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Restaurants, bars in chemical leak areas start to reopen

Chip Ellis
Steak Escape of Trace Fork initially opened their drive-thru window Sunday afternoon, but then opened the dining room as well due to customer demand. The restaurant received a conditional permit from the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department to reopen. The vast majority of area restaurants remain closed.
Chip Ellis Darrell and Debbie Rolston, of Sissonville, made the trip to Trace Fork Sunday for cheesesteaks when they heard Steak Escape intended to open. The sandwich shop opened after being closed for several days following Thursday's chemical leak which contaminated the water supply of West Virginia American Water Company.
Chip Ellis Customers place orders at Steak Escape in Trace Fork. It reopened Sunday and was heating bottled water in pots to wash hands and dishes.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A few business owners breathed a sigh of relief Sunday, as a tiny minority of Kanawha Valley restaurants began to reopen, despite the fact that 300,000 area residents are still without usable water following Thursday's chemical leak.

"My employees are all happy," said Lesa Crouch, general manager of Chili's in Charleston Town Center. "they live paycheck to paycheck, and this helps them."

Crouch worried about the business that was lost on a weekend the restaurant thought would be a big boost. The Rough 'N' Rowdy brawl, an amateur boxing competition, was scheduled to be held on Friday and Saturday in the nearby Civic Center.

"We actually had servers coming up from the other stores to help us, because we knew we would be busy," Crouch said.

The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department ordered all restaurants and bars that have a health license to close following the chemical leak which contaminated the water supply of the state's largest water utility, West Virginia American Water Company. Nine counties were affected.

The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department ordered all restaurants and bars that have a health license to close following the chemical leak which contaminated the water supply of the state's largest water utility, West Virginia American Water Company. Nine counties were affected.

The chemical, crude MCHM, is used in coal processing.

On Saturday evening, Dr. Rahul Gupta, director of the KCHD, said that restaurants could begin to reopen, but only after being inspected.

Restaurants have to submit written plans to the Health Department for how they will get clean, hot water to their facilities. A sanitarian will then inspect the restaurants, which will also have to flush out all their old water.

"We're moving into a phase of emergency, not only the contamination of the water, but also the health and nutrition and safety of individuals," Gupta said Saturday, "as well as the economic loss and the employment of several thousand individuals."

Chili's corporate office acted immediately upon hearing news of the "do not use" water order, by sending more than 640 cases of water for its employees and their families. Hotel rooms in unaffected areas were also provided so employees and their families could shower, Crouch said.

The Charleston restaurant is using bottles leftover from that shipment for cooking and cleaning, Crouch said.

Steak Escape, in Trace Fork, is heating bottled water on its grills for hand washing and cleaning, said manager John Kaiser. The restaurant had gallons of water delivered Friday night after learning that they would have the chance to reopen.

"We put every resource we had, and every effort to grab as much water as we could," Kaiser said.

It took about 60 gallons just to open the restaurant this afternoon, and Kaiser is expecting an additional shipment to arrive later today.

Kaiser said Steak Escape's plan came together quite quickly, as the restaurant has experience working without running water during offsite events, such as Taste of Charleston and the Blues, Brews & BBQ festival.

While being without water has been difficult, Kaiser said losing electricity during the 2012 derecho -- a destructive set of thunderstorms that left much of the state without electricity and water -- was much more detrimental to the business.

"We lost a lot more product," Kaiser said. "I'm not diminishing the effect on our water, but the electric for our business ... it's much easier to fix.

"Poisoning the water is ridiculous. How do you overcome that?"

Olive Garden, Red Lobster and LongHorn restaurants remain closed, despite being listed as open on the Health Department website, according to spokesperson Mike Bernstein.

Restaurants and bars in the affected area that have reopened include:

* The Boulevard Tavern, 806 Kanawha Blvd. E., Charleston, 304-205-7951

* Bluegrass Kitchen, 1600 Washington St. E., Charleston, 304-346-2871

* Dairy Winkle, 162 Campbells Creek Drive, 304-925-6800

* Monkey Barrel Bar & Grille, 214 Leon Sullivan Way, Charleston, 304-343-6969

* Rallows Place, 4030 Washington St. W., Charleston, 304-205-7974

* Rally's, 1667 3rd Ave., Charleston, 304-345-2808

* Sam's Uptown Café, 28 Capitol St., Charleston, 304-346-6222

Reach Rachel Molenda at rachel.molenda@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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