Though I spend much of my professional life ensuring food safety, a different kind of safety emerged as paramount: personal safety. Numerous emails went out between managers, owners, and staff, locating employees, identifying whereabouts and establishing lines of communication. But those lines of communication were tenuous at best. For the first time in perhaps the history of email, "reply all" was used properly as people came back on line, letting their restaurant team know they were all right and where they had landed.
As restaurant folk, we don't know how not to work. Our restaurant group closes only two days a year. So we waited by the phone for word that power was back on, or for some creative idea of how to manufacture hot water onsite -- anything to get us back in the door, even if it meant cooking by candlelight. However, without refrigeration, hoods, hot water, or ice, we knew we couldn't serve the public. So we waited. And then we waited some more.
As more and more people came back to the world of charged phones and Internet service, we learned of some incredible stories and some very sad ones. Staff began bunking up in numbers as the doors of those who were not as affected opened up to co-workers who were without power and heat. Many of us were fortunate, but Frank Langello, executive chef at our restaurant Babbo, lost everything. Our group organized a fundraiser at Otto Enoteco Pizzeria for next Monday so we could help Frank and his family start to rebuild
Then, thanks to the good folks at ConEdison, the lights came back on. For some restaurants it was Friday night, some Saturday morning. The IT department worked double time to get our point-of-sales systems back up and running. Operations people hit the road in search for ice. (It's more than worth mentioning here that our payroll staff worked straight through the week to insure timely delivery of paychecks no matter where anyone lived -- we do have restaurants in LA and Vegas as well.)
I quickly resumed my role as food-safety nerd and went to each NYC restaurant to discuss our rules for opening post-disaster. All potentially hazardous foods that had reached temperatures of above 41ºF had to go. Seeing as we couldn't be certain what the temperature gauges of the walk-ins had read when we came by in pitch dark midweek, we trashed everything. I pried a few wheels of cheese from a couple of chefs' white-knuckled hands, and we watched as the thousands of dollars we had spent on dry ice went down the drain. Tons of food were lost.
The tremendous food waste was painful. But by the time we recognized midweek that we would not be opening anytime soon, it was too late to donate the product to those in who could use it. Public health was the new, predominant concern, and we did what we had to. We felt the loss profoundly when we knew how many people in our very own city needed food right then.