Since Sandy hit Long Island, hundreds of storm-struck restaurateurs have been calling Mario Saccente, executive vice president of the Long Island chapter of the New York State Restaurant Association, asking him what aid is available.
The nonprofit association, established in 1935, is composed of mainly mom-and-pop restaurants, and the Long Island chapter is more than 3,500 dues-paying members strong. The association plans to lobby to get free aid, said Saccente.
What has the restaurant association been doing for its members?
Right now I'm giving people the numbers for FEMA (800-621-3362) and the SBA (800-659-2955), to see if they qualify, and telling them to call anyhow, even if they think they might not. The SBA has low-interest loans to help offset even possible loss of income or just possible lack of insurance. I'm also referring them to public adjusters to help them with their claim, and giving numbers to restoration companies and contractors.
What are their main challenges?
Most restaurateurs either don't have flood insurance or don't have enough flood insurance to cover their loss. A flood policy doesn't cover loss of income. They might [also] have minimal damage to the building but not have content coverage and their equipment is inside floating around. So it's really a terrible situation. I'm just hoping that FEMA and the SBA help out.
Many restaurants were already suffering from the down economy. How are they coming back from this?
Insurance companies are responding back by phone, but they're backlogged. There are going to be restaurants that are never going to open up again. Let's say you have a restaurant that's struggling week to week. Now his income is totally cut off, and no one knows when the aid is going to come. People who do the restorations and repairs might not know when they'll be paid. I'm hoping the SBA can somehow have restaurateurs' loan proceeds assigned directly to the contractors and restoration companies and equipment companies, [to give them] peace of mind that they're going to get paid.
Where are most of the restaurants that are calling your office for help?
Bay Shore, all of Long Beach -- just on Park Boulevard alone 35 or 50 [restaurants] are affected. In Freeport the Nautical Mile is terrible too . . . that's where the fire happened. Most of the buildings in Freeport are made out of wood. The other restaurants, of course, were taken over by flood.
Do they have any hope of actually getting money to rebuild?
There is hope, but right now everything's vague. I don't know how much they can borrow, either. Those towns that are heavily affected are going to need some sort of free aid, like a homeowner has [from] FEMA. I really hope that the federal government and the local government agencies realize the impact that restaurants have on the economy of Long Island and that they come to their help as soon as possible in any way possible.
What would the ripple effect be if they didn't get aid?
This industry drives a lot of other industries, too. We cannot afford to have restaurants not opening up again. The ripple effect is similar to the real estate effect in Florida. It will be devastating, because a typical mom-and-pop restaurant employs, between full-and part-time, 35 to 40 people. You'll have a huge spike in the unemployment rate on Long Island, so they need help.
AT A GLANCE
What he does. Lobbying, watchdog activities, member services and consulting.
Employees. About 50 statewide; on Long Island two full time, one part time.
Roles they play. Administrative.
Chapter revenue. $200,000.