Served: Restaurant Emergencies and Closings


Hannah Howard has worked in several restaurants, but she's made the switch to the grocery side of the industry. She's now a cheesemonger for a small market chain, and will share her experience here.

20080616-servedbug.jpgI am writing from the first summery day in Philadelphia. Sun dress summery. Iced coffee and flip flops summery. Sweaty from just walking around summery.

In our restaurant's garden, the flowers are blooming. The magnolia has already bloomed, the big pink blossoms torn from the trees by climactic wind and rain. They need serious sweeping.

Right now, the garden should be packed with people eager to sip rosé and nibble on big cheese plates. People eager to do anything outside. Nervous first daters and young families with puppies and old ladies on the way to the neighboring Walnut Street Theater.

We just bought new, sleek tables with marble tops and a recycled mahogany bar. But the tables and bar are languishing tonight, sad and empty. And instead of running around keeping up with our first garden nights, I'm sitting with my laptop, drinking ginger tea and writing this.

Micky (my boyfriend, our chef) and I went to Maryland this past weekend to spend the first night of Passover with his cousins. When we came home, we put on pajamas, turned on a movie, and snuggled up with our dog. Only to be promptly interrupted by a phone call from Debbie, the owner.

I knew it was serious when I heard Micky say, "Debbie, it's as if you're telling me someone died."

We whipped off our pajamas and redressed and pretty much ran the four blocks from our apartment to the restaurant.

There had been no power in the restaurant for many hours by the time the hotel concierge noticed. We are closed on Mondays, so there was nobody using the restaurant building. The concierge went to stash a delivery in the walk-in and realized there was no cold air, no noise, no nothing.

She called the electrician, who couldn't fix the problem and in turned called PECO, the Philly energy company.

Meanwhile, we had many thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of work worth of products in our non-working walk-in and freezer. Hudson Valley moulard ducks and Four Story Hill Farm lamb shanks. Let me tell you, these are expensive.

There were housemade chicken sausages and duck sausages. Lobsters, octopus, and short ribs. Sauces, stocks, doughs, creams, and pureés. Quince brining and leeks pickling and black garlic marinating.

There were tears in Micky's eyes. "If those lamb and those ducks had to die for nothing..." That was the worst of it. Not the ponzu that had been gelled into little circles or the dark chocolate bouchons waiting to bake or the carrots that had been whittled into rainbow stripes. It was the once-cute animals that would become dinner; we couldn't stand to think of them in the garbage.

When we got to the restaurant, we emptied out what was in the ice machine. Or Micky emptied and I held the flashlight. It was full-fledged night by then, and a little spooky in the basement.

We were lucky that the freezer and fridge were still cold. The lamb and duck and sausage got piled in lots of ice. We moved what we could into the hotel's tiny fridge. And Micky called PECO, and called again. Then there was nothing left to do. We went home and resumed our movie. And worried.

It's late afternoon the next day, and they've been digging up the road in front of the restaurant since early morning. Micky couldn't sleep last night, and ran to work even before ingesting coffee. I was mid nightmare, still. He stuffed the walk-in with dry ice.

I felt a little pang of sadness as I called our reservations to let them know we were closed. People had hoped to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays. They would have to do so elsewhere.

Turns out the electric supply lines are nearly 100 years old, and shot. There are many trucks, a closed road, and a not small team of guys in yellow vests hard at work. Meanwhile, the streets of Philadelphia are packed with would-be diners.

Next Day Update

At around 7 p.m., PECO successfully restored power. Nothing was lost! Hallelujah! We're opening tonight and the lambs will go from cutting board to sous-vide machine to stove-top to someone's very lucky belly.