The Restaurant Industry
Is Remarkably Resilient
Much has been written about how the events of September 11th have forever altered the way Americans live and think. Yet, the restaurant community has demonstrated a remarkable resiliency in the several short months since the terrorist attacks. That’s particularly true in New York City, which was hit the hardest.
Many restaurants closed and thousands subsequently lost their jobs in the months after 9/11. But during a recent visit to the city, it was clear that the restaurant scene is thriving again. Nearly every restaurant I visited or walked past was packed. And I’m talking about a Monday and Tuesday. God help walk-ins on the weekend.
There’s more good news. The downtown area where the Twin Towers once stood is also showing signs of recovery. A notable example is the comeback of Drew Nieporent’s Layla restaurant, which closed after the terrorist attacks. Another involves plans by David Emil–who ran the ill-fated Windows on the World atop one of the Trade Towers–to renovate the city-owned Battery Maritime Building.
Originally opened in 1995, Layla suffered for its close proximity to ground zero. From one of its windows, diners could view the Trade Center Towers. For months after the attacks, only smoke from the fire and rubble could be seen. It didn’t help either that Layla was built around a Middle Eastern theme.
"In our hearts and in our guts, we could not remain open after the attacks," says Tracy Nieporent, Drew’s brother. "But it’s now clear that people are ready to get on with celebrating their lives."
Drew, who also operates nearby Tribeca Grill, Montrachet and Nobu, said many old customers left messages on Layla’s front door, saying they missed the restaurant and wanted it reopened.
"We were genuinely moved by the messages of support," says Drew. "The phone has never stopped ringing at Layla and I’m encouraged by the affection so many people are showing us."
Good luck to Layla and also to David Emil, who has submitted a bid to renovate the historic Battery Maritime Building, a once-dramatic structure built in 1909 at the tip of lower Manhattan. Its second floor once served as a waiting room for passengers taking a ferry to Brooklyn. The structure, with a dramatic view of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty, is now mainly used by the city for storage.
Emil wants to convert the second story into a restaurant and banquet hall, and he’s hired Hugh Hardy to design the space. Hardy was the architect who oversaw the 1993 renovation of the Windows on the World, which lost its entire morning shift of 79 people on 9/11
"We’re very committed to downtown, and we think that when the building is restored it will be one of the great public spaces in New York," Emil told the New York Observer.
Whether Emil or Layla suceed, you have to appreciate their spirit. Tracy sums it up best:"They hit us where we live, and now we’ll defeat them by celebrating once again how well we live." Amen.