Wednesday, November 7, 2012

After Party, After Sandy


 I was hanging out at Noodlecat late Saturday night,  mingling with some of the hard working chefs who so generously donated time and talent to the utterly fabulous and financially successful West Side Market Gala. As if he hadn't already done enough,  'Cat owner and chef extraordinaire Jonathon Sawyer, who worked with Michael Symon on the big fundraiser, rolled out the welcome mat for an afterparty. He wanted to be sure that those who worked the main event also had a chance to kick back, relax, and enjoy some nice food and drink. Ben Bebenroth, who's own Spice Kitchen and Bar had been closed last week due to the power outages that crippled so many Cleveland neighborhoods, was outside grilling.

Eric Williams and I chatted about how Storm Sandy had hurt us here. Momocho, his Ohio City restaurant, was dark for three days. He lost about $5,000 worth of food and the building suffered some serious wind and water damage. He estimates his total losses at $15, 000, a lot for a small business but not much, we agreed, compared to the hit taken by those on the east coast, including some of the chefs scheduled to be here for the Gala. I mentioned reading an article in The New York Times about how tough things were for that city's hourly wage workers: their desperate attempts to get to work despite the dangers and transportation shut down because they couldn't afford to miss a day of work, and the despair of those who  lost desperately needed income when their employers didn't or couldn't open for business. Williams told me that, worried about his own people, he had gone to the bank, made a cash withdrawal and paid his staff for the days Momocho was shuttered. "I did it," he said, "because it was the right thing to do."

He didn't tell me this to boast or make himself look good. I wasn't on the job and he had no reason to think I'd write about it. We were just two people chatting about what had been going on. But thinking about it afterwards, I realized that I wanted to share the conversation because it encapsulates both some of the grief the hurricane left in its wake and the way people step up to help one another in times of crisis. The entire evening- the super efforts Symon and Sawyer made to find replacements for the chefs from out of town who were not able to make it here; how everyone pulled together to insure that the fundraiser went ahead as planned including Williams who cooked for the event; Bebenroth showing up with his usual smile despite a hellish week and troubles of his own; and my exchange with Eric- was a little story within a big a disaster and a testament to resiliency and goodness.

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