After Sandy, a Seaport café fights to rebuildDecember 7, 2012: 11:07 AM ET
Our latest in the #SaveTheSeaport series looks at how bakeshop Made Fresh Daily is adjusting to the new normal.
By Anne VanderMey
FORTUNE -- Jacqueline Goewey returned to her South Street Seaport bakeshop, Made Fresh Daily, the morning after Hurricane Sandy pummeled New York's coastline. When she arrived, she sidestepped a heavy trashcan that had toppled over on the front steps and shone her flashlight into the darkened shop. She saw devastation. Talking about it weeks later, tears still well in her eyes.
Furniture was strewn across the floor, along with homemade granola, dishes and utensils. All the café's Ikea tables had inflated with salt water and were starting to buckle. Much of the kitchen equipment was ruined, including the countertops, and the drywall would have to go. A single Aerosoles shoe had washed in from the street and lay in the middle of the floor.
That day, Goewey began the process that many other New York proprietors have taken on in recent weeks, particularly in the hard hit South Street Seaport district. She started putting the pieces back together.
Hundreds of small businesses have been hobbled by October's super storm, which official estimates say cost $19 billion in public and private losses in New York City alone. Smaller companies are less likely to have comprehensive insurance to cover that damage, and they are often poorly equipped to weather a dramatic falloff in revenue from storm-related loss of business. Forced to shutter by loss of power and surging water, many stores won't reopen.
But for those that have cobbled together the cash and resources to get their businesses up and running, the rebuilding process reads like a case study in resilience.
Before the storm, Made Fresh Daily was known for serving up healthy, organic baked goods, and locavore-friendly dishes like the Vermont ham & egg sandwich on a fresh buttermilk biscuit. Goewey often shops at the nearby New Amsterdam Market, -- which Fortune profiled last week -- for local produce and cider. The café is located in the heart of the South Street Seaport, a usually bustling neighborhood, where many businesses saw more than six feet of water surge into their properties. Generators still line the streets here, and some buildings have yet to regain power. On a recent afternoon, more restaurants were filled with construction crews than with actual patrons.
The night before Sandy hit, Goewey, her husband and her 7-year-old twins were forced to relocate from their apartment building near the café to a friend's apartment uptown. When they got back, they found chaos.Christopher White, who owns the building,estimated it would probably take about a month to reopen the shop. White, an architect, was worried that supplies and construction crews would be overbooked in coming days. He told them they had to move as fast as possible.
MORE: Save the Seaport!
"From that day we started and we didn't stop," Goewey says. "If I stopped for a minute, I would be freaking out about trying to call FEMA, and trying to find another place to live. But you have to look down and just get through it, because if you stop and worry, you can't get through the day."
Over the next week, Goewey called in all the favors she could. Two dads from the nearby PS 397 Spruce Street School reinstalled her plumbing in exchange for pizza. Volunteers washed dishes, cake stands, and pans. Another father from the school drove her to Ikea in his SUV and hauled back replacement furniture. Her manager scraped the wet granola off the floor and pinned any salvageable paperwork and receipts to a magazine rack to dry them out. Goewey and crew threw out spoiled meat, produce and dry goods; they replaced the drywall and repainted the shop. She also let go of eight of her 10 employees. Most have found other jobs or are on unemployment.
White, the landlord, cut Goewey a deal on rent and she scraped together enough cash to pay the bills. "At least I hope it's enough money," she says. "The check hasn't cleared yet."
On a Sunday, 13 days after the storm hit, Made Fresh Daily was one of the first Seaport businesses back up and running. The opening was a triumph. "We're going to get through this," Goewey says. But the work still isn't done. She owes "a lot of money" to Con Edison for outstanding bills, needs to replace a now-crusty MacBook Pro that fell into the saltwater during the flooding, and hopes a grant will come through so that she can hire back more employees and get back to full capacity.
For Goewey, the stakes of survival are high. "If I go down, I take a lot of people down with me," she said, talking about her employees, plus her suppliers. Made Fresh Daily spends $150,000 a year on fruits and vegetables alone. Not to mention the disappointed customers.
Help may be on the way. Small Business Administration chief Karen Mills, along with a group of elected officials, had a meeting in the café during a tour of the area, and there's talk of getting grants to the businesses in the neighborhood. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently announced an additional $5.5 million in matching grants for small businesses impacted by Sandy, bringing the price tag of city grants and low-interest loans so far to $45 million.
On a recent weekday around lunchtime, the shop smelled like chicken soup, and the strains of classic jazz tunes were interrupted only by the sound of the generators humming outside. A few regulars trickled in, including the owner of Pasanella & Son Vintners – a nearby wine shop also newly reopened. Goewey chatted with him about the challenge of drawing customers to a disaster zone. "Well, we'll keep coming," he told her as he left the store, coffee in hand.
Goewey is optimistic: "If it's back to normal after the holidays. I can get through to that," she says. "I'm taking it on faith that the neighborhood is going to come back."