The Resilient Seaport: MarkJoseph’s SteakHouse, Acqua Restaurant, New Amsterdam Farmers Market and Pasanella Wines
by Gus Schumacher
Sandy’s surge devastated New York’s Lower Manhattan historic district. Seven feet of water rose to the ceilings of the first floor of hundreds of apartments, restaurants, schools and retail shops. A month later, few first- floor businesses have re-opened, with the district’s restaurants especially hard hit.
Yet, with courage, grit, and dedication, the Seaport’s restaurant, food and wine businesses, just a month after this biblical flood, are showing extraordinary resilience. During a Sunday December 3, 2012 tour, I visited four such examples, MarkJoseph’s Steak House, Acqua Restaurant, the New Amsterdam Farmers Market and Pasanella Wine Shop.
As my son-in-law Peter Jamros walked me around his recovering neighborhood, we ran into his friend Ray Gaissart. Ray was on the sidewalk near his MarkJoseph Steak House, (www.markjosephsteakhouse.com) with a broom, sweeping the sidewalk. “Peter,” Ray said, “we’re re-opening today, bring the family by”. Later that Sunday afternoon, barely a month after the flood filled his basement and rose to cover two feet of his restaurant, we came by. He was open, the bar was jammed and patrons were coming in to enjoy dinner. I sat down and asked Ray how he managed to open his 150-seat MarkJoseph so quickly when most establishments were still shuttered.
He said 25% of his business for the year was during the holidays, his 26 employees were out of work, his loyal customers were keen to return and, as a family-owned business, he had no choice. He asked his staff, “are you in?”, they all said yes. But with no power, his basement filled with the East River, his dry and perishable inventory gone, refrigeration filled with prime cuts and fresh produce destroyed, boilers and electrical systems gone – Where to start?
Two days after the hurricane, Ray left his Merrick, Long Island home at 5 am, pulled his basement sump pump and home generator together and pumped out the restaurant’s basement. With five-gallon pails, shovels and boots, he and his workers emptied the now useless, no longer usable foods and paper goods, and dumped them in a dumpster he managed to secure. All sheet rock had to be stripped and nails pulled in the basement and in the restaurant. Floors had buckled and had to be re-laid, HVAC, boilers, electrical systems replaced, and the place repainted.
Working 16 hours a day, he and his 26 employees convinced city inspectors they were ready and, on the day Peter Jamros and I saw him sweeping the street and his colleagues putting up Christmas decorations, MarkJoseph SteakHouse re-opened. A remarkable saga.
As we came by that afternoon, Ray said he had lost 16 lbs, but he and his family and dozens of customers were back, enjoying a great Seaport district MarkJoseph dinner and thanking his loyal staff who had worked so hard to overcome Sandy’s ravages.
Also, nearly ready to reopen was Ray’s next door neighbor, Acqua Restaurant. Just after visiting MarkJoseph, we stopped by to say hello, and spoke briefly to workers feverishly sanding the bar, revamping the equipment, and restoring walls to reopen in early December.
Nearby was the reopened New Amsterdam Farmers Market, a staple for residents to shop on Sundays for their weekday meals. Like other farmers markets in New York City, (see earlier Wholesome Wave story on other farmers markets opening soon after the storm, SNAP EBT Access at Partner Farmers Markets Impacted by Hurricane Sandy, New Amsterdam’s farmers were able to get to the City shortly after the waters abated. Robert LaValva asked his farmers if they could come as soon as possible after the surge abated They responded, and the market reopened at the Seaport just 13 days after the flood, bringing local fresh produce, breads, soups, eggs and meats to returning apartment dwellers in a neighborhood where food stores were still recovering and many without power. Vendors used their iPhones to swipe credit and debit cards, as nearby ATM machines were flooded and others had no power to dispense cash. We bought a delicious pork tenderloin, artisan breads, fresh carrots, salad greens and a tasty apple crumble to fill out our Sunday family dinner in our granddaughter and her parents’ just reopened 3rdfloor Water Street apartment.
Across the street from the New Amsterdam Farmers Market were the beckoning lights of the restored Pasanella and Son wine shop, one of the first retail stores to reopen. Marco Pasanella, a 1984 Yale graduate and author of just published “UnCorked”, managed to remove most of his hundreds of cases of wine from his basement and first floor before the storm. Like Ray at MarkJoseph, he and his team put in hundreds of hours to strip all the walls, restore the floors and HVAC, get power turned on and bring back his inventory. We purchased a bottle of Prosecco and a bottle of Sancerre from Marco to add to our Sunday renewal dinner.
There are thousands of stories of courage and heroism from this storm’s ravages, but a Sunday December 3, 2012 visit to our granddaughter’s Seaport neighbors gave us renewed faith in the resilience, courage and just plain dedicated hard work of New York City’s family restaurants, family farmers and a family wine store in restoring the vibrancy of the terrific foods and wines of this rapidly recovering historic downtown Manhattan neighborhood.