Power Bill

Bashar Sneeh, who owns five local restaurants including Dametra Cafe in Carmel and Dametra Fresh in Monterey (pictured), saved on losses by moving food to Dametra’s Marina location.

On Sunday, March 12, just a few hours after the staff at Rio Grill in Carmel saw their electricity return after three nights without power and began setting up for business, the lights went out again. The next day, it was the same story – the power came back for a couple hours before flickering out.

For Rio Grill owner Ken Donkersloot, the fact that his restaurant had invested in portable generators last year, enabling it to preserve some perishable foods, was mild consolation. Two of his establishments, Rio Grill and Montrio in Monterey, had lost more than a weekend’s worth of business; only his third restaurant, Tarpy’s Roadhouse on Highway 68, remained open – and in fact was packed with Monterey Peninsula diners eager for a warm, cooked meal.

“For the first two months of this year, business has been just horrific with the weather and the flooding,” Donkersloot says. “It’s been a really slow restaurant month, and this is just capping it off.”

Retailers of all kinds found their businesses disrupted by widespread power outages that left much of the Peninsula in the dark, but perhaps none felt the pain like those in the food and beverage industry. For those without generators, or another location where they could transport their perishable inventory, there was no choice but to trash hundreds, if not thousands of dollars worth of food and swallow the financial loss of keeping their doors closed.

Soerke Peters, owner of Mezzaluna Pasteria in Pacific Grove, says the outages compounded what is an increasingly difficult business environment for restaurateurs. “To make a profit these days in the restaurant industry, the margins are so low,” he notes, citing the climbing costs of rent, taxes, labor and insurance. “It’s getting more difficult by the year, and eventually it’s going to be unsustainable.”

Caterers were not spared either, with Little Luna Cheese Boards owner Amy Aubuchon noting her charcuterie business had to throw away $800 worth of cheese, meat and other goods after her Monterey kitchen lost power. Aubuchon says the recent weather and power outages have worsened what’s already a slow season. “It’s tough during the winter months – people aren’t getting together as much,” she says. “Nobody is focusing on events right now. I think everybody is just trying to get through what’s happening.”

Bashar Sneeh could count himself lucky; the restaurateur owns five establishments, and while Dametra in Carmel and Monterey both lost power, he was able to move some supplies to Dametra’s location in Marina, which was still operating. Still, Sneeh says his restaurants lost “tens of thousands [of dollars], for sure,” due to the outages.

The darkness didn’t stop Sneeh from keeping one of his restaurants, Porta Bella in Carmel, open on Saturday, March 11. Porta Bella hosted a wedding reception, booked months in advance, in candlelight and served a limited menu. “For me, it wasn’t [about] the money,” he says. “It was their wedding – we said we’ve got to make it happen, no matter what.”

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