Restaurant chains get ahead of Hurricane Sandy

Oct. 29, 2012 | by Alicia Kelso

Hurricane Sandy began making landfall along the East Coast today, with an estimated 60 million people in its path. Most weather professionals are expecting catastrophic conditions unlike any prior storm, as it's likely Sandy will collide with a cold front that could create winds up to 90 mph, flash flooding, blizzard-like conditions and power outages.

In preparation, airline and ground transportation systems in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia have been shut down. Some coastal towns have also issued mandatory evacuations.

Restaurant chains also are setting their contingency plans in motion as Sandy bears down.

Brothers Dan and Bob Lowe are doing their best to prepare their Firehouse Subs employees as well as their communities for Hurricane Sandy. Dan Lowe, the chain's area director of Washington, D.C., and Bob Lowe, who holds the same position for the Philadelphia area, have moved inventory from their distribution centers closer to where the storms are predicted to hit, so that they can quickly feed the community when the storm passes. The chain has 11 units in D.C., five in Philadelphia and two in Boston that could be hit. Bob said the storm is so far reaching, however, that the company's West Virginia stores could also see some damage.

While most of the Philadelphia stores are still open and are working with an independent company to deliver boxed lunches to the power crews already working in the storm, Dan Lowe said most of the D.C. stores, which are closer to the hurricane's eye, closed after lunch. More closures are expected as the hurricane nears.

"The safety of our employees is our No. 1 concern, so we are just going to have to sit and wait and assess where we are most needed when the storm passes," Dan Lowe said. "We will be soon feeding a lot of the community who will be without power."

Both brothers worked for Firehouse last year during Hurricane Irene and had similar plans in place.

"We're out of Jacksonville, Fla., and have been around for 18 years, so we are used to dealing with hurricanes," Dan Lowe said.

As of 4 p.m. Eastern today, nearly 1,000 Starbucks stores will be closed between Virginia and Maine as a result of the hurricane.

"The safety and well-being of our partners (employees) and customers is our top priority, and as a result we’re working with local authorities to closely monitor the situation and evaluate closures on a case-by-case basis. Affected stores will remain closed all day Monday,and we will have an update on Tuesday closures based on storm impact this evening and overnight," said a Starbucks spokesperson.

Josephine Capozzi, vice president of Franchise Relations for Jersey Mike's Subs — headquartered in New Jersey — said the chain issued "Hurricane Best Practices" last week, when Sandy began forming on the radar. The checklist includes a safety manual as well as store-specific information from the IT department and practices from franchise owners and area directors.

"These best practices cover everything from how to secure the inside/outside of (a) facility to food safety to what to expect upon re-opening. Also, all of our area directors follow up with every location before, during and after storms like this to ensure our franchise owners and team members are prepared and safe," Capozzi said.

Another East Coast-based chain, Muscle Maker Grill, out of Colonia, N.J., has closed many stores, particularly those in Southern New Jersey, and has taken proper measures to secure those locations, according to founder Rod Silva.

He expects locations that are still open to have slow business today and Tuesday. A prepared disaster plan for all locations has been sent out electronically.

"We also believe strongly in maintaining a positive attitude and keep all of our partners and customers in our prayers," Silva said.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Domino's franchisees, team members and volunteers reopened stores, set up mobile units and donated more than 40,000 pizzas to people in the most affected areas.

Jersey Mike's also anticipates getting up and running as soon as the storm blows through.

"Often Jersey Mike's is one of the first businesses to reopen in affected areas, and we are ready to feed our hungry customers as well as help the emergency crews by providing sub sandwiches to keep them going on long shifts," Capozzi said.

(Cherryh Butler contributed to this story.)

Hurricane image courtesy of NASA/GSFC/Jeff Schmaltz/MODIS Land Rapid Response Team.

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Alicia Kelso / Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with, and has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, and Franchise Asia magazine.
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