After 32 Years in Business, Capsouto Brothers Now Must Start Over

Jacques, left, and Samuel Capsouto in the dining room of their restaurant Capsouto Freres.

Last month, for the first time in 32 years, there were no Thanksgiving spreads on the tables of Cap­souto Frères restaurant. The day after the holiday, as electricians and mechanics were busy repairing and installing what five and a half feet of water had rendered useless, brothers Jacques and Samuel Capsouto stood nearby and lamented the consequences of Hurricane Sandy.

“The best season of the restaurant business is Thanks­giving and Christmas,” said Samuel. “We’re not going to open. We’re going to lose the season.”

It is a fear now painfully familiar among business owners in the South Street Seaport and parts of the Financial District. But in the far northern reaches of Tribeca, Capsouto Frères, at 451 Washington St., stands alone, both as a culinary pioneer in what was once a desolate, industrial neighborhood and now as an island of elegant dining turned into a dreary setting for financial despair.

"We have no capital because we have no business and we owe a week’s pay to the help,” said Jacques, who noted that the restaurant does not carry flood insurance. “No phones, no electricity, no heat, no machinery. What am I going to do? I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

The only inventory the Capsoutos could preserve were its bottles of wine and liquor. For the short term, said Jacques, the French-style bistro may operate only as a bar.

“As soon as I get a little bit of ice and I get the refrigeration working at the bar I’m going to open the bar,” he said. “I have plenty of wines. I got plenty of liquor. That’s my capital. I’m going to sell it. I’m going to open the bar with peanuts if I have to.”

Jacques Capsouto, a public member of Community Board 1, was a familiar voice last month at meetings with representatives from city agencies, on hand to hear from Downtown business owners and residents about their needs in the aftermath of the hurricane. Repeatedly, Capsouto voiced his frustration over a Buildings Department bureaucracy that he said had made it difficult to start repairs on his business. And even louder was his cry for financial help, echoing a call from many other owners without flood insurance and threatened with the prospect of not having the funds to rebuild.

“Everybody wants to lend us money. We can’t borrow any money,” he said. “We owe $200,000 from 9/11. We want grants. Grants!”

The Capsouto brothers, with Albert, who died in 2010, won the praise and appreciation of local residents and the many utility workers in the area who were served free hot meals in the dark days after the Sept. 11 attacks. Now, the Capsoutos are seeing that public spirit in a new, ironic light.

“Nine-eleven we gave food away,” said Jacques, standing beside an empty walk-in freezer and refrigerator that, until recently, had been filled with the makings for a brisk holiday business—jams, shell steaks, smoked fish and more.
“Now,” he added, “I threw the food away.”