Two weeks after the Solstice Storms, restaurants that lost power still recovering
Starting on Thursday, June 20, and continuing through the weekend, the solstice storms swept through the Twin Cities, tearing down more than 2,000 trees in Minneapolis alone and knocking out power to more than 600,000 Xcel Energy customers -- including many local restaurants.
For restaurants, being without electricity doesn't just mean that the dining room lights flicker out and servers start taking orders by candlelight. It also means that their kitchen equipment shuts down, and most importantly, so do their food-packed coolers and freezers.
We checked in with a handful of local favorites that lost power during the storms to see how they coped and how now, two weeks later, they continue to recover.
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The storm hit Lyndale and 26th around 8 p.m. on Friday, and Nightingale co-owner Jasha Johnston had a full house. "Our windows face west, and I looked up and the sky was green, and then it was just on us," he recalls. His team lit candles and took down patrons' credit card information by hand. Nightingale orders its food "pretty frequently," and so had a bounty of fresh food in the coolers, Johnston says. He kept throwing ice on it, trying to save ingredients while waiting for the power to come back on, "but it never did."
By the time the lights did flicker back, at around 1 a.m. Sunday morning, all the restaurant's food had gone bad. That day, Sunday, was Open Streets on Lyndale Avenue, and Nightingale had been excited to serve its recently-debuted brunch menu. Instead, Johnston and his co-owner, wife Carrie McCabe-Johnston, found themselves having to close and deal with about $2,500 worth of lost food, and an entire weekend worth of lost revenue. All told, the storm has them out "between $12,000 and $15,000," Johnston guesses.
He's working on an insurance claim for the food, but he can't recoup the lost revenue. "It was pretty close to devastating," Johnston says. "We're a pretty new business, and we had to take out a loan to cover it." Many friends and neighbors have come by for a drink in support, Johnston says, which has helped, and now he's considering getting a backup generator just for the coolers. But it's hard to know how prepared to be.
"I've worked on Lyndale for 16 years, and there's been power outages," he explains. "But this seems like a real freak of nature type thing."
Common Roots Cafe
Across the street from Nightingale, Common Roots Cafe went without power for a similar window of time, about 8 p.m. Friday until Sunday morning. But even on Sunday, when power slowly started flowing back, it remained out on several key systems, says owner Danny Schwartzman. The space wasn't fully back online until Sunday night.
Common Roots, though, was lucky: Just a few weeks before the storm, it had expanded into a catering kitchen on Harriet and 29th, and Schwartzman was able to move higher-value foods like proteins and prepared items over. Some food was still lost to the compost, including everything already prepared for Friday service. And when the power came back on Sunday, the electrical surge "fried" some of the kitchen equipment.
Still, because he could save some food, Schwartzman and his team were able to create a limited menu and open back up on Monday morning. Now, he's working on an insurance claim, and "typing up a long list of items that we lost."
"We were closed for a whole weekend of sales, but we're lucky that there wasn't damage to our building," Schwartzman says. In fact, the storm gave him an excuse to shutter the cafe for the first time since it opened, in July 2007. Until the weekend of June 21st, for six years, Common Roots hadn't missed one day.
At Pat's Tap on Nicollet, the head chef's quick thinking helped save a lot of charcuterie from turning rotten, says Alex Jacoby, the restaurant's manager.
When he lost power, about 8 p.m. on Friday, Jacoby kept the bar open, lighting candles and serving in the dark. But by the time the sun went down, about a quarter to 10, "It got really hard to see," Jacoby says, and he closed early for the night. "About that time we realized it wasn't going to be quick."
The restaurant's chef had the idea of putting everything of high value -- cheeses, burgers, charcuterie -- in the freezers, where already-frozen items acted like a big ice box. But other items, like fresh greens that can't be frozen, had to go. "We still lost a couple thousand dollars in product," says Jacoby, "and all the food being made had to be thrown out."
When the lights came back on at 8 a.m. Saturday, Jacoby and his staff started throwing out the losses from the night before, and at 1:30 that afternoon, opened up the bar. By 3:30, they had typed up a limited menu of "six or seven items that hadn't spoiled," and were open for business.
"We had a great night that night," Jacoby says. "People in the community were excited to have somewhere to go."
When Seward neighborhood restaurant Birchwood lost power, at 8 p.m. Friday, "it kind of made us go into emergency response mode," says Rick Oknick, the general manager. The first step in that process, he says, was letting diners know that "we wouldn't be able to serve them." Next up: "Triage."
"We switched roles from service-oriented to getting everything safe," Oknick says. "We were trying to mitigate losing all the perishables."
The Birchwood was able to tap into fridge space at Izzy's Ice Cream in St. Paul and the Republic at Seven Corners. "They were happy to open up their doors," Oknick says, "and because we were very proactive, we were able to save a lot of product."
Losing the day on Saturday was "certainly impactful," especially for a cafe like the Birchwood that does a lot of day-time business. All day, Oknick stood outside the restaurant, greeting -- and turning away -- people who had showed up to eat. But the Birchwood was able to open for dinner service Saturday night, and overall, has bounced back.
"It was actually a positive as far as team building," Oknick says. "It was an opportunity to come together and handle a pretty stressful situation."
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