White Truffles, Black-Market Ice Among Superstorm’s Cache

Drew Nieporent
Drew Nieporent, New York City restaurateur. Nieporent says his restaurants have been losing $100,000 a day in sales since superstorm Sandy struck. Photographer: Robin Marchant/Getty Images via Bloomberg

Drew Nieporent estimates that his New York City restaurants have been losing about $100,000 each day in sales since superstorm Sandy struck.

“I’m not being told optimistic things,” said Nieporent, when asked if insurance would cover the losses.

Not since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have so many New York restaurants remained closed for so long, threatening financial devastation for chefs and owners who need to pay their suppliers, landlords and employees.

And while flooding has damaged places like Red Hook Lobster Pound, the River Cafe and Governor, the loss of electricity has prevented many intact restaurants south of 40th Street in Manhattan from reopening.

“The downtown situation is bleak,” said Nieporent, whose empire includes Nobu, Nobu Next Door, Corton and Tribeca Grill, all of them still without power on Thursday. “After 9/11, we were shut down for two weeks, but we had power.”

Nobu 57, his only restaurant north of Canal Street, reopened for dinner service Wednesday and served more than 400 patrons.

No Trufflepalooza

Locanda Verde, Andrew Carmellini’s popular Italian spot in Tribeca, didn’t suffer any storm destruction. But the storm and loss of power forced cancellation of its annual “Trufflepalooza” dinner.

The white truffles purchased for the event are worth $15,000-$16,000, according to Jacque Burke, a spokeswoman for the restaurant.

“We are sitting on some of the nicest white truffles around right now, and we are still trying to figure out what to do with them,” Burque wrote in an email. “Unfortunately, there are way, way bigger tragedies.”

Restaurants attempting to operate without power face a variety of challenges, from storing food at safe temperatures to finding a source of heat for cooking. Keith McNally’s Pulino’s lucked out with its wood-fired pizza ovens last night.

Credit Cards

Even processing payments can be difficult. At Tertulia, an ambitious Spanish spot on Sixth Avenue, it was cash-only on Wednesday and Thursday nights.

“No power means no cell service (for the most part) and no data lines, so the only way we could take credit cards would be the old fashioned way, but we don’t have the zipper machine,” wrote chef-owner Seamus Mullen. He said he got through dinner service by cooking with gas, equipping the chefs with headlights and illuminating the dining room with hurricane candles.

Mullen has also figured out how to keep food chilled.

“There is a black market for everything, including dry-ice and so we’ve been hitting up our dealer in the Bronx for our daily dry ice fix. He has a beeper.”

Customers got a bit of a deal with the cash-only policy. Normally, the most expensive item on Tertulia’s menu is a $92 steak. Wednesday night, the priciest individual dish was a $12 paella (normally $38 for two), with a five-course chef’s menu at $30.

Restaurants are eligible to seek up to $2 million in disaster funding through the U.S. Small Business Administration. Owners can apply for physical damage loans, to repair equipment, or for economic injury loans, to help meet regular financial obligations. Of course, those loans need to be repaid.

“The only silver lining is that we’re saving money on our utilities,” quipped Mullen.

Muse highlights include movies and Jeremy Gerard on theater.