As an ocean rushed down the street and filled their basement-level restaurant with seven feet of water, brother and sister duo Laura and Lawrence Vecchio could only watch in fear of losing everything.
The Vecchio family was one of the thousands of business owners who received massive amounts of damage after Superstorm Sandy hit the city last October.
With their family-owned restaurant, Mia Famiglia, located at 44-29 9th Street — which opened only months before Sandy, in April 2012 — just a little over 500 feet away from the East River, the siblings were expecting a maximum of two to three feet of water after hearing the warnings of a storm. However, after standing in the first level lobby of the Wyndham Hotel, on whose lower level the restaurant is located, and watching the storm pass through Long Island City, they knew the next few months were going to be difficult.
“We anticipated water but not that,” said Laura, who is the head chef at the restaurant. “It looked like an ocean coming down the street.”
The family had close to $275,000 in losses and damages, including kitchen equipment, tables, chairs, walls and much more they had to repair and replace.
“Nothing was salvaged,” said Lawrence.
Along with dealing with the aftermath of the storm and staying closed for three months, the Vecchios said they also had no help from their landlord, the owners of the Wyndham Hotel, who they allege left them to fend for themselves.
The owners of the hotel did not return calls for comment as of press time.
Post Sandy, when the city released its new storm evacuation maps, the brother and sister duo learned Mia Famiglia was moved from Zone A to Zone 2. The Office of Emergency Management determined the maps “based on six evacuation zones that represent varying threat levels of coastal flooding resulting from storm surge.”
“There’s no logic to it, we didn’t move,” said Lawrence. “We’re still in the same spot. The water is still in the same spot. So how can you say we’re not Zone A severe?”
Yet, with all the damage and problems the storm threw their way, the family said Sandy has not put them down, but actually allowed them to come back stronger.
With the help of the Small Business Association, the Vecchio family fought to start the new year bringing back their warm family dishes, including homemade cheesecakes made by Antoinette Vecchio, a.k.a. “Mama,” to the Long Island City community.
Another helping hand also recently came through the Food Network which approached the family after Lawrence had created a Yelp account for the restaurant and shared their story. Mia Famiglia was invited to participate in a brand new show called “Restaurant Divided,” where restaurants are divided in half with two different concepts on each side, and in the end the idea with the best profitability and customer reviews can decide to either take home the money or get a full restaurant makeover.
Mia Famiglia appeared on the show’s debut episode on Thursday, October 24. In the episode, Laura had the idea to change the restaurant to a sports bar theme while Larry believed a steakhouse concept would win the hearts of customers. Chef and restaurateur Rocco DiSpirito then assessed customer reactions and the financial viability of each theme based on the one night and in the end selected Larry’s concept as the winner.
The restaurant was given a full makeover based on Larry’s idea and now is an “LIC steakhouse with Italian influence.”
“Sandy has actually hurt us and helped us at the same time,” said Laura. “So ‘she’ kind of torn us down and built us back up.”
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