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BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER | Just down South William Street from Delmonico’s restaurant where lobster Newberg (lobster, butter, cream, sherry, cognac, eggs and cayenne pepper) was invented in 1876, a more modest lobster purveyor opened in June 2011. Luke’s Lobster at 26 S. William St. resembles a Maine lobster shack. Serving lobster, shrimp and crab rolls, clam chowder, chips, beer and soda, it proved immensely popular with the Financial District crowd until Superstorm Sandy wiped it out on Oct. 29.
On Thursday, Feb. 21, it reopened.
“The basement was flooded to the ceiling with around 12 feet of water,” said Ben Conniff, one of the owners.
When he and two of the other five owners showed up on Oct. 30 to inspect the damage, they “hadn’t expected anything good,” Conniff said, but were stunned by what had happened. Their heating and air conditioning system had been destroyed along with their refrigerators, their computers, their walls and floors and all of their inventory.
Luke’s Lobster adjoins a parking garage with which it shares a basement. Water from the parking garage had surged through the restaurant.
The owner of the parking garage, who is Luke’s Lobster’s landlord, paid to pump out the water, but then almost three months elapsed before the owners of Luke’s Lobster were able to come to an understanding with their landlord about repairs. “He wouldn’t respond to our emails or our calls,” Conniff said.
Finally they reached an agreement that the landlord would pay for some of the electrical repairs and the owners of Luke’s Lobster would pay for the remainder of the damage, getting back some of the cost in reduced rent.
Conniff estimates that the repairs will have cost between $25,000 and $30,000 by the time all the bills are in, plus, he said, “We lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in business.”
The Luke’s Lobster owners have not received any grants to help with this expense, nor have they taken out any loans. “We heard about loans at 6 percent interest, which wouldn’t have helped us at all,” said Conniff. “We reached out to the Downtown Alliance, but didn’t hear from them. The first time that we heard about grants that we would be eligible for was this week.”
Although Luke’s Lobster made deliveries before Superstorm Sandy, the South William Street store reopened without phone or Internet service. The owners are hopeful that both will soon be restored. (Verizon is their phone carrier and EarthLink is their Internet provider.) In the meantime, they are using a mobile card reader attached to an iPad so they can process credit card charges and they plan to get a cellphone in the store so they can accept delivery orders.
Even without a telephone, the first day back in business was pretty busy, said Andrew Benson, who manages the South William Street store. Within the first few hours of opening, the store had processed 85 orders, he said.
Luke Holden, his father, Jeff, and Conniff opened the first Luke’s Lobster in the East Village in 2009. Now they have five stores in Manhattan, three in and around Washington, D.C. and a Manhattan-based food truck. Two more stores are slated to open in Brooklyn this summer.
The East Village location lost power because of Superstorm Sandy, but it was quickly restored. None of the other stores were damaged.
Conniff said that Luke’s Lobster has a 10-year lease on South William Street and was less than two years into the lease when the storm occurred. “We don’t want to abandon the neighborhood,” he said. “If there’s another storm, we’ll try to be better prepared and find a way to communicate better with our landlord.”
Luke’s Lobster at 26 S. William St. is open from Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays, from noon to 8 p.m. The phone number is (212) 747-1700. For more information, go to www.lukeslobster.com