Restaurant Serves Ground Zero Workers for Free

N E W   Y O R K, Nov. 22, 2001 -- Three months ago, Nino's was just another bustling restaurant in downtown New York, but since Sept. 11 it has taken on a new role: a second home for weary and famished World Trade Center rescue workers.

The restaurant, which serves as a relief center for all the workers, is staying open 24 hours a day, and is even open today on Thanksgiving.

It will continue serving free meals as long as needed, according to owner Antonio Nino Vendome. The restaurant, which is eight blocks from the World Trade Center, closed immediately after the attacks. But, with agreement from the family matriarch, the family decided it would be right to reopen.

"We opened the next day after talking to Mama, and we decided to do what we know how to do to take care of people," said general manager Nick Pasculli. "We opened the doors, and we figured we'd feed 150 people. Who would have thought? Now, up to 7,000 meals a day."

The doors have remained open ever since, operating with the help of volunteers and assistance from other restaurants, delis, cafes and food companies in the area. Since Sept. 13, the family-owned Italian restaurant has served more than 200,000 free meals and beverages to those working on the rescue efforts in lower Manhattan. After Emeril Lagasse held his "Apple Pie of Emeril's Eye Contest," he and the winner, Marsha Brooks of Carmel, Ind., took hundreds of apple pies to Nino's, where deliveries of free food have arrived as regularly as the crews of hungry workers.

"We go 24 hours," Vendome said. "Breakfast, we operate from 5 in the morning to 11. Lunch, dinner until 2 a.m., and then we go back to breakfast."

Uniform Only Dress Code

The dress code at the restaurant is now uniform only — police officers and firefighters, primarily. But the doors are also open to state troopers, Verizon telephone workers, sanitation workers, Con Edison utility workers, construction workers and demolition workers.

"Anyone and everyone who's part of the WTC help effort down there. There are welcome to come in here and they come in around the clock," Pasculli said

The food is free, but Vendome foots the bill for anything not covered by donations. A typical day: for breakfast, the chef scrambles 20,000 eggs, along with 300 pounds of bacon and 300 pounds of sausage. The restaurant also cooks about 40,000 pounds of chicken cutlets per day.

One hundred volunteers — people who just wanted to help out — show up to work every day at Nino's, which is located at 431 Canal Street between Varick and Hudson streets. If you want to volunteer your services, call 212-431-5625. If you want to make a donation, send it to: Nino's Restaurant 9/11 Fund, 145 E. 57th Street, 8th Floor, New York, NY 10022.

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