A City Without Sushi? Say It Isn't So

Water everywhere and not a fish to eat
Photograph by Akio Kon/Bloomberg

Many restaurants and stores in middle and upper Manhattan reopened Wednesday for the first time since Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast, but while those that generally sell sushi have electricity, they don’t have fresh fish.

“We’ve just stopped selling sushi,” says John Sanchez, a shift leader at the Whole Foods grocery store at Columbus Circle, on 59th Street. “Whatever we had left on Sunday night was thrown out, and we haven’t had any since then.” Even if the suppliers could get fish to him, Sanchez says, Whole Foods staffers trained to roll sushi wouldn’t be available. “The trains are down and the people who make it for us are all so far away,” he says. “We don’t know when we’ll have any again.”

Fifty blocks north, the Westside Market grocery store on 110th Street is one of the few places still offering sushi. It receives frozen shipments in bulk, which it thaws for daily sale—a practice common to roughly half of U.S. sushi, recommended by the Food and Drug Administration to kill bacteria. “We have about a week’s supply left, so we haven’t had any issues,” says Ian Joskowitz, the store manager and chief operating officer of the four-store chain. “The real problem is our fresh fish.”

Much of the supply spoiled in darkened lower Manhattan. (A video of Chinatown fishmongers selling seafood for prices as low as $1 has been circulating online.) Westside Market hasn’t had a fresh shipment since last Saturday, so Joskowitz has been cold-calling suppliers he doesn’t normally do business with to see what he can get. “A lot of them have stopped answering their phones ’cause they don’t have anything. The only thing I’ve been able to get my hands on is salmon,” he says.

That salmon comes from Ocean Pacific Seafood Group in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood. Although its warehouse is located in flood zone A (recommended for evacuation before the storm), manager Albert Leonardos says Ocean Pacific didn’t suffer any flood damage and has been able to keep its fish cold with backup generators. It’s operating at limited capacity, but it’s one of the few suppliers still operating at all.

“As long as you’re prepared and watch NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] constantly, you’ll be OK,” Leonardos says. He ordered larger quantities of fish on Sunday, most of which was flown in from Hawaii, and it lasted just long enough for a new shipment to arrive this morning, after JFK and Newark airports reopened. Leonardos expects to get his first post-Sandy tuna shipment in soon, too. “It’s supposed to arrive this afternoon, and I’ll send it right to the restaurants—well, the ones that have power,” he says.

Kenji Takahashi, owner and chef of the high-end Upper East Side restaurant Sasabune, buys his stock without the aid of wholesalers. While his Friday shipment is still on for now, Monday’s and Wednesday’s were canceled. “I get fish from Japan, but I can’t do that right now, so I’ve been going to fish markets and buying what I can,” he says. “It’s mostly fish from Europe and local stuff right now.” That’ll have to do until Friday, when Takahashi hopes the good stuff will start arriving again from Japan.