With four Gatti’s Pizza franchises in Louisiana, Philip Moody knows that tropical-force winds and occasional hurricanes are his business reality. But a river running through his Denham Springs, Louisiana, restaurant after last August’s unprecedented rainfall was another story.
For nearly a week he watched TV reports from home, in total disbelief that offshore boats were now able to traverse the four-lane road outside his location. Typically, the Amite River is nearly a mile away, but that week it ran through the Gatti’s game room, dining room and kitchen. When Moody was finally able to get to his restaurant, he found a watermark at 44 inches high. The location was a total loss.
“We had at least 60 bags of flour that had mixed with water, just like soup or muck all over the kitchen, and the river water was pretty nasty itself,” Moody says. “It was hot, 100 degrees, and just wet and muggy and smelly.”
Stepping around a caved-in wall, Moody noticed the restaurant’s heavy butcher-block tables had floated across the room. The computer system also was trashed. The electricity had been out for days, which meant all refrigerated food had to be tossed. Luckily, there were no snakes to contend with, although Moody certainly was on the lookout. He had to gut the place, figuring it would take him and his crew about two months. It took five.
“It was the longest five months of my life. It’s like it would never end,” he says. “I used to dream that it was only a dream. But I’d wake up and it was a reality.”
Moody found encouragement from phone calls he received from fellow long-time Gatti’s franchisees, as well as Gatti’s corporate contacts.
“They were very good and supportive. They said that if I needed anything, to call them,” he says.
Vanessa Fleming, Gatti’s Franchise Business Consult, “was awesome. She was very supportive. She actually came down a couple of times. She was so understanding,” Moody said.
He also heard from Gatti’s President Michael Poates.
“He told me he put me on their prayer list at church, which was very nice,” Moody says.
Poates said he was overwhelmed by the tenacity and commitment of Moody and his team to get the restaurant reopened.
“When you are dealt a tough hand in life, you certainly find out about true leadership,” Poates says. “We are proud of Phil and his team as well as strategic partners such as Preston Simon from Coca Cola who really came to the aid of this location and went over and above the call of duty to provide support. Phil’s story serves as an example and an inspiration for others facing adversity in their business or in their life.”
The target date to reopen was set for January 6. There was little time to rest, including Thanksgiving. Moody painted the exterior that day and even worked through Christmas. He noticed that surrounding restaurants remained closed, which made his own reopening bittersweet.
Just days into reopening, Moody found the silver lining to the muck-filled mess of his once-flooded-out restaurant: Sales doubled. The unexpected surge in business has been a godsend, he said. Fortunately, 75 percent of his 40-member staff returned, including managers.
“They were happy to be here. The first day we opened up, it was so good to see the guests come in. They were glad to be there, forgetting about their problems. It was just so upbeat, and they were so excited to see the restaurant.”
Moody credits a reliable contractor for his honest, reliable, steady work, as well Poates and Jerry DeFeo, Vice President of Franchise Operations, who visited the restaurant the week of the reopening to lend their continued support.
“It feels good to be back open,” Moody says.
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