A sudden storm ruined what should have been a profitable Friday night for several restaurants on Park Avenue in Winter Park. Lightning took out the power for most of the businesses from approximately the Williams-Sonoma store south to Fairbanks Avenue. Power was also out along Fairbanks to the railroad crossing. The storm hit around 8:15 p.m., the height of the dining hour. The lights didn’t come back on until 10:30.
“It was brutal,” said Tim Noelke, general manager of Luma on Park, “It crushed us.” The restaurant had about 130 guests in the dining room, 20 people on a waiting list for tables, and 50 reservations still to come. Noelke said that in his nine years with the restaurant the power has gone out a half dozen times, “But this was the longest.”
Cooking had to cease, even though some of what is prepared in the kitchen is done on non-electric grills and wood burning ovens. “When you lose power you lose your kitchen,” Noelke explained, including the exhaust system that is required to be in operation. “By law we had to stop cooking.”
People waited, hoping that the power would come back on, but when the exhaust system went out the dining room began to fill with the smoke from the grill. And without air conditioning, the room became uncomfortable. Noelke finally called it a night. With the point of sale systems out, servers resorted to processing credit cards with an old manual slide machine. “We call it the knuckle crusher,” he said.
Several dozen people participating in a SunRail Bar Crawl had just left Luma and were standing on the platform waiting for a train to take them back to Church Street. “It went completely dark there,” said Joe Sarrubbo, one of the SunRail participants.
A couple of blocks south, at Cafe de France, diners remained in place with a few more candles than usual. Owner Dominique Gutierrez said that most of the guests in the small but full cafe had almost completed their dinners. “Chef Nat carried on cooking for those who had not received their food yet, it just took a little longer, but he is very resourceful,” said Gutierrez. “We had candles and other battery generated lights in the kitchen. The only thing missing was the AC, and we all know how hot a Florida kitchen can get!”
She said that the guests were all understanding and “good sports. “And they actually stayed longer.”
Apparently Cafe de France doesn’t have a knuckle cruncher: “Some of our regulars will be calling us today with their credit card numbers.”
I was dining in Prato when the storm hit. The lights flickered, and the air conditioning and satellite system for the televisions went out. The air was restored almost immediately, and no one even noticed that the televisions were no longer on.
What about you? Were you in one of the affected restaurants? Tell us your experience in the comments below.