Signing leases before Sandy, new restaurants remain in Red Hook for better or worse
Superstorm Sandy forced a handful of food businesses that signed leases in Red Hook just before the storm to become invested in the neighborhood.
It's Thursday — typically a slow day for restaurants — but nearly every table in Billy Durney’s 4,500-square-foot barbecue hall Hometown is packed. Even 1.5 miles from the nearest subway, New Yorkers seem drawn to Durney.
That's because after Superstorm Sandy hit his Red Hook restaurant two months into its build out, Durney smoked nearly 4,000 pounds of donated meat and fed his neighbors for 16 days.
"I fell hook, line and sinker for every single person in this community," Durney said.
The storm, for better or worse, forced the handful of food businesses that signed leases in Red Hook just before Sandy to become invested in the neighborhood.
Many establishments lost as much as $100,000 because the flood damaged essential kitchen appliances and food inventory. But leaving Red Hook was not an option given their financial investment in their spaces.
According to Monica Byrne, a co-founder of Restore Red Hook and a local business owner, most developments in the seaside neighborhood are under 10 years old and the owners personally financed their ventures.
"These are not Wharton School of Business plans, but they're going to put their hearts and souls into it," she said.
Steve Mierisch, owner of a coffee roasting incubator called Pulley Collective, signed his lease three weeks before the storm. He lost about 30 bags of green coffee beans and a roaster — much less than his neighbors at Mile End Delicatessen and Red Hook Winery — but damage to the building caused a five-month delay in opening his wholesale and roasting business.
Still, he wants to stay in the area for its close community and great views. The risk of encountering more flooding from storms like Sandy is a less of a concern.
"This truly was the storm of the century where everything aligned," he said.
Durney wasn't so lucky. He lost nearly $50,000 of kitchen and construction equipment in 5.5 feet of water.
"There's a special breed of human being that comes to Red Hook to open a business," he said. "Anything can happen when you’re this close to the ocean. "
Despite the threat of flooding, the growing artisanal community of glassblowers, pie makers and craft bars lure entrepreneurs to the area. Mierisch considered spaces in Williamsburg, Bushwick and DUMBO, but ultimately chose Red Hook for the existing network of small businesses.
"It's a good vibe in the neighborhood," he said. "It's like going to a small town upstate and you’re only five minutes from the city."
Durney, too, wanted to be part of the unique community and in the wake of the storm, he did.
“Everyone absolutely pulls for one another," he said. "And when you have that feeling amongst your neighbors, literally nothing can stop you."
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