Northern Hospitality: Montclair Restaurants in the Aftermath of Sandy

by Melody Kettle in

*Also published in the Montclair Times

Outside, the smell of wood burning fireplaces, the hum of generators and a haunting sense of déjà vu filled the damp air.  Trees stood shattered or lay uprooted across yards and roads, while phone and power lines hung dangerously low.  Inside, eighty percent of Montclair homes were dark and cold, while the refrigerators, ironically, were warm. 

In the aftermath of Frankenstorm, residents scrambled for blankets and batteries, while Montclair restaurateurs gathered staff, organized deliveries and opened their doors. In a food-town, like Montclair, it’s easy to take these open doors for granted. 

Regularly, we decide where to dine by reading the latest review criticizing cuisine, creativity or atmosphere, and gloss past the intrinsic hospitality these restaurants offer.  But, when faced with a situation like Sandy, suddenly, these points of criticism no longer matter. 

Tierney’s was at capacity since Sunday night, and ran out of food on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights.  According to Bill Tierney, 99% of customers were great, although there were a few who drove them crazy.  He recalled an interesting exchange with a female customer who requested four burgers for take-out.  When Bill told her they were out of burgers, she replied, “that's okay, you can make them cheeseburgers.” 

During the evening, Tierney overheard a group of men discussing the state of domestic affairs, “I had to get out of the house, no power.” “Me too.”  “Yeah, me too.”  “Yup, I hear ya!” Another man in the group replied, “I had to get out of the house because we have power.  There's twenty people at my place, with their pets, and their phones, and computers, and games. I had to get the hell out’ta there.” 

During the black out, Amy Russo, owner of Toast, had a packed house from open till close, with a twenty to thirty minute wait, from ten am until two pm.  According to Amy Russo, “Every outlet had multiple phones and iPads charging, while people were eating. All the places that were lucky enough to be open were great with each other; Belgiovine’s, the Salute crew, as well as Ariane Duarte, have all been helping and sharing food and resources."

Bill Tierney said, “families were showing up with board games, video games, laptops and snacks.  Almost all of my outlets were charging cell phones, computers, rechargeable batteries, kid games and flashlights.”

As the days went on, the mood began to deteriorate.  People began to worry about gasoline, and restaurant deliveries were made with police escorts.  Still, restaurant doors remained open, and the seats filled.  In another exchange, Bill Tierney overheard a patron question Tierney’s staff,  “How can it take forty-five minutes to get a burger?” The barman replied, in kind, “How can it take four hours to get five gallons of gas?”

There is an intangible and reassuring comfort at a local restaurant, found in the faces of friends, locals, and familiar bar tenders.  It doesn’t matter if the burger is Kobe or ground chuck, or if the fries are hand-cut or frozen bulk, or if the ketchup is house made or Heinz.  It’s about hospitality; the place where the doors are open, the lights are on, the food is hot, and the drinks cold.  These local haunts were cherished shelters from the storm, and the places where life went on. 

*Originally published in the Montclair Times