The last time served a meal was Friday Aug. 26.
Hurricane Irene was barreling up the coast on Saturday and the restaurant couldn’t open because too many of the staff called out. On Sunday, when they are open just for dinner, the tropical storm was here. They are usually closed Monday, which was good because there was no power in the borough by then.
On Thursday, town sanitarian Karen Weiss came to Zack’s to go through the restaurant’s coolers and refrigerators and determine if anything was salvageable.
Weiss toured the kitchen and the basement with co-owner Lynn Tsagarakis and fry cook Jeff Holland. Lynn’s husband Tom was over at the couple’s other restaurant, The Seahorse in Noank, assessing the damage there from five days of no power. Together, the two restaurants employ more than 70 people.
Weiss said she has been on the move since Monday, visiting about three dozen eateries to make sure that spoiled food is being discarded and public health standards were being met. She has spent the rest of the week revisiting places as they get their power back, or as they reopen with generators, to make sure that food is being stored at the proper temperatures.
To be considered safe, Weiss said, food like meat, poultry and dairy must be 45 degrees or colder. And if anything has thawed, it has to be cooked immediately, she said—it cannot be refrozen.
“I am looking for spoilage, anything meat or dairy,” she explained to Tsagarakis.
Together they walked through the dark restaurant and into the even darker kitchen. They methodically opened up the row of small refrigerators down the cooking line, that hold all the items the line cooks use to make all the entrees. Everything was spoiled.
Tsagarakis and Holland had clipboards and marked down that everything in those coolers had to be tossed, and the refrigerators disinfected.
They checked the walk-in cooler off the kitchen and the station that holds all the fixings for salads. All bad.
Down in the cellar, where there were at least a dozen freezers of varying sizes, they opened each one and peered in. Tsagarakis got good news when the freezer holding meat was still very cold, and when Weiss took the temperature of several different cuts; they were all around 40 degrees. Chicken was also cold enough.
“I’d cook that soon,” Weiss warned, “now that we have opened it.”
“Absolutely,” Tsagarakis said.
By the time they were done, it was clear that almost everything the restaurant had as inventory had to be thrown out. And while they are insured for the loss of the inventory, Tsagarakis said, they are self-employed people who have been forced to be out of business for six days. And even when they do get power back, they can’t reopen right away, as everything has to be disinfected and then they have to order new supplies. Distributors are being jammed with orders from hundreds of restaurants around the region trying to get back on their feet.
“It’s pretty upsetting,” Tsagarakis said. “It’s a lot of money; it’s our livelihood. We have been closed for six days and there is no end in sight. It is very, very discouraging. We can’t serve our public and we can’t take care of our employees. For one or two days it was OK, but now it is costing everybody.”