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Photo courtesy of Three Brothers Bakery
For restaurants in Houston, September couldn’t have come and gone fast enough. Most places are still feeling the effects of Hurricane Harvey, from slower business in general, to staff that’s still dealing with destroyed cars or homes, to the residual financial strain of days- and weekslong closures and the looming, potential financial threat of a proposed property tax hike.
"The city is still off-kilter,” says Jonathan Horowitz, president of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association, “I’ve been talking to a lot of people, and they all say the same thing. It’s not quite right yet.”
But for restaurants attempting to simply recover and reopen after flooding, it's not even close to being normal.
"The biggest problem with flooding," Robert "Bobby" Jucker of Three Brothers Bakery says, "as a business, you don’t get paid for any loss of business. They just pay you for damages. So, insurance is a tough, tough deal. It’s not I’m so sorry you’ve been in a flood. Let me write you a check. You have to prove what you’ve lost, even though you’ve got water out the doors. It’s a big process. A flood adjuster is assigned. They have to gather all your information. Serial numbers, models, part sizes. You've got to do all this research, get vendors to price it. God, if you’re not prepared for this and can’t back it up? It’s a long, horrible road. We’ve kind of learned in four floods and one tornado that you’ve really got to be prepared and have your stuff saved in the cloud."
Before the electricity went out at Three Brothers Bakery, 4036 Braeswood, this time around — when Harvey rolled in on the night of August 26 — water filled the parking lot, rose to the level of the push bar on the door and started pouring inside the bakery. By Sunday, it was flowing like a river between the front and back doors, lifting and spinning buckets, a cart and custom-built maple tables. The ice machine, complete with 800 pounds of ice in it, was picked up and flipped over. In the kitchen, the water did so much damage it even destroyed the sour starter for the bakery’s beloved rye bread.
“This was the first time it wasn’t a total blackout when it flooded,” Jucker says. That is to say, some of this was even captured on security camera, a perverse keepsake. “It’s a nightmare.”
Hurricane Harvey was the third time the bakery has flooded in three years. Around the bakery, the neighborhoods are stacked with debris, the landscape perhaps forever changed this time around. At least that’s what Jucker fears most. Thousands of homes in the Meyerland, Braeswood and Bellaire neighborhoods that surround the bakery were completely inundated with water for the second time in two years. Some neighboring businesses are not coming back. A couple that were regulars already decided to move back to North Carolina. With FEMA buyouts looming, Jucker wonders if the neighborhoods will become sparser, forever changed to the detriment of the community.
For the bakery itself, the aftermath of the latest flood has brought stress aplenty. The location serves as the central production kitchen for all of Three Brothers' catering orders and storefronts, but after a thorough cleaning and remediation, it has only been running on half days for a little more than a week.
The cases are about a third full, and a certain amount of kitchen equipment is faulty. “Components, once they get wet, they just start failing,” Jucker says, but it doesn’t happen all at once. The other day a full rack of cakes was baking when the oven failed. His custom-made kitchen equipment, including sheeters and ovens, has to be outsourced from Europe or New York, so replacing parts isn’t an easy process. Same thing with replacing the bakery’s flooded truck. Jucker found a replacement just fine, except that it was in Maryland.
“Our biggest challenge is just losing all the equipment and having to rip things out and not being able to get a loan. Having this happen three times over three years, our books don’t look so great, you know; the bank doesn’t want to lend money.”
Despite the sentiment, Jucker has gotten a disaster loan, as he did during Ike, to help cover some costs, which he estimates will run about a million dollars. How else will he cover up-front costs? “American Express. You know, what are you going to do?”
The bakery has spent more than $30,000 in premiums for flood insurance, and received $1.5 million to fix, rebuild and replace the items lost to previous flooding. Jucker says he wishes the government would offer loans to help small businesses relocate, but understands that will likely never happen. "We’re going to be okay. It’s just hard right now. I really don’t want to do this again. I’d rather be in the process of trying to grow this business, versus every year rebuilding everything I have."Next Page