Dallas Chefs Fought Through a Pandemic, Then the Power Went Out
On Tuesday, when the temperatures peaked at 14 degrees, Cibo Divino owner Daniele Puleo stood by the stove in his Sylvan Thirty shop and restaurant and monitored the brisk in and out of the pizzas charred by the inferno. The power was out, but the stove was blazing, making food for people coming in from a frozen world. They continued until the dough ran out yesterday at noon.
The dining community, hit by hit this year, spiked again as climatic conditions were aggravated by a canceled Valentine’s Day, lengthy closings, and an erratic return to normal.
In the Dallas Farmers Market – the closed shed and the adjacent shops and apartments – the power supply also went out. Ka-Tip owner and Farmers Market resident George Kaiho went with his wife and a cousin to stir up the oven. They lit the gas appliances in the dark and put together a simple menu of bacon, eggs, and pancakes, plus soothing shrimp and chicken congee. They sold hot tea and coffee and had people fill containers with hot water because they knew others at home were in dire straits.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, when the power was turned on and off, Kaiho was able to add some of their regular menu items. When the restaurant naturally darkened around 4 p.m., the small team stopped. “We couldn’t see anymore, so we closed,” says Kaiho.
Their landlord at the Farmers Market allowed them to go into the shed to purchase 12 dozen eggs, coffee, and milk from Market Provisions when their supply ran out. “They are only open for us. And few other people, ”says Kaiho.
Many lost power across the city. The Empire Baking Company posted on social media that without electricity, the bakers were unable to bake overnight. They had to close the Inwood Bakery. No electricity, no daily bread. No electricity, no warm cups of coffee. Roasters like Noble Coyote, Full City Rooster, and others gloomily announced their abrupt formwork. For those looking for staples, the basics have been ripped out from under them.
For some, the losses were large, but dwarfed by concern for staff. Anastacia Quiñones-Pittman, head chef at José, returned to a cold restaurant that had been closed for five days. She threw away the contents of a walk-in refrigerator that was gilded with provisions for a Valentine’s Day menu. Oysters, lobster tails, and tomahawk ribeyes went in the dumpster.
There was no way of knowing how high the temperature of the cooling chamber had risen before power was restored, even though the thermostat read 40. And so, thousands of dollars of product were thrown out.
“There were tears,” she says. But the worst part was feeling helpless. She couldn’t help her co-workers, with whom she stayed in constant contact through a group chat. (Fourteen of their 18 back-of-house workers lost power.) The restaurant was closing, the propane tanks were not in use, and she arranged for them to be made available to workers in need. She delivered several and left a few others on the terrace.
Working closely with vendors such as the local Chefs Produce has enabled her to secure enough supplies to open some of the menu’s most popular items for roadside pickup on Thursday. She wants to reopen the dining room for dinner on Friday, but goes back on tiptoe and doesn’t want to spread the staff too thinly.
“Tomorrow we have to go shopping,” Kaiho told me yesterday. “We usually shop in the Hong Kong market, but the sprinkler broke so it’s going to be difficult.”
The next hurdle is provisioning, where suppliers are swept aside and no deliveries are made on icy roads.
In the Legacy Hall Food Hall in Plano, companies are again operating machines to recreate products. Meanwhile, Tiffany Derry is handing out hot meals. Others offer similar variations.
They are all faced with ripple effects.
Encina at Bishop Arts is recovering from days of disaster management and is back on her feet. Chef owners Matt Balke and Corey McCombs brought space heaters and a heat gun from home and strategically positioned them to thaw frozen toilets over the weekend. They let the heat run and let the water drip. Balke was up there every day.
The cancellations ranged from Valentine’s Day to Saturday dinner and Sunday brunch, which equated to about 300 lost reservations. That would have been tens of thousands of dollars in sales.
But he didn’t let some of the staff come in. Some lived in Rockwall, and Balke feared the state of the bridges they would have to cross on their way to North Oak Cliff. For those who walked in, he offered to pay for an AirBnB stay or a room at the Hilton Anatole in case they were afraid to return home. Nobody asked him about it, but the small team made it.
“It was a really tough three days for everyone,” he says.
“Fortunately, we haven’t lost our walk-in,” he says, “just one of the biggest weekends for restaurants.” Weather events of this magnitude are devastating. “Fortunately, between a Kryovac machine that can seal food” and the slow return of food (fish delivery on Friday; meat delivery on Saturday; production over the weekend), Encina can take a step back.
Homewood, however, shows persistent effects that can go well beyond frost. Due to a burst pipe, Matt McCallister’s restaurant will be closed until next Wednesday. In one of the beauties of this disaster where restaurants at risk have suffered along with all of us, McCallister closed his Instagram posts of the past confusing days with an insightful development that underscores the spirit of restaurants. The strength and tenacity they have shown in those devastating days.
First a snowman announcing the cancellation of the Valentine’s Day To-Go menu. Next came an invitation to come back next week for ricotta gnocchi. And finally on Friday morning the news that the service will not resume until next week when the line has been repaired. But on Friday afternoon he’ll be handing out chowder – made from the halibut that was cured and the oysters that smoked before the world turned it all off.