When the owners of Mile End deli in Boerum Hill and NoHo decided to open up a production facility in Red Hook the goal was to make life easier.
But then super storm Sandy hit.
The facility was practically destroyed, and Mile End deli was forced to trim its menu, and its staff.
Noah Bernamoff, 30, moved to the United States to go to law school. Unhappy with that choice, he decided to open a deli. Mile End opened in January 2010 in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. With his wife, Rae, and his friend, Max Levine, Bernamoff, a Quebec native, brought the smoked meats and poutine (French fries with gravy and cheese curd), staples of Canadian cuisine, to New York.
“It struck me that I missed this food. I moved to New York six years ago and I began making smoked meat as a hobby at home, and then one thing led to another,” Bernamoff said. “When you serve food, you want people to have a good experience, it’s personal. Montreal deli food is very personal for me, and a good way of translating my intentions,” he said.
But Bernamoff’s dream hit a big obstacle in October 2012 when Hurricane Sandy hit New York. The storm devastated the production facility in Red Hook. Despite the damage, Mile End has managed to stay open and serve its loyal clientele even though it had to make adjustments.
Jerome Petitgand, 42, has been the production chef of the Mile End facility for the last year and a half. “Everything was completely destroyed,” said Petitgand. “It wasn’t the force of the wind taking the roof and the walls, but we’re talking about four months of processed meats, smoked, pickled, brined, and we were a few weeks away from Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
Petitgand, who grew up in Alsace, France and has been a chef for 22 years, says he has seen it all, but this was more severe than anything he’d ever witnessed. “I’ve seen fires, bankruptcy, but no amount of this destruction,” he added.
Mile End had just begun a period of expansion too. In May 2012, Bernamoff and his partners decided to launch a second deli on Bond Street (in NoHo) and then they opened the production facility in Red Hook. Mile End had originally produced food on a smaller scale, doing the work in the deli itself.
“We wanted to take the burden off the deli,” Bernamoff said, “We wanted to double our food production. That was the decision.”
Unfortunately, the location they chose was one of the hardest hit during the hurricane and Mile End’s facility suffered major damage. Important appliances and machinery such as steam kettles, cold skillets, a second smoker, and a large convection oven (a steam regulated oven used for roasting proteins) were badly damaged. Mile End lost 100 percent of its inventory, 75 percent of its equipment and 35 percent of its facility.
The facility was hit with 4-feet of water. Shelving and equipment were turned over, the office was completely covered in sewage, and food and dry goods were strewn everywhere across the floor. The walls were lined with grease and diesel. The facility was left with no power and no gas. The Mile End delivery van was waterlogged.
“It was a shocking site,” Bernamoff noted.
It wasn’t just physical damage that affected the small business, however. The company let one-third of its labor force go, shortened its hours and cut back the deli’s menu. They were not able to offer smoked meats until the end of November and then at the end of December the team was able to start sanitizing and cleaning up the Red Hook facility. The only salvageable equipment was a smoker and a walk-in refrigerator, allowing them to handle the basic meat production the restaurant is known for.
“We had to decide what we wanted to make and what we weren’t going to offer at all,” Bernamoff added.
The facility couldn’t produce salami, lamb sausage or hot dogs – they had to outsource in Upstate New York for a few smoked meats, like bacon, smoked turkey, and chicken.
Chef Petitgand says that Bernamoff immediately rolled up his sleeves and got to work. He utilized friends’ facilities to get certain items made, functioning with the help of other people. “We used the kitchen at Fleisher’s Butchers in Kingston, NY, the smokers at my buddy Steve’s place, Hickory BBQ, and the sausage-making wizardry of my friends at the Meat Hook in Williamsburg,” Bernamoff said, “We tapped all of our money reserves, cash reserves, we still don’t have any outcomes from our insurance claims, our obligation is with federal relief agencies,” he added.
Bernamoff says while the community has been a strong support, he is not holding his breath for relief aid considering the larger problems around him. Congress recently approved a $51 billion plan that will help victims of Sandy as well as small businesses, but Mile End’s owner isn’t sure they will receive any of that aid.
Meanwhile, Bernamoff says that the restaurant is carrying on week-to-week, “We’re operating much more tightly than I’d like to be, but we don’t have an option,” he said. “We’re still busy, but with more limited hours and a limited menu,” he said.
For now though, Petitgand sees things as progressing well.
“We cleaned up, we have beautiful facilities,” he said, “I’m back at the warehouse. I’ve been recreating the meats, [and while] I can’t do all the pickles and jam, I’m back on the strong production of cooking five days a week.”