This morning, outside of a shuttered B&H Dairy, owner Fawzy Abdelwahad stood waiting for Con Ed inspectors who were due to check his gas line. Since an explosion leveled three buildings a few doors down from him last week, he’s been working with various city agencies and his insurance company to reopen his 73-year-old diner and keep his business from going under.
Abdelwahad, who has owned B&H for 13 years, said that with taxes, rent, insurance, labor, food, and supplies, his expenses run between $30,000 to $40,000 a month. He has no savings and no personal assets to leverage in order to support the business. “If it’s going to be like this for a while,” he said, waving at the darkened diner, “we could be out of business like, 1-2-3.” He estimated that it would not be able to survive more than a three-week closure. “I love it, of course,” he said of the greasy spoon. “It’s like my son, one of my children, my family.”
By this afternoon, the lights were back on in B&H, although it was still closed to customers. Abdelwahad had just finished meeting with the inspector from Con Ed and told us that the building’s gas service was shut off due to the possibility of a leak.
Con Ed did not immediately return a call about the matter. A Con Ed notice posted today, April 3, said service was due to be discontinued on or after April 21 because the landlord “has not paid outstanding charges for service” to the building. An e-mail to Joshua Halegua, a partner in the company that owns the building, has not received a reply.
“They’re changing the pipe,” Abdelwahad told us. “They’re trying to find a way to get just us gas during the work.” The inspector couldn’t make promises or give him a firm timeline, but Abdelwahad estimated it could take another week. The health department also came by today and cleared B&H for operation as soon as they have gas.
Abdelwahad was in the restaurant the day of the blast. “It was like a bomb,” he said. The place was packed with customers, and everybody was scared. Within seven or eight minutes the police and fire departments were on the scene, evacuating anyone who hadn’t already left. Abdelwahad then waited on Third Avenue until 11 p.m., at which point a fire chief escorted him back to the restaurant for five minutes to turn the lights off and lock up. He was relieved to find it was intact, albeit smoky. They had to throw out large quantities of food, but the campfire smell is now gone and the restaurant is clean and orderly, ready for its customers.Support could be critical for B&H’s survival, but Abdelwahad doesn’t want to run an online fundraising campaign, like other businesses and individuals have. “I don’t think it will help,” he said, “because everyone needs help.” Nevertheless, the owners have been frequently updating B&H’s Facebook page with posts appealing to customers “to be with us in this hard time,” and talking about how much they miss them all.
“We love our customers, we treat them like family,” Abdelwahad said. He characterized their response as “wonderful” and said there has been a lot of concern about when B&H will reopen. “Do you know when you will get the gas back? I want to end Passover at B&H,” wrote one customer. Others wrote, “Let us know when they turn the gas back on and we’ll be back!” and “Looking forward to your reopening soon!” Three people have called B&H “selfish” for asking for diners to stand by them in this hard time, but Abdelwahad knows that the critics are not his beloved patrons.
But the support B&H Dairy really needs is from city agencies that will help them keep the business. The Department of Small Business Services has contacted Abdelwahad, and was supposed to come by today to see how they could help. The city has offered loans, but he’s looking for more than that.
After this afternoon’s inspection, Abdelwahad feels “much more comfortable,” and said, “I hope, I pray” that the restaurant will reopen soon.
Across the street, the gate at Stage Restaurant, which has been closed since Wednesday because of a basement gas leak, was still rolled down with no indication of when it would reopen.
Next-door to B&H, Himalayan Visions is once again selling Tibetan goods, even though the sidewalk just after it is closed to pedestrians, making business slow. Ngawang Tenzin, the shop’s owner, said an officer from the Department of Small Business Services came by and told him that it might be one or two weeks before the street can fully reopened for pedestrian traffic.