It's been more than a week since Hurricane Sandy ripped its way across the East Coast, but the New Jersey city of Hoboken is still very much in the process of rebuilding. Thanks to its location below sea level on the banks of the Hudson River, damage in Hoboken was extensive. As a city spokesman puts it, "Half of Hoboken was under water."
Many of the city's restaurants — from James Beard Award winners to reality television stars — were forced to close either temporarily until the power came back on. Others are closed for the foreseeable future as they recover their battered storefronts. Some restaurants were able to reopen quickly, and they gave away food to hungry neighbors or donated it to city relief efforts. Residents also whisper rumors of price gouging. Here now, a look at where Hoboken restaurateurs and restaurant workers stand in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
Surveying the Damage
The National Guard, FEMA, and the Red Cross have all set up operations in Hoboken, where there seems to be a shortage of just about everything and many have been displaced from their homes. Here's an amazing video from the New York Times that reveals just how serious the damage was:
Like everyone and everything else in Hoboken, restaurants took their share of hits. As previously noted, cafe Legal Beans was completely destroyed in the storm with furniture discovered floating down the block.
Village Pourhouse the day after the storm. [Photo: @derekhood]
Meanwhile, Village Pourhouse was also underwater last week and while the extent of the damage is unknown, the popular bar writes on Facebook that it hopes to be back open soon. Owner Sean McGarr tells the Jersey Journal that "his staff has been working around the clock to clean out the bar" since Tuesday.
Maricel Presilla, who won the Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic title at this year's James Beard Awards, saw destruction to all three of her Hoboken properties, Zafra, Cucharamama, and the store Ultramarinos. Presilla tweeted out a photo last week during the flood of the beloved Zafra just absolutely engulfed in water, writing: "The view of my little restaurant Zafra yesterday as I waded the filthy river flooding Hoboken to get close."
Zafra has since reopened, but clean-up continues at Cucharamama and Ultramarinos. Stay tuned tomorrow for more from Presilla herself on her experience with Hurricane Sandy and the ordeal that's costing her thousands of dollars in repair.
Back Open For Business
The good news is that even restaurants that were flooded last week have been able to quickly pump water out of the building and make repairs to allow them to reopen already. To reopen following the hurricane, Hoboken is requiring restaurants to obtain clearance from the health department — a requirement that many restaurants have flouted over the past week.
City spokesman Juan Melli tells Eater he has no doubt that some restaurants opened without getting their inspections done first, though it was not clear how militant the city intends to be about enforcing the regulation. Melli also explains that the health department is moving at a "fast and furious" pace to square restaurants away for reopening as quickly as possible.
The Reopening Tale of Hoboken's Dozzino
Dozzino pizzeria is one of the restaurants that opened before its inspection — though it was officially cleared yesterday morning. Owner Marc Magliozzi says that, fortunately, flooding was restricted to a basement they don't really use. Perhaps a little that creeped into the restaurant, but essentially it just looked like someone had mopped in there.
Magliozzi started clearing out Dozzino on Wednesday, but also just spending time visiting with neighbors. He had to throw out vegetables, cheese and some of his cured meats, but there wasn't much in storage anyway that could have been left to spoil. He says he considered opening for dinner by candlelight — after all, the pizzeria has a wood-burning oven that requires no electricity — but decided in the end it wasn't safe for customers to be outside in the pitch black.
Finally, though, Magliozzi just couldn't wait any longer and re-opened briefly on Sunday for a pay-what-you-can meal of pizza, pasta and barbecue in the powerless restaurant. He explains, "I realized people weren't eating anything really besides canned food or whatever they had. So I kind of wanted to open just to see everyone and make sure everyone was OK. Not to sound cheesy about it, but just to make people feel like it would start to get to normal."
Dozzino officially opened for business again on Tuesday night. Getting supplies was not a problem since his local purveyors weren't really affected, and employees were eager to get back to work. Most live in the neighborhood, though employees commuting in from elsewhere were having a difficult time thanks to the still-closed PATH station, gas station lines and insane traffic.
Commuting issues, too, might be to blame for a slower-than-normal turnout so far at the normally slammed pizzeria. That said, Magliozzi expects things to get better quickly, "I think it'll be back to normal. I already feel like Hoboken is normal for the most part. I couldn't find a parking space the other day when I was driving around. That's I guess the signal that it's back to normal." PIX 11 files the following report on just how restaurants and small businesses are getting back to normal after Sandy:
Dozzino Pizza, reopened for business on Sunday [Photo: Tumblr]
A Spirit of Do-Gooding — and Worries of Price Gouging
Dozzino isn't the only restaurant that helped feed its neighbors in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Carlo's Bakery of TLC's Cake Boss fame was giving away coffee and crumb buns, while Charrito's Restaurant reportedly assisted the Hoboken Housing Authority when much of its public housing was damaged in the storm. Fran's Deli donated lunch to volunteers and was giving away coffee over the weekend. Indeed, restaurants all along the city's main strip Washington Street — luckily on higher elevation — were giving away food on Friday, according to CBS New York.
Other restaurants and bars such as 10th & Willow and the Turtle Club are hosting Hoboken relief fundraisers, and according to NJ.com, the National Guard "has helped volunteer organizations distribute more than 25,000 meals and more than 10 tons of supplies in Hoboken."
That said, Hoboken residents whisper rumors of price gouging going on at some of the already opened restaurants. Yelp and elsewhere have testimonials of such a thing and Maggliozi tells Eater he's heard the rumors, too, but some of the accused shops deny the rumors — and Maggliozi points out that his girlfriend even heard rumors about Dozzino engaging in price gouging when in fact it was giving food away.
But overall, it would seem the restaurant community in Hoboken has been more about rallying around one another and their patrons, and donating what's left of their food to relief efforts. As city spokesman Melli puts it, "The support has been great, overwhelming. It's in the whole community, but certainly a lot of the food has come from the restaurants. It has been really great."
Tomorrow, Eater talks to Hoboken chef and restaurateur Maricel Presilla.