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After the Storm, Cooking Rebuilds Community

By Robin Mather

Those of us not living through it may think the storm itself is the worst, but those who went through Hurricanes Harvey and Irma know that recovery in the storm’s aftermath is much harder.

For kitchenware manufacturers and kitchenware retailers, however, there is a small solace: Your businesses directly help your customers to rebuild community at a time when community is desperately needed.

Bill and Eden Brown, who own Isle Cook in Key West, Florida, say that they were “on the easier side of the storm.” Still, Hurricane Irma devastated their community, leaving lots of downed trees and power lines down. The Browns were lucky enough to avoid damage to both their home and their business.

“However, I will say that as a small business owner, it’s been a real hardship for us,” Bill says. “We had to evacuate more than three weeks ago, and we reopened for business Sept. 26, but there aren’t any customers because everyone here is trying to rebuild their own businesses. It’s mostly locals walking around.”

Although officials have said U.S. 1 – the only road to Key West – is all clear and its bridges all cleared for safety, and Key West International Airport reopened Sept. 20 for commercial service, Bill says that he thinks that a lot of tourists who had trips planned are cancelling those plans “because this just isn’t what they were looking for on a vacation. Most of the hotels are still closed.”

But eventually, he says, Key West – famous for its laid-back attitude – will recover. “The community is looking to heal and come together again,” Bill says. “A lot of that is going to be around food.”

Out in Houston, Texas, where Hurricane Harvey caused massive flooding, the feeling’s the same, says Heida Thurlow, Founder and President of Chantal, the 40-year-old maker of cookware based in Houston.

“Fourteen of our employees and family members were directly affected by Hurricane Harvey,” she says. “And that’s not counting me – I was evacuated from my house by a Blackhawk helicopter and taken to a hotel in Sugarland, and then had to evacuate my hotel the next day. I had nothing – no wallet, no phone, no nothing — I was wearing shorts and flip-flops when I was evacuated.” Fortunately, Heida’s daughter, who lives in Austin, Texas, secured a hotel room for her by phone, and ultimately made the drive from Austin to evacuate her mother from the Sugarland hotel.

Some Chantal employees weren’t able to return to work immediately, she says, because the roads around their houses remained flooded. But among those who could report, many employees went out to pass out water and food, and to assist in recovery efforts.

“Our corporate headquarters were not affected by either high winds or flooding,” she says. But for employees who lost their homes or their cars or both, she says, the company has set up a donations program, providing gift cards to Lowe’s or Home Depot for rebuilding, and to Safeway.
“I couldn’t get back into my house for 10 days,” Heida says. “I had to use a little paddle boat to get up the street to my house, and when I opened the door, there was still four feet of water in the house. I lost most of my own furnishings, some parts of my house are completely destroyed, and I lost my beloved 14-year-old car.”

But her own losses aren’t so important to her, Heida explains.

“So many people have lost everything, so many people will have to replace everything – and yes, that includes cookware. But we are ‘Houston Strong,’ and we’ll put our new lives together.”


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