Post-Sandy Restaurant Recovery Stories: East Village’s Dirt Candy Is Open

Come down to Dirt Candy for Chef Amanda Cohen’s Portobello Mousse with Pear and Fennel Compote + other delicious dishes!

Restaurant Name: Dirt Candy
Location: East Village
Years in business: Four
Status: Fully open and operational.
Damage: None to restaurant; flood damage at storage space for online store.
Losses: Entire food inventory; five days of service.
Owner: Chef Amanda Cohen

Prior to Sandy, had you ever had to deal with a disaster situation at this or any restaurant?

For Irene, we closed for that night, but it was one evening, and it really wasn’t a disaster.There’s been nothing like this.

When did you shut the doors to prepare for the storm?

On Sunday, we came in and prepared. We weren’t sure that we wouldn’t be able to reopen on Tuesday, so on Monday, we actually took in product orders. We  thought that the worst case might be that if we couldn’t reopen Tuesday, we’d be back by Wednesday. We wanted to be be prepared.

When did you first go back to the restaurant and realize the extent of the losses?

On Tuesday, we walked down here. I live about 20 blocks away, so it wasn’t a big deal. Obviously, we realized right away that we didn’t have power. We didn’t touch anything, hoping that the refrigerator would stay cool enough, the freezer would stay frozen, and we wouldn’t have massive losses. But, by Wednesday, following up with Con Ed and  listening to all the news conferences, we realized the earliest we could possibly get power would be Friday. At that moment, we knew there was just no way we could save anything. So, Thursday morning, we came down and threw out everything that was in the restaurant.

It wasn’t the day-to-day stuff that was hard; it was a lot of back-up prep things — frozen jam and compotes, lime and lemon juice, our stocks and all the things that keep us going, so that it’s easier when we reopen. Whenever we have chosen to close, for a summer vacation, for example, we have these back ups, so it’s not that difficult to reopen quickly.

Your storage space was another loss.

The first time we were able to get into our other storage space was afternoon. And, it flooded up to three or four feet, so everything that was at that level was lost.

When did you start prepping to open the doors?

I believe our power came back on late Friday or early Saturday. We had a discussion with everyone who works at Dirt Candy about when we could get in here, and then we started writing out our prep lists and ordering lists. We began ordering on Saturday, and by early Monday morning, the orders arrived. I had a crew that was here waiting, and they worked until late Monday night. We all came in early the next morning, and we reopened with a full menu on Tuesday night.

How tough was it to start all over again in such a brief amount of time?

Our biggest problem is that because we’re so small, we don’t have the space to make everything we need for service at once. So, we laid out a game plan —  who could use the stove, when could they use it, how high the temperature going to go, and so on. Things like our compotes and jams can take two days to make, but we didn’t have that time. We had to be ready for service, and we needed that stove space. We couldn’t let anything sit on the stove for eight hours at a time when there was so much that had to pass through the kitchen.

Outside of the actual work involved in getting Dirt Candy open for service, what have been some of the other challenges of this ordeal?

It’s two-fold. First, it was just sort of accepting the losses and moving on from that. It is hard when you put bag after bag of trash out on the street. That’s exceptionally depressing. At the same time, we were very, very lucky. We had no damage to the restaurant, so I cannot complain.

The second challenge is that we’re all here and we’re working really hard, and we’re seeing a lot of cancellations. Last night, we were really quiet. Granted, it was election night, but, even tonight, we can see our numbers are way down from what they were two weeks ago – and for the rest of the week. I don’t think people are abandoning us. Rather, people aren’t going out. Perhaps they haven’t gone to work in a week. Some of our customers are also hourly wage workers, and they may have lost work. Flights have gotten cancelled, and our foreign customers aren’t here. So that’s a huge loss for us – and one that’s ongoing.

And, then you have this storm today?

Yes, this storm. It is sort of neverending.

How is your staff doing?

I happen to live in the no-power zone, but every other member of my staff didn’t lose power. So, for them, there was a bit of confusion because things were relatively normal in their neighborhoods, yet it was not at all normal in the East Village. But we’re fine, and we were able to take care of them. They were compensated for the week.

Is there anything you’d like diners to know?

Come down and visit us! Now is the time. Typically, we are really busy, and it’s very difficult to get a reservation, but right now you can get one. We would love to see you!

Follow Chef Amanda Cohen on Twitter at DirtCandy to learn about available tables and more.

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