Reporter's Notebook

Ten years later: Remembering Sept. 11, 2001

The editors of Nation’s Restaurant News were challenged in finding the best way to cover the tenth anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, a day that changed the lives of nearly everyone in America, and to some extent changed the world.

We know many restaurants around the country are offering free meals or specials to firemen and policemen, and we know many chains are looking for ways to engage their customers around the memory of Sept. 11. Huddle House, for example, created a Facebook application to encourage remembrance of the date on the restaurant chain’s fan page. Huddle House, which is a 400-unit family-dining chain based in Atlanta, worked with the non-profit organization USACares and offered up to 1,000 free T-shirts for those who shared their stories of Sept. 11.

We also know the survivors from Windows on the World – the upscale restaurant that operated atop 1 World Trade Center – have spent most of the past 10 years developing an organization to help service workers. Windows on the World was born with the towers in the mid 1970's, and at its most popular, the restaurant was one of America’s highest grossing locations. It lost 73 employees on Sept. 11, 2001.

Today, many of the survivors work with Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY), an organization dedicated to improve working conditions in the restaurant industry. In 2008, the group went national with Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United), a national organization that helps restaurant workers in other cities establish ROC’s of their own. Many of the Windows on the World workers also opened their own restaurant in New York City – COLORS a worker-owned restaurant and training facility.

We all have stories of Sept. 11, 2001, and Nation’s Restaurant News decided to pay tribute to that day with a brief remembrance here online.

I live in New York City, and did on that day, and every day during the 10 years that followed. I actually stopped at a restaurant, one I’ll never forget, as I walked uptown with other New Yorkers simply making their way on foot, away from the towers.

I moved downtown, to the heart of the Financial District, or Ground Zero as many of the tourists call it, in 2003. The neighborhood and its slightly uptown sister, Tribeca, where I now live, are hotbeds of restaurant activity, always have been. Like all small businesses, and to some extent New York City itself, restaurants in my neighborhood suffered for years after Sept. 11, 2001. I spoke to my local delis, who never recovered from the lost business of catering to the big investment banks, many of which left for havens in Jersey City, N.J., and to my upscale eateries, the owners of which missed the flush Wall Street traders.

But like New York, and like America, the restaurant industry didn’t stop recovering. I saw Dunkin’ Donuts come to the neighborhood just as the Deutsche Bank building was finally taken down to allow for more growth. And while many businesses, restaurants included, never recovered, I’ve seen Chipotle Mexican Grill, Five Guys Burgers & Fries, and the newest, Potbelly Sandwich Shop, each recently open in the Financial District. Local, independent eateries have developed outside patio dining in the summer to entice tourists, and some of the biggest restaurant developers in the city have returned with locations downtown. Danny Meyer of Union Square Hospitality Group, for example, opened a Shake Shack this summer in Battery Park City, directly across the street from what was the World Trade Center.

That’s when you know the neighborhood is back.

Ten years after Sept. 11, 2001, Nation’s Restaurant News remembers the day, those who lost their lives and those affected by the tragedy.

From around the web:

Changing tastes: Dining in the decade since 9/11
Four small-business owners who stayed put after 9/11
Former Windows on the World employees become advocates for service workers
From the NRA: America’s restaurants, industry of opportunity

Contact Sarah Lockyer at [email protected].

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