Eateries serve comfort & food for throngs after Sandy
For Fairfield residents who lost power, restaurants that opened in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy served up a welcome refuge -- and, of course, repast.
Gus Tsilfides, an owner of the Circle Diner, which reopened about 8 a.m. Wednesday, said triple the usual number of customers came in Wednesday and Thursday and that 99 percent were in good spirits considering the circumstances.
"I think everybody from what I saw handled things pretty well. I heard some bad stories -- their houses have eight feet of water in their basement, they had to use canoes to get around the neighborhood. Generally, everybody was in a good mood and handling it well. Ninety-nine out of a hundred were just happy they could get something warm to eat," Tsilfides said.
Everyone who came to the Post Road diner was able to get something to eat, though they had to wait about 20 minutes to be seated in some instances, Tsilfides said. He said the 12-year-old diner got its power back late Tuesday or early Wednesday and that staff had to throw out all the perishable food. Three truckloads of fresh food came in Wednesday morning, and the diner served only coffee, toast and muffins until about 9 a.m., he said. "Around 9 o'clock, we were able to get the grills going," he said.
"It's been non-stop," Tsilfides said of days following the massive storm. "Wednesday, Thursday in particular, it was crazy ... We didn't have any lulls on Wednesday and Thursday. I was on my feet continuously, without so much as a cup of coffee, for 16 hours."
Tsilfides said he was in charge of keeping track of who came to the restaurant and where they were in line to be seated and that shifts had to be extended for diner workers. Employees who normally worked from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. stayed on until 10 or 11 p.m. Employees who would normally have a day off came in to work, he said.
Maria Lalvay, a co-owner of the Circle Diner who lives on South Benson Road, was forced to leave her home due to the massive storm, but still came to the diner and worked "around the clock," Tsilfides said.
Marcelo Menezes, manager of Centro, a restaurant in downtown Fairfield, said the restaurant got its power back Tuesday night and reopened Wednesday. He said about 50 percent more people came to the restaurant abutting Sherman Green on Wednesday and Thursday compared to the number that normally come those days.
Menezes said some people waited an hour to be seated, but with no power or food at home and few other options, they didn't seem to mind. He said Centro sees about 200 people a night on a typical Wednesday and Thursday but had more than 300 on those nights after the storm.
Sandy Barta, manager of Bodega Taco Bar on the Post Road, said power came back on Wednesday morning and that Bodega was able to open for lunch on Wednesday. "Definitely Wednesday we saw an increase in business just from being open. People wanted electricity and to eat something warm," she said.
Barta estimated that Bodega saw 25 percent more people Wednesday and Thursday for lunch. She said she anticipated some people would come in just for electricity and heat, which she said Bodega was open to, but nearly everyone who came in got something to eat.
"I think people were just happy to be somewhere open. I think people were in generally good spirits, considering what they had gone through. Also, we're here to offer a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere. People generally welcomed that," she said.
Barta said a lot of customers mentioned that they wished they had hot water for showers, and some whom she talked with thought she was joking when she introduced herself as "Sandy." She said people asked, "No really, what's your name?" Barta said.
Even a restaurant off the beaten path picked up more business in the immediate aftermath of Sandy.
Dave Curtis, general manager of The Chelsea on Unquowa Place, said the new restaurant got power back Wednesday morning and reopened for dinner that night. He said the restaurant saw about 50 percent more people Wednesday and Thursday and about 100 percent more on Friday night. "We had an hour and-a-half wait [Friday] night," he said, adding that the restaurant is normally busy Friday nights. "We had a lot of people that came but weren't willing to wait an hour for a table; probably had twice as many people who came."
Curtis said customers generally seemed to be in good spirits in Sandy's aftermath, all things considered. "While they were here, they were happy to have someplace warm and to get something to eat in the light," he said.
The spike in business for restaurants that opened a day or two after Sandy struck began to taper down after Thursday. "After Thursday, a bigger percentage of people started to get power and a greater percentage of the restaurants in the area were open," Tsilfides said.
Menezes agreed. "The numbers [Friday] night were like a normal number," he said. "More people had power back or more restaurants were open, so we were kind of like back to normal."
The downtown business district, from Mill Plain Road to nearby the Bridgeport border, was among the first parts of town to have power restored, according to the Fairfield Fire Department.