Drew Nieporent wants to make it clear from the top that people should be thinking about Breezy Point, The Rockaways and the Jersey Shore more than his empire of bold-faced New York restaurants (Nobu, Corton, Tribeca Grill) that were significantly rattled by Hurricane Sandy. “When we’re finally back to where we’ve got to be, we are going to find a way to earmark whatever dollars come in for those specific areas,” he says with classic Nieporent menchmanship.
But, unfortunately, getting back to normal will take weeks, but more probably months. Tribeca Grill suffered significant damage to its boiler room and electrical circuits. Corton and Nobu, multi-starred restaurants with reservation books filled for weeks, were forced to close for several days. Nieporent estimates that he lost over $600,0000 in lost business, much of which will be difficult to recover. It’s tough times downtown. Go visit your favorite restaurant down there. Nieporent spoke about how Tribeca is recovering and ways everybody can help.
You were quoted in a recent Bloomberg story that you were losing over $100,000 a day in sales. What’s the update now as of Tuesday afternoon?
I think it’s an individual case-by-case basis. For instance, at Nobu downtown we are able to get fresh products and prep time uptown and bring them downtown. We went from 55 [covers] on Saturday – where we would have done 280 – to I guess 100 Sunday and last night we did 155. Nobu Next Door is closed. That’s there based off of the vibe we have at the Tribeca Nobu. It’s a ghost town down here. There’s no transportation and you don’t see taxis – everything is getting better but last Saturday and Sunday, it was more symbolic for us to open for our staff than anything.
And Tribeca Grill was hit hard…
Tribeca Grill is 22 years old and our problems are more difficult because we have a basement where we store a lot of things and have our boilers, and we had a lot of flooding. We are still assessing the damages and things like the electrical panels. We’re not open there yet, but are hoping to open tomorrow (Wednesday).
Did you ever think this could happen to your restaurants downtown?
Well, I certainly believed after 9/11, when we were shut down for two weeks, that we wouldn’t have business interruption like this. However, this is almost worse – certainly not from a humanity standpoint – but worse based on no power and total uncertainty when it was going to be restored. With 9/11, it was a question of when it was the right time to get back to normal, and the whole city felt that it was an important thing, not just the downtown businesses. On this one, obviously downtown was hit so hard and it really has been, as described, “a tale of two cities.” Uptown has barely missed a beat and if anything has been really, really busy, and downtown, we’re just trying to get back to normal.
Did you feel that you were prepared?
We were ready for the storm. On Sunday, we made the decision to close all the restaurants and that was an important decision. When we learned that transportation was going to be stopped at 7 p.m., there was no other decision to be made. Certainly at Nobu, even uptown on 57th Street, we are where the crane was, so they shut off our street. So even after the hurricane, having never lost power, we were almost faced with closing based on the crane situation.
You’ve said that you’re not going to get everything back in damages. Is that still your thought?
My businesses have been in this neighborhood now in excess of 27 years. I’m obviously hopeful that the insurance company is going to do the right thing.
What is the process like — working with the insurance company? And is there a specific fund or amount of money that will go towards the staff for payroll?
We are still getting the answers. If it is up to me, I would like my staff to get as much of the reimbursement of whatever the loss is. When it comes to this business interruption, I think there is a grace period of 72 hours. Over the years that we have been open, there have been shutdowns where we didn’t get a nickel based on that. We are still feeling our way and our representative is trying to lay it out for us to the best of their ability. There are some funds for unemployment insurance, but we want to make our staff as whole as possible.
How can we help New York restaurants?
The simple answer is that when we reopen, come down and eat in the restaurants. There are a lot of people who are trying to pull together dinners and benefits – things of that nature – which are all positive things. What I would say is that the people that need the most – people in the Rockaways, Staten Island, parts of the Jersey Shore. Everybody suffered and it’s not just in Tribeca or below 14th. It’s a much vaster map this time and I don’t think any of us is really looking for anything other than what we feel is fair to recoup based on a loss of business. I don’t want anybody holding a benefit for me.
What are some local businesses in Tribeca that you are pulling for?
The interesting thing is that there are a lot of places that have been here for a long time. There’s Bubby’s, there’s Sarabeth’s. Kutsher’s is brand new and they have the added problem that the street has been closed based on construction. I would say that the newcomers are the ones that probably need help the most.
How did your home in New Jersey hold up?
We were without power for five days. One of my partners who lives in Ho-Ho-Kus is still without power. I do believe that Governor Christie really took the bull by the horns, both symbolically and actually. Where Jersey was hit the hardest of course was further south and on the shore.
I’ll end on a lighter note. We just published a story about a cologne that smells like sushi. Do you know about this thing?
No, no. Is that the one that Brad Pitt is promoting?
No, Jeremy Piven I think. But the debate is what it smells like: rice and seaweed or fish?
Well, let’s hope and pray that it doesn’t smell like fish.
What would you envision a mackerel scent to be like?
I think I’ve had dates like that…
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