Among the many restaurants and businesses struggling to recover after Hurricane Sandy is Totonno's, the legendary Coney Island pizzeria that has been slinging pies since 1947. The restaurant took in four feet of seawater on the night of the storm, heavily damaging the floors, walls, machinery and infrastructure. Slice took an in-depth look at the pizzeria's rebuilding efforts and revealed the extent of the damage and how construction efforts have been hampered by unreliable contractors and the expense of the project.
Antoinette Balzano, 3rd-generation owner of Totonno's and granddaughter to original owner Antonio "Totonno" Pero, told Slice she waited five weeks before anyone even showed up to survey the damage and make an assessment. Before then, Antoinette had been working at the pizzeria daily without heat or electricity, "where particles in the air made her cough and chairs were stacked up after having been tossed around like toys from a Barbie tea party," as described by the Times. When a company finally did come to check for growing mold, they bailed after just taking down the walls, asking for $6,000 in the process. Mold removal is just one of the expenses facing Totonno's, which is still waiting on a $150,000 loan to cover the cleanup and rebuilding process. Additionally, they face
replacing both the air conditioning and heating units ($8,000 each), each purchased after the 2009 fire; retiling the oven ($5,000); plumbing and electrical work; replacing the Hobart mixer ($20,000), range, walk-in, and all other kitchen equipment, and repairing damaged portions of the walls.
All told, Antoinette expects total repairs to cost more than $100,000, a seemingly insurmountable cost considering the restaurant is still working to pay off debt from the 2009 fire that ravaged the building and closed the pizzeria for almost a year. They also recently discovered that their insurance—which covers interruption of business but not flood—will not reimburse them for anything. "These days, people would probably tell me, 'Antoinette, give up.' But I can't," Antoinette confided to Serious Eats. "All I do is go home to do my work and prepare for tomorrow."
While time and money may be able to repair the restaurant's structure, nothing can replace the family memorabilia—including Christmas decorations that belonged to Antoinette's grandfather—that served as a visual timeline of the pizzeria's 88-year history. Luckily, loyal fans of the pizzeria have stepped up to offer their services, from contractors to electricians to a carpenter offering to fix a family heirloom, all at greatly reduced costs. "We can't compromise the sentimental value. We want to make sure everything seen by the public remains the same," explained Rocco Ranaudo, the current contractor.
Totonno's hopes to re-open by mid-January.