With so much damage from Hurricane Harvey, it’s nice to see so many Kingwood businesses opening their doors. Here are a few of The Tribune’s favorite “back to business” stories.
“We’ve been here 40 years, and we never even considered not rebuilding. It’s home.” These were the sentiments of Doug Botkin, owner of Cedar Landing restaurant and marina in Huffman. Local residents know the place for its seafood and its sunset.
Botkin and his wife, Sharon, lost their restaurant as well as their home due to Hurricane Harvey’s flood waters. Natural disasters are not new to the Botkins; Cedar Landing has had fires and other floods, but nothing on the magnitude of Harvey. Botkin built nearly everything at Cedar Landing with his own hands, and is rebuilding yet again.
Their home is nearly complete; flooring will be installed and the Botkins will be moved in by Christmas. The restaurant will take a little more time. A new roof will come in January and they’ll be opening a smaller, more efficient restaurant in the spring. Botkin says it will still be a place where family, friends and community can gather.
Botkin said the volunteer effort was like nothing he had ever experienced.
“People we didn’t even know came to help. We have volunteers who have vowed to stay with us until we are open. We are very blessed,” Botkin said. “We are survivors, not victims.”
Unlike Botkin, Tony and Leslie Raffa had never experienced a flood. They waded through thigh-high water to rescue hard drives—and wine—putting them at a height they thought would be safe.
“The water got so high; the restaurant was pretty much a total loss,” Raffa explained. One saving grace was the salvage of the restaurant’s accounting backup, which came one-half inch from being flooded with water. Raffa says it would have been a nightmare to reconstruct all the accounting data.
Like the Botkins, the Raffas were astounded by the volunteer outpouring.
“People just showed up. They dropped off items we didn’t even know we needed. It was truly remarkable.”
Raffa broke into tears as she described the volunteer efforts.
“I can’t believe I get this emotional after all this time, but it still strikes a nerve,” she said. Leslie Raffa recalls a day when they had piles of Sheetrock but just a few wheelbarrows. “Tony got on social media, and within an hour, we had eight of them!”
The Raffas desperately want to reopen the restaurant, but it is slow-going. They explain that while their business had several insurance policies, it was the property manager that held the flood policy. They are planning on opening in the spring, but it could be even later.
Raffa said, “It is more than just serving people dinner. We know which customers are in the hospital, and which ones have grandbabies due. Kingwood has been our home for 20 years.”
Down the road from Raffa’s, Alspaugh’s Ace Hardware manager Jim Benson was able to get back to the store Thursday after Harvey and was awestruck at the damage that 3.5 feet of water could inflict. Like so many businesses, they did not have catastrophic flood insurance, and because of that, the business interruption policy did not kick in either.
When asked what the hardest struggle was, Benson said, “It was tough throwing everything away and seeing that amount of money just go down the drain. It was a bitter pill to swallow.” Only their vehicles were covered by insurance; everything else was a total loss. But the store rallied, and by Saturday after the storm, had mobile registers and much-needed supplies ready for purchase because they knew the community was in desperate need. The store had lots of offers for volunteer help, but was concerned for everyone’s safety and instead only allowed employees to help. Indeed, employees did about 80 percent of the work, and the community helped in other ways. The Greentree Gators swim team cooked, as did many of the store reps. Benson said he was able to feed his employees BBQ every day thanks to the community’s generosity. Benson says a very memorable part of the recovery effort was the team – customers included – having a group prayer every morning and before every meal. The store opened November 18, combining opening day with the annual Turkey Fry. The store has a completely new look, something that would not have ever been possible pre-Harvey because of the expense and logistics involved. Benson says it’s only the beginning; they’ve got several more big surprises in store for the community come January.
Edgar and Tram Franco opened Pholicious in the new HEB center three weeks before Harvey hit. Edgar describes his wife Tram as an excellent businesswoman. She had always wanted to be in the restaurant business, and after spending a year searching for exactly the right opportunity, they settled on opening the pho noodle shop. With news of the impending storm, the Francos moved everything up about one foot, never dreaming they would have seven feet of water in their new restaurant.
