The news cycle may have moved on, but Puerto Rico, which was torn to shreds by Hurricane Maria nearly two months ago, is still in disarray. At least a third of all restaurants (and other small businesses) on the island remain closed due to limited access to electricity, according to a New York Times report.
In San Juan, chef Jose Enrique’s eponymous restaurant is open and serves drinks and food whenever the lights are on. “So power comes and goes,” he wrote on Instagram last week. “Life after a [category 5 storm] but, ‘nobody's gonna break up my stride...’” When the power’s out, Enrique feeds those that are less fortunate.
Only about 50 percent of the island has consistent power, and “there is an epidemic of broken [diesel-powered] generators,” according to the Times, which have been a stop-gap solution to the mounting power issues. Unfortunately, the generators frequently break down, and repair personnel are hard to come by.
About a third of the 5,000 restaurants that are members of the Association of Restaurants in Puerto Rico, including major chains like Burger King (pictured above) and Panda Express, have not yet reopened. Additionally, 30 percent of hotels on the island remain closed, hurting tourism. Economic losses are estimated at between $20 and $40 billion. Hundreds of thousands are out of work because businesses without power stay closed.
Meanwhile, there’s a demand for restaurant meals because in addition to the loss of power, many homes suffered structural damage, making cooking at home difficult. Those who don’t have power or generators rely on gas grills and open fires to cook and lanterns to light their way. And even without the power sourcing issues, access to food, whether for home cooking or restaurant operations, has proved difficult.
Believe, a restaurant owned by Miriam Gonzalez in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, used to do $4,000 in sales every day. Today, Gonzalez tells the Times that she “makes a fraction of that cooking hamburgers and shish kebabs on a portable grill out front, where locals sip beer on plastic chairs.” She had to lay off all of her 15 employees. “I went to church, and I’m not a church person,” she said. “I sat there and said, ‘Please bring the power back.’”