After millions of East Coast residents were left without power in the post-Sandy aftermath last week, restaurants stepped in to help provide relief to customers, from serving food and supplying power to raising funds for recovery efforts.
The storm made landfall in the U.S. on Oct. 29, hitting New York City and New Jersey especially hard. Sandy lead to several dozen reported deaths, caused widespread power outages and flooding, and left an estimated $20 billion in damages. Most restaurants and businesses closed Monday to avoid as much of the storm as possible, and reopening and operating over the next few days required many eateries to limit their menus to what could still be prepared with spotty electricity and gas service and decimated inventory.
By Tuesday, restaurants had begun reopening their doors to affected customers and serving as a refuge for those people unable to cook their own food or charge electronic devices.
In East Meadow, N.Y., on Long Island, a Texas Roadhouse location went on a 40-minute wait all evening, a rare occurrence for a Tuesday, the unit’s managing partner, Keith Deluise, told Bloomberg Businessweek. He added that the day’s biggest sales increases came from alcoholic beverages, which shot from their normal sales mix of 12 percent of sales to 20 percent.
That anecdote drew a few relieved laughs during Texas Roadhouse Inc.’s third-quarter earnings call, which had been rescheduled from Monday to Thursday evening. During the call, president Scott Colosi said the brand was thankful its team members and its restaurants were relatively unharmed and indicated that any silver linings would take care of themselves.
“In some areas, you have a little more to-go business because people have no power and they’re taking food home, but that’s about it,” Colosi said. “It was also a benefit that the storm was on Monday and Tuesday, not Friday and Saturday — so yes, that’s a big deal as well.”
Chief financial officer Price Cooper added that Texas Roadhouse had a total of 36 restaurants closed on Monday when Sandy made landfall in the United States, but 30 opened back up on Tuesday and all but one had reopened by Thursday.
“We’ve had no real material damage to our restaurants,” Cooper said. “So we’ve lost a few days, but typically, you tend to get a little bounce back as things kind of come back up and as you’re able to have power for these people.”
As 14 of its closed stores reopened by Thursday, New York-based 16 Handles put a greater emphasis on helping people recharge and reconnect than on selling them frozen yogurt. The 28-unit chain offered everybody the chance to enter their stores and recharge their phones for free.
“All operating 16 Handles stores are providing relief to those affected by Hurricane Sandy as we make outlets accessible to those who need to recharge their phones and other devices in order to reconnect with their family and loved ones during this challenging time,” Jon Lake, vice president of operations, said in a statement.
Similarly, Margaritas Mexican Restaurant opened its doors to as many people as it could, not only sharing its warmth and electricity, but providing free food to affected customers and emergency workers. Its Lansdale, Pa.-based restaurant, which had opened only a few days before Sandy hit, reopened Tuesday night and gave away 1,200 free tacos to community members. The restaurant also delivered tacos to relief workers assessing damage around the area.
The effort was advertised solely through word of mouth and social media, a representative for Margaritas said.
The Red Cross was the biggest recipient of funds from restaurants and other businesses hoping to help those affected by the storm.
At its Times Square location in New York, The Counter will donate 10 percent of all proceeds from sales of its Burger Bar catering option to the Red Cross.
Darden Restaurants was an outsize contributor, as it has participated in the charity’s Annual Disaster Giving Program since the initiative’s inception in 1997. In addition to that ongoing financial contribution, Orlando, Fla.-based Darden last week donated 6,000 cases of bottled water from its storm-closed restaurants — including Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and others — to Red Cross shelters in New York and New Jersey.
“These communities have supported our restaurants for decades,” Gary Brown, senior vice president of operations for Olive Garden, said in a statement. “Our restaurant teams wanted to help out right away, so we got to work immediately on re-routing these shipments of water to the local Red Cross shelters.”
The operator of more than 2,000 casual-dining restaurants also provided financial assistance to employees in restaurants and communities affected by the storm through the Darden Dimes initiative, an employee-funded assistance program with $1.7 million in annual donations.
Many restaurant companies based far from the path of the storm also raised funds for the Red Cross’ disaster relief efforts, as McDonald’s Corp. announced Monday with a $500,000 donation.
Chicago-based DMK Restaurants, operator of DMK Burger Bar, Ada Street and Fish Bar, donated 20 percent of all beverage sales from Wednesday to Friday for its “Drink Them Dry” fundraiser. It also raffled off a $250 gift card.
More than 60 units of Tampa, Fla.-based Beef ‘O’ Brady’s staged a one-day donation event to give 10 percent of the day’s earnings to the Red Cross.
The 11 franchisees in the Cincinnati market for Marco’s Pizza acted quickly to donate $1 from every specialty New Yorker pizza to the Red Cross last Wednesday — on Halloween, the chain's busiest night of the year — for storm relief.
“There’s no better time to do this than the busiest night of the year,” said area representative Kevin Pong said. “I think it will be a huge success for the Red Cross, and they cross-posted this on their Facebook and Twitter pages.”
Linking donations to the New Yorker pizza, rather than all menu items, still would produce a large gift, Pong said, because — beyond its symbolic tie to one of the areas most affected by the storm — that particular item was a very popular limited-time offer this past summer. The donation promotion was advertised as a prelude to every online or phone order, and the pizza was sold at a discounted price of $11.99.
The Cincinnati franchise group immediately sent word of its fundraising effort to Marco’s headquarters in Toledo, Ohio, in the hopes that much of the 320-unit system would participate in time for Halloween.
“We figured it would be a great way to raise awareness that these folks will need a lot of help,” Pong said. “If it happened to Cincinnati, they would all help us out.”
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