“We lost everything. Our refrigerators from the back floated to the front and landed on our counter tops in the front of the shop. Now we know our granite counters are really, really strong because they didn’t break!” Franco said. After the storm, every drinking straw in the restaurant was plastered to the wall, leaving behind a strange Harvey-esque art mural. The Francos say they were really proactive and just got in the store as soon as they could to start tearing everything out to do remediation.
“It was like opening a brand new restaurant all over again,” Franco said. Interestingly, the tables and chairs in front of their shop never floated away. Although not chained down and not particularly heavy furniture, the patio sets remained in the exact location throughout the entire ordeal. The Francos say those tables are clean and ready for patrons to come enjoy pho noodles and spring rolls.
Wild Birds Unlimited
Right before Harvey, and a few doors down from Pholicious, the new owners of Wild Birds Unlimited, John and Susie Mims, were frustrated that they could not open their store. Everyone else around them was opening, but several contractor delays delayed their opening date. Now, they say those contractor delays were the best thing that ever happened to them. They had no product in the store at all, instead having stored it in their home in the Willowbrook area. Unable to get into Kingwood immediately after Harvey, they relied on pictures to survey the damage.
“The first drone picture I saw was at a certain angle, and the water level didn’t look that bad. A day later, we couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw other pictures of the seven-foot standing water,” Susie said. When they finally reached their store, debris from surrounding shops had settled there. Needless to say, it was a mess, but the Mims were in awe of the rallying support of the Kingwood community. Their store is now open for business, and they’re hoping to buy a home in Kingwood to be closer to their new business and part of the great community.
Cyrese & Co.
Across the street from the HEB center, Cyrese Jezek reopened her boutique Cyrese & Co. Nov. 15 in the Randall’s center. Jezek has lived in Kingwood more than 30 years and has had her shop for 12 years. The last time she saw her shop in the pre-Harvey state was Sunday, Aug. 27.
“I drove by and thought everything would be alright,” Jezek said. Shortly before the flood, Jezek was thinking about renewing her lease, which expired on Nov. 30, but she didn’t, deciding to wait until after Harvey. After the storm, Jezek knew she had the perfect opportunity to leave the business, and seriously contemplated it. She describes the recovery as being on a runaway train. It was arduous; four men from her husband’s company came to help with demolition, and they brought a truck! They also had one Jeep and one Ford Fusion, and began hauling stuff away.
“Every time we sent out an SOS on Facebook, community members would meet our need,” Jezek said. “The community has been so encouraging, leaving notes and stopping by.”
Jezek credits her landlord, Weingarten Company, for taking the reins. The landlord paid for every penny—floors, walls, everything, and they let her stay three months rent-free. “When they gave me the key, my shop was back to the condition it was when I moved in. Besides, I had so much merchandise at my house, I had to reopen!” Jezek said. She knows she made the right decision to keep her business in the town she has called home for so long. “Besides, I’ve enjoyed swapping flood stories with everyone. It’s just like swapping childbirth stories!”
According to Andrew Cardenas, business recovery coordinator for the Lake Houston Area Chamber of Commerce, “104 businesses have re-opened to full capacity, 27 businesses have reopened to partial capacity or a temporary location, and we have 57 businesses who have confirmed that they will be re-opening. That gives us a current retention of 40 percent of businesses back with a projected retention by August 2018 at 71percent with a potential to increase. The Back to Business Campaign made it a goal to retain 70 percent of all businesses (10 percent higher than FEMA projection of 60 percent) in our jurisdiction and so far it is looking to be a great possibility to achieve our goal.”
Raffa’s Waterfront Grill was under water like so many area businesses
Post-Harvey devastation at Raffa’s Waterfront Grill.
Cynthia had a Pholicious picture from the Chamber
Cynthia had an Alspaugh picture from the Chamber
The Cedar Landing cleanup.