Atlantic City employee and resident. Caesars Entertainment is committed to combat this tragedy and give full support to the many affected individuals and families. Over the next few days Caesars Entertainment will be working closely with its community leaders to identify the charities and organizations that can make the greatest impact, and will dedicate substantial support to those charities. Though this devastation took place in our own backyard, we are Jersey Strong and we will rebuild, overcome, and prevail..."

· Bally's: The Reserve operated on Saturday evening, but has been closed for the rest of the week. Harry's Oyster Bar & Seafood is offering incentives for diners to donate non-perishable food items and other supplies. Folks who donate a shopping bag full of food receive a dozen oysters for $6. Also, the restaurant will be weighing all the clothing, blankets and other supplies — every pound donated will be $1 off a dinner check up to $30. As co-owner Maureen Shay told the Press of Atlantic City, "Harry's was completely dry. Even the courtyard outside ? there were no pools of water. Our biggest issue will be getting deliveries of food and getting employees to the island."
· Caesars Palace: Mia and Atlantic Grill are closing at 9 p.m., Boardwalk Buffet is operating from 4-8 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday then noon to 8 p.m. on Thursday. Cafe Roma is not operating 24 hours, but rather opening at 7 a.m. and closing at 4 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday or noon on Thursday. Buddakan and the Continental AC have reopened.
· Harrah's: As of Friday, McCormick & Schmick's, Bill's Bar and Burger, Café Tazza, Taste of the Shore and the Poker Bar were open.
· Showboat: While most dining venues are operating as usual, Scarduzio's is going to be closed on Thursday. Meanwhile, French Quarter Buffet is closing early at 8 p.m.

Borgata
There was no damage done to the Borgata, which reopened on Friday afternoon. Not only are all restaurants open and operating on their normal schedules, but a spokeswoman says that the hotel and casino even kicked off Restaurant Week on Sunday night as planned as part of their Savor Borgata extravaganza. Savor Borgata Restaurant Week runs through Friday, while Savor Borgata's lineup of chef events will carry on unchanged.

Golden Nugget
The Golden Nugget has reopened and is doing its part to help out the community, offering 50 percent off its buffet for all those with New Jersey ID holders until further notice. They've also installed donation bins at the front desk and casino cage, plus they're offering free parking to anyone who needs it. According to the casino's Facebook page, "Again, the wheels are moving for this wonderful city by the sea, but it will be some time before we are at full speed. AC has a history of strong recovery. This will be no different!"

Resorts Casino Hotel
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[Photo: Resorts Casino Hotel]
Resorts has reopened, but there's no response from the team there as to what has reopened. Gallaghers and Gallaghers Burger Bar both announced on Facebook last week that they are closed until further notice.

Revel Resorts
Most restaurants have reopened at Revel, which a spokesperson says was lucky to have "sustained minimal damage." American Cut reopens tonight with a full dinner menu, and chef Marc Forgione notes on Facebook: "Atlantic City was one of the areas hardest hit by the storm and so I am thankful that my entire staff is safe. Please continue to support the relief efforts in Atlantic City." Azure by Alain Allegretti is expected to reopen later this week. Village Whiskey and Distrito are closed until the weekend, but Amada will be incorporating some of their dishes onto its menu in the meantime. HQ will reopen this coming weekend, while Royal Jelly is operating on regular hours, Thursday to Sunday.

Tropicana
Tropicana reports in that all of their restaurants reopened over the weekend and released the following message on their Facebook page: "We're happy to welcome our guests and employees back to Tropicana Casino and Resort. We know this is a trying time for many folks and our thoughts and prayers are with those affected. The Atlantic City Alliance is currently working to coordinate fundraising efforts and the Atlantic City Convention Center will be serving as a shelter for almost 1,000 displaced residents of Atlantic City. We are glad to get the casinos open and almost 40,000 employees back to work."

Trump Plaza
No word back from the restaurants specifically, but the hotel and casino reopened for business on Friday.

Trump Taj Mahal
Same as with the Trump Plaza, official word is merely that the hotel and casino reopened on Friday. But in what is likely good news for all the other Trump Taj restaurants, the hotel pulled off a grand opening of its new Robert's Steakhouse on Monday as planned.

Elsewhere
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Continental AC reopen after Hurricane Sandy. [Photo: Can-Do AC/Tumblr]
· James Beard Award-winning Chef Vola's survived "almost completely unscathed" despite its location in a basement a block from the boardwalk, and the restaurant has reopened. [Eater Philly]
· Formica Brothers Bakery has reopened all of its cafes in the area and has donated fresh bread and bakery items to the Ventnor Distribution Center. [Facebook]
· Tony Baloney's has reopened despite sand on its floor and three feet of water that owner Michael Hauke told the Press of Atlantic City likely caused thousands of dollars in damage. [Tumblr, Press of Atlantic City]
· Gilchrist Restaurant has reopened. [Tumblr]
· Back Bay Ale House has reopened after dealing with heater and Internet problems. But sister restaurants Vagabond and Scales are still TBD given the several feet of water they took on during the hurricane. [Facebook, Press of Atlantic City]
· Angelo's Fairmount Tavern reopened on Saturday. [Facebook]

· All Hurricane Sandy Coverage on Eater [-E-]
· All Atlantic City Coverage on Eater [-E-]

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