Chef Peter Kelly’s Sandy Story; a Lagunitas Tap Takeover at Growlers Beer Bistro; Guapo Cocina Mexicano is Slinging a Cool, Handsome Michelada in Yonkers
Westchester Restaurants and the Superstorm
Chances are that, by now, you’re post-Sandy life is normalizing. The power is back on, your radiators are warm, and that tree in your living room has finally said goodbye. The bad news is that restaurants by the River are still in disarray, and, in the restaurant business, time is money. Waterfront restaurants are coping with a financial catastrophe from which some might not emerge.
Consider their situation. Irvington’s Red Hat on the River, Chutney Masala, and MP Taverna had four feet of water in their ground floors. Boats drifted down Piermont Avenue, right by Freelance Café and Xaviars, carried on ocean water whose salt turned electrical wires into batteries that fried the systems to which they were attached. Power outages turned hundreds of thousands of dollars of perishable inventory into garbage—and then, of course, there are the days and weeks of income lost to closure and canceled events. Few, if any, of Westchester’s riverside restaurants carry flood insurance—which is prohibitively expensive even for the highest-earning restaurants.
Of course, there are also the waiters, busboys, and dishwashers to consider. In boom times, many of these hourly wage workers struggle from week to week for survival. Now, with some waterfront restaurants closed until December, these workers are left without any paycheck at all.
So, what can you do? Here’s what Anthony Bourdain said on CNN about downtown Manhattan restaurants, but it works just as well for the riverside restaurants of Westchester: “…let’s do what we can. Just ’cause a little DIY place has got its power back on doesn’t mean the bleeding has stopped. While there is no doubt that there are still people with direct, immediate, emergency needs, it would be a great help if those who can afford to do it would eat in the most seriously afflicted areas as early and as often as they can, patronizing local businesses in areas that were clearly hit hardest. Tip heavily. And maybe send a $20 back to the dishwasher. That’s not charity. It’s just neighborly.”
There are other ways, too. Check out this Tumblr site, Eat Down, Tip Up, which uses social media to help affected restaurants. Contributors are asked to eat at Manhattan restaurants affected by the flood, then tip double (so, 40 percent) and post a photo of your bill and tag it #EatDownTipUp on all social media. This works just as well for flooded restaurants in Westchester.
Closer to home, here is what Chef Peter Kelly of X2O Xaviars on the Hudson had to say: “I think that now is a great time for neighbors and friends to gather around the table and share stories about the storm. It’s what we’re doing anyway, isn’t it? And there’s nothing like it. The great thing is that we can share those stories in the affected restaurants and be having a great time, but also be doing a good thing for people hit by the storm.”
Chef Peter Kelly’s Storm Story
Chef Peter Kelly has four restaurants located on or close to the Hudson River’s banks: X2O Xaviars on the Hudson, Restaurant X and Bully Boy Bar, Freelance Café, and Xaviars at Piermont. All were shuttered by the storm, though X2O and Restaurant X have now been re-opened. The two Piermont restaurants, Freelance Café and Xaviar’s at Piermont (“torn apart” by the storm, according to Kelly), will be closed for another two weeks. At the time of the storm, all of Kelly’s restaurants were fully stocked with food and gearing up for Hudson Valley Restaurant Week. Plus, Kelly had three weddings and one offsite event scheduled for the period after the storm.
Characteristically, Kelly was dismissive of his losses. “Look, I’m not going to sing the blues here. We’re going to be fine. It’s the small operators that are really going to be hurt—they need help and they need help soon. I’m hoping that the local municipalities can pressure FEMA to help these guys out. We’re talking about downtowns that lost their coffee shops and flower shops and restaurants. It’s going to become a lasting quality-of-life problem for these towns if these small businesses don’t come back. Right now, FEMA is only offering 8-percent loans on $10,000—so, that’s, like, a furnace. In order for these towns to be rejuvenated, the municipalities need to step in and get aid to small businesses.”
“My challenge is that I have 160 employees that I have get back to work. And we’re working hard to make that happen.”
“But the great thing is that this restaurant community is so tightly knit. They’re resilient. When people heard that we were taking a hit, they stepped in to offer help. David DiBari [of the Cookery] drove down a generator that he wasn’t using. Rockland Seafood brought a refrigerator truck to see what they could save—sadly, after a day or two, that stuff had to go. We had restaurant friends up in Cornwall that came down to help us with the clean-up. That’s just the spirit in this restaurant community.”
November 14, 7-11 pm
Look for Mark Sljukic, the specialty beer advisor for Lagunitas Brewing Company, to present several Lagunitas beers: Wet Hop, Brown Shugga’, IPA, Lil Sumpin’, Pils, and Cask Conditioned Pale Ale.
HotPlate: Guapo Cocina Mexicano, a New Mexican Spot by the Team behind Zuppa, Opens in Yonkers with Killer Tacos
Let’s call it the bartaco-ization of Westchester. Since that hotspot detonated in Port Chester (and started raking in the money con gusto), we’re seeing a crop of sleek new Mexican spots like Bedford’s TRUCK open, slinging great drinks and inexpensive small plates. The most recent, Guapo Cocina Mexicano, from the team behind Zuppa, does not yet have a full liquor license—so no margaritas (sob!)—but it does a mean michelada, which is ceremoniously poured at the table. Barring a margarita, the michelada is the perfect crisp and acid sip to pair with chips and fiery salsas or Guapo’s tasty tacos. Here, you’ll see the trio of tacos that we picked from Guapo’s roomy assortment: spicy pork al pastor with sweet pineapple chunks; tender shredded chicken, and creamy, citrus-spiked fish. Yum.