When the floodwaters roared through Canoe restaurant in Vinings on Monday evening, they wrenched a standing ice machine from the wall, hurtled a steel beer keg through the kitchen and sent a box marked “fresh seafood” into the top branches of a nearby tree.
But a delicate long-stemmed wineglass floated unharmed to a storage cabinet filled with smashed plates.
Canoe’s managing partner, Vince Palermo, shook his head. “Amazing. I’m going to tell the staff, even the Chattahoochee is gentler on the glasses than you guys.”
That wineglass was one of the few items that escaped damage inside Canoe — a popular restaurant that has been a fixture on the Atlanta dining scene since it opened in 1995, just in time to wow visitors in town for the 1996 Olympics. Much loved throughout the city for its award-winning wine list and cuisine as well as its picturesque riverside setting, the restaurant will remain closed until its owners can assess the full extent of the damage.
Palermo, dining room manager Jennifer Krapp, wine director Matt Bradford and chef Carvel Grant Gould spent the night of the flood and the next morning working in shifts, doing whatever they could to protect their restaurant from the surging water. But in the end there was no protection, as the water rose to nearly 6 feet.
Earlier this week, mud coated the walls and floors. Gray-green greasy water pooled in the bowls stacked by the kitchen, bloated and spoiling produce rolled about the walk-in cooler and water lapped at the steps leading to the still-submerged riverside patio — once the prettiest and most romantic in Atlanta, bar none.
“This is such a personal place for me,” said Palermo. “Everything we’ve done here we built from the ground up.”
Palermo said he and the three other owners are committed to reopening the restaurant as soon as possible. He added that the restaurant will count on its flood insurance and hope for federal emergency funds to help carry it through renovations and reopening.
Canoe wasn’t the only local food business affected by flood waters. A farm, Love Is Love in Douglasville, and an artisan food manufacturer, Hope’s Garden Pesto in Buckhead, had their crops ruined. At Floataway Cafe on the east side of Atlanta, water inundated the front rooms, enough to destroy the floor treatments and close the restaurant. It should reopen today.
“The creek just came up like it never has before,” said owner Anne Quatrano. “We had to rip up and replace all the carpet — an expensive proposition for us.”
But no local restaurant has suffered from high waters like Canoe. Set in the low corner of Vinings on the River shopping center, Canoe has flooded before, with water carrying off patio furniture and destroying carpets.
In the restaurant’s previous incarnations as the Patio on the River and, before that, Robinson’s Tropical Garden, there were some famous inundations.
“That was part of the mythology of the place,” recalled one-time Canoe waitress Molly Belviso, who would hear stories of floods past from local old-timers. Several years ago, when she was on staff, major storms were cause for alarm. “Everybody would be standing at the bank of the river going ‘Please no, please no,’ ” she said.
Belviso was among nearly 50 past employees who called or stopped by the day after the restaurant flooded, offering assistance. “You may not work at Canoe anymore, but you never leave Canoe,” she told Palermo.
Opened in 1995 by George McKerrow Jr. (Ted’s Montana Grill), Gerry Klaskala (Aria) and investor Ron San Martin, Canoe was one of the first grand restaurant design projects from the now-famous Johnson Studio.
The wrought-iron fixtures combined with exposed brick and natural materials for a setting that felt at once comfortable and glamorous. The gorgeous riverside setting capped off the enchantment.
Though Canoe has long moved on from being the “it” restaurant, a healthy crowd still comes for festive meals, such as the much-loved brunch.
The restaurant pulls in more than $5 million a year in receipts, thanks in some measure to the full roster of parties set under its great tent. While the tent escaped damage — it was out being cleaned during the flood — customers who booked parties weren’t so lucky.
All private events through Oct. 15 have been canceled. This is one of the restaurant’s busiest wedding seasons.
Another casualty was the new 1,800-square-foot vegetable garden that was the realization of chef Gould’s dream.
“I had just finished my fall planting,” Gould said. “There were 15 kinds of lettuces, cardoons, beets, radishes, carrots, broccoli and ... what else? A lot.”
Gould pointed out bins of sopped corn husks and vegetable peelings that never made it to the compost bin, and bags of shredded paper that was to be mulch.
With loaves of bread underfoot that had swollen like grotesque sponges, Gould gave a rueful laugh.
“We really got hit,” she said. “This was the full Monty.”
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