In Hurricane Sandy's aftermath, Hoboken, New Jersey's restaurants and bars have shown resilience. A month ago, Eater's Amy McKeever surveyed the havoc the storm wreaked on several business, and in the time since, there have been promising developments. Of the city's 400 restaurants, only 15 of them remain shuttered. That said, serious challenges persist, almost across the board.
Juan Melli, a spokesman for the Hoboken mayor's office, tells Eater that most places are back in operation, but that no PATH train service translates to serious inconveniences for commuters and less — sometimes much less — business for local restaurants and bars. The PATH is the transit railroad that runs from New York City to New Jersey, and the Hoboken station experienced serious flooding after the storm. It doesn't look like train service will be restored for several weeks. "People are now mostly using the 126 bus line," says Melli. "Before they'd do 4,000 passengers a day, and now it's more than double that — it's basically functioning like a commuter rail." The change has had a serious effect on local businesses. Melli describes how "people would usually get out of the train station, take a walk, and maybe drop in somewhere for a bite to eat or at least a drink." Now, commuters are getting off at the bus stop nearest their home, less likely to spend money before calling it a day.
Here's a look at some of the restaurants that have made comebacks, and some that are still struggling. For additional coverage of other Hoboken businesses, as well as some in Jersey City, see a recent post on Eater NY.
Near The Station
It's no surprise that the businesses around the train station seem to be feeling it the most. Roger Corrado is the co-owner of the six-month-old location of Windmill on Hudson Street. The company has nine outposts in New Jersey and has been in operation since 1964. Corrado estimates that the restaurant has been making about half as much money as it did before the storm. "It's amazing that we were basically operating at a profit, even though we had just opened," says Corrado. "Now, that's been reversed." After getting back to business a week after the storm, the hit to profits was only about 25 to 30% ("People had cabin fever"), but things quickly went downhill. They've also yet to see any money from their insurance.
Corrado observes how new restaurants face particularly serious challenges: "Are we going to keep taking money out of our pockets and asking for investments while we keep losing?" He adds, "My partner and I have worked in Wall Street for a while, and the math here is particularly baffling."
But like most other business owners, Corrado intends on sticking it out. He remains positive. At the moment, however, he has to contend with the fact that his hot dog shop remains mostly empty throughout the day. There's only one employee working. "We used to get a ton of commuters and also drunk folks late at night from the bars, and that's all gone right now," said an employee during a recent shift. "It really sucks."
Around the corner from the Windmill, Alan Fox, a co-manager at the restaurant Havana, also points to "horrible" business thanks to the PATH suspension. Not only is the restaurant making 50% less profit, but he's had to cut people from staff. The restaurant benefits a great deal from New York City residents who head out to Jersey for good Cuban food, and those people have stopped coming. "We also do a lot of web promotions and special deals that attract people from outside the area," describes Fox, "but all that has been put on hold." Save for a few customers at the bar, the restaurant was completely empty at the lunch hour during which Fox sat down to talk.
Not every business has been hit as hard. A manager at the Green Rock Tavern, directly across the street from the Windmill, says that things have in "many ways gotten back to normal." They went through the power outage and the loss of food and product, like most everyone else (95% of business lost power), but it's not so bad these days. People are coming in to eat and to drink.
Despite that promising item, the shock from the storm remains palpable near the station. Corrado spoke of "a kind of PTSD that has set in," and on multiple visits to the area, people could be overheard talking about water damage, how they handled being without power, the things they did during Sandy.
Commuting to Work
Brendan Walsh at the bar at Zack's
The PATH problems also pose serious obstacles for restaurant workers who commute. Brendan Walsh, who works at the restaurants The Fig Tree and Zack's, says "the commute remains a nightmare." On a recent day, he took the bus to the Port Authority at 3:30 PM and didn't get off until 4:45 PM. "It's supposed to be a twenty-minute ride, but the Port Authority has been so jammed that they kept us on the bus," he said. "People went nuts." The first weeks after the hurricane, matters were even worse: to get to his home in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, Walsh had to go from Hoboken to the Port Authority, and then to Lyndhurst. He'd reverse that route to get to work in the morning. "It obviously makes sense for them to do this, but for a while the buses were running at hours more suited for 8-to-6ers and not restaurant workers," he said.
Not too far north of the station, Sergio Denichilo of the historic, family-owned Italian restaurant Leo's Grandevous insists on the positives. "The story I hope people will write is the one about the owners and employees who took their lumps but got to work as soon as they could," he says. "Where are we going to go? This is a multi-generation restaurant. Water came into the space, but we cleaned it up and got going quickly." Things haven't gotten completely back to normal according to Denichilo, but there have been some promising evenings in the past few weeks.
Most of all, Denichilo hopes that those observing from the outside don't get the impression that things are gloomy. "They read some of these articles and they think everything has been destroyed," he argues. "People have gotten back to work and are excited."
Denichilo may have a point. Nag's Head Pub nearby, which got rocked by flooding, recently reopened. "They had just had a party and are back again," said Denichilo.
A Still-Shuttered Restaurant
The owners of Clinton Social, five blocks up, can't be as positive. The restaurant is one of the fifteen in Hoboken that remain closed. Jesse Weeks, who manages Madison Bar and Grill — which is open and from the same owners — says that flooding to the basement of Clinton "destroyed the entire infrastructure of the building." The basement has been gutted, and the boiler room and all of the electrical work need to be redone. They hope to be open in a couple of weeks.
By The River
Hudson Tavern, mere blocks from the water
At Madison Bar and Grill, which sits on the corner of 14th and Washington, business looks to be back to normal. The restaurant is three blocks from the ferry station, in an area dense with restaurants and watering holes.
The places even closer to the water than Madison are back in their groove. Thomas Brennan, who owns Hudson Tavern, said six feet of water flooded the space (City Bistro, across the street, experienced a similar scenario). "It was just water and not too much physical damage to the restaurant," says Brennan. "Business has gotten back to normal, and we've had two especially good weekends."
Clara Chaumont, who works with chef Maricel Presilla (see Presilla's account of post-Sandy life here) at the restaurants Zafra and Cucharama and the store Ultramarinos, writes in to confirm that things have improved for them. On how she sees Hoboken over a month after Sandy: "The town pulled together to help everyone, and they did a great job with both the cleanup and sustaining community morale."
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