October 29, 2015 | The Story Exchange
Three years ago this week, Hurricane Sandy’s floodwaters ruined Claudette Flatow’s specialty-food shop in Rockaway Beach, consuming a basement full of merchandise and gushing into its ground-floor storefront and kitchen.
An immigrant from Morocco via France and Israel, Flatow opened Cuisine by Claudette just 7 months before the storm on Beach 116th Street, where she whipped fresh ingredients into inventive, hearty eats. She lost $50,000 worth of merchandise, many thousands more in equipment and brand new shop flooring.
“Everything was old. I redid everything,” she says. “You have a beautiful new baby and then Sandy. Boom!”
Flatow received only $270 in insurance money and was ineligible for a government-backed disaster loan because she had not been in business the requisite two years. So she invested $50,000 in repairs and reopened. Why? “I have two young men in my house. If I give up, I am not teaching them anything,” she says. “You need to fight to the end, and that is what I’m doing.”
Flatow is part of a growing group of committed women entrepreneurs playing a central role in Rockaway’s post-storm revitalization. The scruffy surf town, improbably located in New York City’s borough of Queens, sits a subway ride away from Manhattan’s concrete jungle. Even before Sandy hit, small businesses were driving its rebirth, pioneered by restaurateurs serving tasty morsels to summer surfers frequenting the metropolis’ only officially designated surf beaches. The notable food and cool vibe helped attract beachgoers and Brooklyn hipsters alike.