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New Orleans Business Owners Take Stock of Damage

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New Orleans Business Owners Take Stock of Damage

Economy

New Orleans Business Owners Take Stock of Damage

New Orleans Business Owners Take Stock of Damage

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The New Orleans downtown district has been reopened for business owners to take a look at their properties. One restaurateur fears for his 20 employees as he contemplates the future.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Business owners in New Orleans are returning to parts of the city. Officials decided to let owners back to assess hurricane damage and to retrieve important data and material to keep their businesses running. NPR's Tom Goldman has the story of one businessman hoping to salvage a lifelong dream.

TOM GOLDMAN reporting:

The dream for 45-year-old Patrick Singley was to own a restaurant. It came true 12 years ago when he bought Gautreau's, a small bistro that's become a minor New Orleans institution. The restaurant doesn't have a sign outside, but locals hungry for seared sea scallops or loin of lamb know where to find it. Gautreau's was last open two days before the storm hit on a Monday morning.

Mr. PATRICK SINGLEY (Gautreau's): After we served our last meal Saturday night, we closed down shop. We refrigerated and iced everything that was perishable, thinking we were going to probably be back on Wednesday.

GOLDMAN: Of course they weren't. Now nearly two weeks later, Patrick Singley sits in an SUV traveling into New Orleans for the first time since evacuating with his family to northern Louisiana. Ten miles outside the city, Singley looks out the window and admits his stomach is churning.

Mr. SINGLEY: Well, I've tried to control myself in front of my children and my wife--and my employees. You know, I've got about 20 employees who call me on a regular basis wanting to know when they can come back and what we can do and how am I, and we're all in a state of wait. None of us knows what's going to happen.

GOLDMAN: Singley starts to get an idea as the truck pulls up in front of his restaurant.

Mr. SINGLEY: Unbelievable. Completely intact. Not a broken window. Let's go see what's inside.

(Soundbite of car door opening)

Mr. SINGLEY: That's unbelievable. Check that out.

GOLDMAN: While Gautreau's smells moldy and musty, the inside looks OK, but then...

Mr. SINGLEY: Oh. There is water damage. I spoke too soon. It's all over the floor in the dining room.

GOLDMAN: Singley heads up to the attic and finds the problem.

Mr. SINGLEY: The whole side of my roof's missing from the top. There's sunlight coming through and I guess it rained. It's just going to continue to pass through.

GOLDMAN: The inspection ends, and Patrick Singley considers what's happened to, as he puts it, 12 years of hard work.

Mr. SINGLEY: It ain't great, but I'm lucky. Could be a lot worse. I need help. I need our insurers to come to our aid.

GOLDMAN: So far that's happened, but Singley says not nearly enough. His insurance company, inundated with claims, is offering to cover Singley's expenses only for two weeks. Considering it might be months before Gautreau's could reopen, Singley won't be able to pay his workers during the downtime.

Mr. SINGLEY: (On phone) Sue?

Ms. SUSAN ZEMANICK: (On phone) Hi, Patrick.

GOLDMAN: Singley phones Susan Zemanick, his 24-year-old chef. She's been a rising star at Gautreau's, but now Singley has to tell her to look for other work.

Mr. SINGLEY: (On phone) So if I can be creative and come up with something, I'll call you. I mean, I know of a guy that is looking for some potential private chefs in the meantime, if you want.

Ms. ZEMANICK: (On phone) Any private chef job would be great.

Mr. SINGLEY: (On phone) All right.

GOLDMAN: Singley says he's prepared to challenge his insurance company in court to get more than the two-week reimbursement. But like so many other business owners in New Orleans, he's entering a tenuous period. If he doesn't get enough money to reopen Gautreau's, Singley says he'll declare bankruptcy and try to start another dream in another city. Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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