Van Brunt Street Restaurants Reopen For First Time Since Hurricane Sandy

By Alan Neuhauser on January 3, 2013 7:51am 

RED HOOK — Two critically acclaimed Red Hook restaurants rang in the New Year by serving and celebrating with their first customers since Hurricane Sandy.

The Good Fork and Homemade, both on Van Brunt Street, were devastated by the superstorm, which struck Oct. 29. But both came back strong, whipping up special New Year's meals — The Good Fork on New Year's Eve, and Homemade on New Year's Day.

"Sandy wiped us out, down to the last cheesecloth," The Good Fork co-owner and chef Sohui Kim said. "It was a lot to get together — and we did it."

Homemade served brunch Jan. 1, then closed again for the final steps of its rebuilding process. Co-owner Monica Byrne said she expects to open for good on Saturday, Jan. 12.

"We were going to open for New Year's, come hell or high water — literally," Byrne said, describing the brunch as a "preview and a welcome home."

The restaurants' openings followed months of fundraising campaigns to try to recoup their losses after the storm.

The Good Fork raised more than $54,000 to rebuild through GoFundMe.com, exceeding its fundraising goal by more than $4,000.

"I'd look at that number and be weeping," Kim said. "Red Hook has shown its love for The Good Fork and for the businesses that have been hit."

At Homemade, Byrne and her co-owner and partner, Leisah Swenson, also used grassroots fundraising in the wake of the storm. They attracted not only $9,000 in donations for their own restaurant on GoFundMe.com, but also helped raised more than $200,000 for Restore Red Hook, which they helped establish to support neighborhood brick-and-mortar businesses recovering from Sandy.

"People have been really, really, really wonderful," Byrne told DNAinfo.com New York in a December interview. "We're trying to not just get everybody open, but to keep everyone open."

Flooding caused by the storm forced Byrne and Swenson to replace virtually their entire ground floor, but the couple took the opportunity to redesign the restaurant — trading its long, low tables and cushion-covered benches for more traditional, restaurant-style tables and chairs.

"It's going to be really different," Byrne explained. "We have the exposed brick wall, which used to be dry wall… We've got really nice bent-plywood chairs that we got in. So it's going to be a little more restaurant-y and a little less lounge-y."

The restaurant's beloved white couch, however, will be there — albeit a brand-new model donated by Ikea.

Down the block, The Good Fork also made improvements as it rebuilt. Kim and her husband/co-owner, Ben Schneider, put its replacement walk-in refrigerator on stilts and reupholstered much of its furniture.

"I have to give props to my husband," Kim said Wednesday, as she kneaded dough for fettuccine that would be served that evening.

In the weeks ahead, Kim continued, she and the restaurant's 19-member staff will focus on making "our service and quality a little better." The restaurant, now in its seventh year, has already attracted a coveted 25-point rating on Zagat's 30-point scale.

"Restaurants can be special places," Schneider said. "We always wanted it to be a special place. A place on the map, not just a place that passes through."

The GoFundMe campaign, he continued, "showed just how many people care deeply about the restaurant. We felt obligated to the people — not just to our staff and customers, but people who live in the neighborhood…. We felt, 'Now we can't let them down.'"

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