Colors Restaurant: Surviving Disaster, Starting Anew

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Jean Pierre, an employee at the World Trade Center, was at a CVS drugstore buying baby formula for his 6-month-old son. When he returned home, he saw the horrible news on television -- the building where he worked was engulfed in flames.

"I just walk by and I look at the television and I see a plane hitting the World Trade Center," said Jean Pierre. "That's when it all hit me."

Jean Pierre wasn't a broker or an investment banker, but a sous-chef at Windows on the World, the glamorous 50,000-square-foot restaurant located on the 106th and 107th floors of the North Tower.

"And I just sat down, and that's when it sunk in," said Jean Pierre. "I could have been there … all my guys were there that work under me. They were all working that day. And they're all, you know …"

One hundred and sixty people died that day in the restaurant. Seventy-three were workers.

Out of Tragedy, Something Wonderful

Windows had a large, diverse staff. Once they recuperated from the shock of the attack, the surviving employees pulled together.

"We used to be a family. We used to care about each other," said Fekkak Mamdouh, a former waiter and shop steward. "More than a family."

Five years later, many of these former Windows on the World employees did something unexpected -- they started their own restaurant.

"[This] other tragedy became something wonderful," said Jean Pierre. "You know, it helped us build a team, build a relationship with the community and bring back something to New York that's missing."

The restaurant is called Colors, and it opened a little over a year ago in downtown Manhattan's East Village. In addition to its remarkable ancestry, Colors is also special because of how it is run. It is owned and operated by the same 45 workers.

The restaurant, which was initially funded with money from Italian cooperative farmers and other progressive investors, is proud of the way it operates. "Our idea is that everyone who is working here has to be an owner," says Mamdouh. "You know, we have some new people that've come after we open, but they have to be owners. If six months pass and they don't want to be owners, they're not going to work here because they have to be owners because that's how we want it."

An Equal Piece of the Pie

"We don't want some people using other people. We want everyone to have the same share, equal say in this place. Dishwashers, runners, everyone who's inside here serving is an owner."

Sharda Young is a hostess at Colors and so naturally, she is also an owner.

"It's been great," she said, "because here we have no hierarchy. I have a say in everything we do here. I'm also on the board of directors and I can talk to my co-workers without getting offended. I have no one to yell at me."

"Although we have a general manager, she works with us, she listens to us. And it's like cool, you don't have to be afraid that the GM is going to be upset with you."

Shared ownership also means splitting the profits, although there haven't been any yet. Even the menu is created cooperatively. Chef Jean Pierre crafts dishes from the family recipes of the staff, which comes from 25 countries.

"Yeah, our menu is global," said Jean Pierre. "The menu comes from all the employees. So basically we tell them go home, bring in something your mother used to cook as a kid that you loved, bring in like three recipes and that's how we base our menus, from family cooking."

"It's a big risk," said Jean Pierre. "So we figured we'd hang in there for a couple more years. And then, at the end of the day, we could say, we did it. Right now, this is a year and a couple of weeks that we've been here. We're still hanging in there. So, I guess we're meant to be here."

ABC News' Terry Moran and Mary Marsh contributed to this report.

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