Specialty Food Magazine

JUL-AUG 2013

Specialty Food Magazine is the leading publication for retailers, manufacturers and foodservice professionals in the specialty food trade. It provides news, trends and business-building insights that help readers keep their businesses competitive.

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Page 164 of 217

In 1997 Joe Leone's opened in Point Pleasant, N.J., and today— along with another store in nearby Sea Girt, Joe Leone's Italian Specialty Store & Catering—offers imported Italian groceries, homemade breads, fresh mozzarella, gift baskets and other specialties. The Point Pleasant store, the company's flagship, is just six city blocks from the ocean. "We were very close to getting washed away," says founder Joe Leone. "We got lucky and the water didn't reach us. We have railroad tracks in town that have never had flooding reach the tracks. But it did with Sandy. We are about 150 feet from them." The damage… Just because the store didn't flood doesn't mean there weren't major losses. The Point Pleasant store was closed for nine days, the Sea Girt outpost was shuttered for two weeks and both were without power for days. Leone's co-owner John Hilla estimates that losses reached upwards of $200,000 during that time. And all around the shore, the homes and lives of many of the staff and customers were decimated. "We had seven employees who lost everything. My sister lost everything," Leone explains. "There is a mile of homes nearby that are just completely gone." Feeding the community… The storm hit on a Monday, but it wasn't until Thursday afternoon that Leone and Hilla had a real sense of how all their employees were faring. There was no power, phone lines were down, cell towers weren't functioning. "It was scary," Leone recalls. "We didn't know how many people had died." Fortunately, all of their employees survived. The stores didn't have backup generators but Hilla was able to keep the food cold through Friday by continually filling the freezers with ice and duct-taping them shut. During this time, Leone's insurance company told him to leave all the food where it was until an assessor could conduct a physical inventory of the perishables. But that was something he felt he couldn't do. "I was seeing people who had supported me for 16 years in business literally lose everything JOE LEONE'S and need food. So we put it to 500 American Legion good use. We gave so much away." Way By Thursday afternoon, 60 Point Pleasant, NJ of the 90 Point Pleasant employ732.701.0001 ees were at the store making food joeleones.com to take to first responders, demoTime closed: nine lition crews and area residents. days at Point Pleasant store; two weeks at "We had cashiers making food— Sea Girt store everyone was helping. I'm very Total losses: fortunate to have such a great $200,000 team. We must have fed 6,000 148 ❘ SPECIALTY FOOD MAGAZINE specialtyfood.com PHOTO: JOE LEONE'S HELPING THE JERSEY SHORE RECOVER Joe Leone's, Point Pleasant, NJ people," Leone says. "I drove to the other end of the island to take food to the emergency personnel and the demolition teams who were clearing the roads," he adds. "For me to get the food to the workers they had to move houses out of the road. Literally. I even had to drive through a house." A slow recovery… The company was fortunate that out of 108 employees at the two stores, it had to lay off only two, but the business did change. Due to the 6 p.m. curfew initiated in many shore towns in the days following the storm, the store had to shut by 5 p.m. so staff could get home. And because of the state of the roads and limited availability, it took three weeks to get perishables restocked. Beyond the logistical challenges, it was an emotionally difficult time for all team members. Seeing customers in such a sad state was hard, Leone says. "People came in looking totally disheveled and feeling down and out. People would tell me their stories. One after another after another," he says. "I felt bad because I was fortunate. I didn't have damage to my home or really the four buildings we operated. And here were people who had lost everything." Keeping staff positive was also a challenge. "We worked hard with our team members to be positive and to be understanding with difficult customers—to appreciate that that angry customer may have lost her home or was in a scary financial situation," he explains. "We tried to boost team members up by having huddles in the morning and later in the day and to talk about what they were going through." Business still isn't back to a pre-Sandy pattern. Instead of customers coming in and spending $100 in one grocery trip, construction workers and insurance adjusters are spending $15 for lunch but coming in several times a week. At presstime, it is still too early to tell how summer traffic will be, but Leone is hopeful for a strong tourist return. Rebuilding the shore… Recently the company updated its uniforms to feature "Restore the Shore" T-shirts and is selling them for $20, with $12 going to a restoration fund. And Leone's daughter Bella is opening a gelato stand in front of the store to raise money for the effort. —S.S. Nicole Potenza Denis, Susan Segrest and Denise Shoukas are contributing editors to Specialty Food Magazine.

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