ROCKAWAY BEACH — Nearly a year after Hurricane Sandy knocked Rockaway's largest — and sweetest — employer out of business, the Madelaine Chocolate Factory is back to selling and shipping its famous foil-wrapped chocolates.
The family-run company, which has been in Rockaway Beach since 1967, held an official grand opening celebration on Tuesday, ahead of their peak production season, which begins in July.
"Today is a happy day, and we are back in business," CEO Jorge Farber said.
Farber drove to the factory on Oct. 30, 2012 and found the 200,000-square-foot space located just a block from Jamaica Bay had filled with 4 feet of water.
Every piece of equipment had some sort of damage, he said, and chocolate at every stage of production — from liquid waiting to be set in molds to Thanksgiving chocolates already packaged and waiting to be shipped — was destroyed.
Madelaine lost more than $8 million in inventory, since the storm hit at its peak season, Farber said. The company lost 5,000 cubic yards of chocolate. They sent another 750,000 pounds of unusuable liquid chocolate to a pig farm.
Before the storm, 450 employees churned out an average of 100,000 pounds of chocolate every day, producing 20 million pounds of dark and milk chocolate candy per year.
Madelaine resumed production in July 2013, but the hiatus and repairs cost the company approximately $50 million in business.
Since reopening, they've started to produce about half as much chocolate as before, and so far have only been able to hire back 125 employees — a quarter of its previous staff.
Farber said he hopes to hire everyone back once the factory begins operating fully. Some production lines have yet to reopen, and he said they "will not rest until all of our employees are back working, helping us to produce products that our customers have grown to love just as much as we do."
At the ceremony, employees wearing hairnets and dressed in the familiar light blue Madelaine jackets cheered Farber as he thanked them for their patience in reopening.
Constacia Brown, a 25-year veteran of the company, said she was thrilled to return to the factory floor on Sept. 17.
"I feel good," she said. "I hope to see everyone else back soon."
Brown, 64, was on unemployment for nearly a year after the factory closed and dealt with damage to the roof of her Far Rockaway home because of Sandy, too, she said.
Sisters-in-law Katie and Annie Dunninge, both 62, ran the factory store on the side of the building for years. Annie started working at Madelaine in 1968, and Katie joined her in 1977. Both live in Far Rockaway and were both professionally and personally affected by the storm. Holding up bags of foil-wrapped Halloween pumpkins, they said they were delighted to be back to work.
"I'm so happy things are moving forward, not only for us but for our bosses," Annie said. "We're family here."