Heading into the Labor Day weekend, restaurants are struggling to reopen in the aftermath of the storm, which caused flooding in buildings across the city and forced much of the subway system to suspend service overnight. Vegan restaurant Grilled in Bushwick temporarily shut down until 12 p.m. tomorrow, while all-day cafe Porcelain in Ridgewood canceled its daytime service on Thursday with plans to reopen for dinner at 5:30 p.m.
At Chelsea Market, Very Fresh Noodles didn’t sustain any damages in-store, according to owners Victor Huang and Peter Tondreau. However, the pair were anticipating service adjustments, including possibly shutting down delivery for the day, as some staffers were not able to make it into work due to home flooding and public transit delays.
Sunset Park’s Yafa Cafe, which has been closed for renovations over the past month, posted a video to Instagram showing extensive flooding and water damage inside the newly upgraded space. “It’s safe to say Yafa will be out of commission for some time,” owners Ali Suliman and Hakim Sulaimani wrote in the post. “We’re back to square one after last [night’s] storm.” The owners have started a GoFundMe to raise $15,000 to help cover expenses to rebuild.
NYC’s Central Park recorded 3.1 inches of rainfall in one hour Wednesday night, exceeding the previous record of rainfall in one hour — 1.94 inches — that had been set one week earlier as tropical storm Henri blew through the area. The downpour caused the park’s lake to swell up and water spewed over the dining room floor of the iconic restaurant at the Loeb Boathouse, which overlooks the lake. “It’s not like we had water coming in from the roof — the whole lake rose up,” proprietor Dean Poll says. “The height of the lake went higher than the boathouse.”
By late Thursday morning, the lake water had receded to about an inch across the restaurant’s indoor dining room floor, according to Poll. The outside bar remained under an estimated foot of water. The restaurant has not yet been able to assess the full extent of the water damage, but Poll is expecting that electric wiring in the floor will have to be replaced. He is hoping that the restaurant’s tiled floor stayed intact throughout the flooding. “The wonderful lake is our asset, and at times, it is our liability,” Poll says.
Gloribelle Perez, who owns Barcha in East Harlem, watched as water levels rose around her restaurant from afar. Around 10 p.m. on Wednesday, her twins were asleep, her husband Walid Mrabet had just gotten home from the restaurant, and she was watching security footage of “ocean waves” crashing into her storefront using an app on her phone. “We saw it start flooding into the basement,” she says.
From the security footage, Perez says she watched as two neighbors of the restaurant began using their hands to clear out drains in the street so that water could flow away from the restaurant. Water got into Barcha’s basement, but it didn’t get into the restaurant’s first floor because of the strangers. “This is what East Harlem is,” she says. “We’re here for each other.”
In Queens, José Moreno estimates that as much as a half-foot of water had gathered around the base of his Birria-Landia taco truck in Jackson Heights. The truck, which measures 28 feet in length and has a second location in Williamsburg, was able to stay open and safely navigate through the neighborhood’s partially flooded streets, but the normally busy stretch of Roosevelt Avenue where he operates was completely empty of food vendors. “This was a surprise for us all,” he says.
The Birria-Landia food trucks, which closed around midnight on Wednesday evening, saw a slow trickle of customers, but sales were slow and the businesses had lots of leftover food the following morning. If Moreno had known the magnitude of the storm ahead of time, he would have decided to keep his trucks in the garage and his staff at home, he says.
Some restaurants facing uncertainty over whether they can open today have already canceled or cut back orders from their suppliers. A handful of restaurants nixed their orders from seafood purveyor Aqua Best because they suffered water damage, says co-owner Steven Wong. A few of his drivers that live upstate and on Long Island could not work today because of flooded roads, and at least one employee had to deal with clearing water from his basement-level apartment.
Just like last summer, restaurants appear to be at the mercy of Mother Nature, says Wong. Serving customers outdoors was the only option for on-premises dining a year ago, but this time around, Wong says he’s seen restaurateurs focused more on their streetside setups because of concerns over the surging delta variant. Outdoor dining can be wiped out because of inclement weather, which he says can cripple a restaurant’s business and demand for ingredients at a moment’s notice. “They have to do business just like us while making sure everyone is safe,” Wong says.
Throughout the storm, delivery apps including DoorDash and Grubhub remained operational, and food delivery workers stayed out on the streets fulfilling orders, according to Hildalyn Colón Hernández, the director of policy and strategic partnerships at Los Deliveristas Unidos, an organization that represents around 3,000 delivery workers across NYC fighting to improve working conditions in the industry. “Rain, shine, snow, they’ll be out there working, and they did that last night across the whole city, as they always do,” Hernández says.
The organization did not receive reports of injuries or major accidents among workers last night, according to Hernández, but many workers’ motorcycles and electric bicycles were rendered out of commission due to flooding in the streets. And the subway, usually a backup support system for workers who experience bike failure, was not an option for many people last night.
Still, food delivery workers often stay out as long as they can during bad weather because more customers are placing orders and the earning potential is higher. “They are hoping that they can make more money during that time,” Hernández says. “They can make the money that they need to feed their families. It’s a risk that they are willing to take.”
Los Deliveristas Unidos is currently advocating for a package of legislation in City Council that, if passed, would provide delivery workers with more job protections, including ensuring that delivery apps can’t take a cut of workers’ tips, and fining restaurants and bars that refuse to allow delivery workers access to their bathrooms.
At a press conference on Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed the lack of forewarning for city residents and business owners. “Every attempt at projection is failing us,” the mayor said. “Yesterday morning the report was 3 to 6 inches over the course of a whole day, which was not a particularly problematic amount. That turned into the biggest single hour of rainfall in New York City history with almost no warning.”
Between 4 and 8 inches of rain fell across New York City on Wednesday evening, according to the National Weather Service. That record rainfall resulted in roughly 18,000 homes losing power in New York City and Westchester County and brought the city’s public transit systems to a halt.