Ridgefield restaurants dealt new blow by tropical storm

RIDGEFIELD — After cooking up a storm and giving away fancy French food when Bernard’s restaurant in Ridgefield was without power for a week, Sarah Bouissou shared her frustrations.

“Every storm, we’re the last business powered up,” Bouissou told U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal and First Selectman Rudy Marconi when they visited her West Lane eatery on Wednesday. “A generator for us costs anywhere between $45,000 and $60,000.”

Bernard’s didn’t have a generator, so with the loss of refrigeration due to the power outage, she and her husband, Bernard Bouissou, decided to cook up what they had and give away some French cuisine to fellow storm-sufferers Saturday evening.

“We put on Facebook and social media ‘We’re giving food away.’... We said come between 5 and 7, and by 6:30 everything was gone,” Bouissou said. “So, we had a very good day.”

Emotionally it was a good day, though still costly to the restaurant.

“Throwing all that food away hurts every part of your being,” Bouissou said.

Marilyn and John Murren, who didn’t get power back until Tuesday night at their Minuteman Road home, were among those who enjoyed Bernard’s offer of cuisine to go.

“What my husband brought home was halibut and some absolutely delicious beet ravioli with pesto sauce,” Marilyn said. “But he said there was a lot of different kinds of things you could pick from — it was quite extensive.

“He said they were passing out glasses of wine to people,” she said. “Quite generous. And the quality. ... It tasted as yummy as any time I ever went there.”

By Wednesday, when the politicians visited, Bernard’s was under power of a generator Eversource had finally provided. But in the week without power, they’d lost a lot of inventory and business, including a wedding party that had to be canceled.

“How much lost?” Blumenthal asked.

“Last week, it’s about $30,000,” Bouissou said.

West Lane Deli

After Bernard’s, Marconi and Blumenthal visited the West Lane Pizza and Deli.

Kosta Efstathiades said his shop was out of power for a week and didn’t get up and running Tuesday night. He estimated losing about $58,000 in inventory and sales as a result of the storm. “And that doesn’t count damage to the building,” he said.

Blumenthal and Marconi are among numerous political leaders pushing for the state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to conduct hearings into the electrical utility Eversource and its preparation for and response to tropical storm Isaias, which left many Connecticut resident without power for up to a week.

“Our goal is to make Eversource pay refunds,” Blumenthal said. “... They have an obligation to come forward, especially if there’s no insurance. I’ve been in grocery stores, they’ve had to throw out tons of dairy and vegetables. Eversource should pay. They talked about charging customers for restoring power — forget it. Don’t even go there.”

Efstathiades was skeptical of the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse for Eversource’s slow respose to the outages.

“They told me, ‘We’re working under COVID-19 guidelines.’ That was since February,” he said.

Bouissou said she was frustrated because, although utility crews removed the downed tree by Bernard’s, they had orders to take care of other areas before replacing transformers on poles along Route 33 that would have restored power to the restaurant.

“The crews, they were nice as can be, and you could tell they felt bad,” Bouissou said.

Marconi said while people get frustrated seeing utility crews sit around waiting for instructions, the work crews had to follow strict orders and risked dismissal if they did work that wasn’t specified in directions from higher-ups.

“They told us that last night. They’d get in trouble,” he said.

Among the reasons is the need for careful coordination to be sure electricity is off in an area when work is done. But the utility also was allocating crews to first address areas with the most customers out of power, Marconi said.

Outside Bernard’s, Marconi said with up to 77 percent of the town without of power immediately after the storm, his problems as a first selectman were aggravated by a lack of communication from Eversource.

“The lack of response and, most of all, communication,” he told Blumenthal.

In past major storms, he said he at least got some information about numbers of trucks and crews arriving and the schedule of where work would be done.

Not this time.

“This storm, we got nothing. And that’s unacceptable. The liaison program was told not to say anything,” Marconi said. “It’s so frustrating to have people call me, and have to say ‘I’ve got nothing.’ ”

It was a tale familiar to Blumenthal from his tours around the state.

“You guys were one of the worst hit, and the last restored, but this is the same thing I’m hearing,” he said. “Eversource should be making reimbursements. This company is rolling in money,” Blumenthal said. “ ... The CEO gets paid $20 million.”