Falmouth Businesses Trying to Take Boil Water Order In Stride
By: Christopher Kazarian
It may be just happenstance, but Patrick H. Bonzagni, owner of the Beach House Restaurant in North Falmouth, probably picked the perfect week to host NESN’s “Dirty Water TV” show as public officials scrambled to address bacteria found in the town’s main water supply.
The show, which features nightlife opportunities throughout the state, filmed on Wednesday night and earlier that day Mr. Bonzagni talked about efforts he and his staff had to make in the 24 hours following the boil water order issued by the Falmouth Water Department.
The order, issued around 5 o’clock on Tuesday afternoon, was based upon the discovery of E. coli and total coliform bacteria in the water following test samples taken from various points along the distribution system last week.
The state ordered town officials to issue the boil water notice, and Mr. Bonzagni was one of the many restaurant owners in Falmouth to receive an e-mail from the local health department spelling out the precautions they needed to take until the situation is resolved.
As he prepared for hundreds of patrons to come out to partake in the “Dirty Water TV” activities on Wednesday night, Mr. Bonzagni was forced to react quickly to the lack of public water inside his facility. All of the ice machines at his restaurant had to be turned off and he purchased 300 pounds of ice from Cape Cod Ice on Wednesday morning.
He also had to turn off all the soda pumps and was forced to head to Wal-Mart in Teaticket on Tuesday night, purchasing five cases each of bottled water, Coca-Cola, Diet Coke and ginger ale.
owner of the Beach House, North Falmouth
After picking up those supplies, he was en route to The Beach House when his general manager, Vanessa Andrade, asked him to pick up orange juice because theirs was made from concentrate and they had to throw it out. So he turned around and went to Stop & Shop, which he said “was a horror show. People were losing their minds. It was kind of comical, to tell you the truth.”
In the midst of a week that not only includes his restaurant hosting “Dirty Water TV,” but with the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers and at the onset of the summer season, Mr. Bonzagni laughed that this could not have come at a worse time.
“The only time that would have been worse would have been the Fourth of July or Memorial Day for me personally,” he said. “It would have been nice if it had happened in January.”
Yet, he took the news in stride, saying that “you have to roll with the punches and play the cards you are dealt.”
That is a similar mentality shared by Erik Bevans, owner of the Quahog Republic Dive Bar on Spring Bars Road, who said the restaurant industry is one fraught with uncertainties.
“Certainly this is an additional cost, but if restaurant owners are complaining about that, you really are in the wrong business,” he said. “There are always going to be additional costs you have to bear like this. As long as you are aware of that, you should be all set.”
He found out late on Tuesday night about the impacts to the town’s water supply and the next morning he elected to head to Sandwich from his Bourne home.
“I feared that all the Falmouth markets would be wiped out,” he said. In Sandwich that was not the case, where he purchased a few hundred pounds of bagged ice, sodas, and bottled water.
The kitchen crew has taken additional precautions to boil water both for cooking and cleaning.
And while this may not be a positive situation for Falmouth, he said “it could work out well with restaurants where people don’t want to cook at home, but feel confident that restaurants have to have licenses in place in terms of handling food. I’m hoping that brings people out.”
Having been at the Quahog Republic at lunchtime on Wednesday afternoon, he said there were signs that this may be the case. “We were really, really busy,” he said. “I’m hoping that is a good indicator people recognize we are doing things right.”
Coffee sales impacted
At Coffee Obsession “doing things right” for owner Hugh Birmingham entailed shutting down his coffee machines as he was uncertain whether they would filter out bacteria, such as E. coli. While the manufacturer told him the machines would most likely take care of it, he said “they would not for legal purposes certify that.”
So that left customers like Katalin Vandervan of Lochstead Drive, Hatchville, walking away disappointed. Around 11 AM on Wednesday she walked into the Palmer Avenue store asking if they were serving coffee.
When employee Jainee L. Hocking informed her they were not, Ms. Vandervan asked if staff could boil the water.
“There’s no way to do that,” Ms. Hocking replied. “I’m sorry.”
“I tried to get coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts and they couldn’t make it, so I thought maybe a smaller place might be able to boil water and I could get coffee,” Ms. Vandervan said.
Coffee Obsession employee Erica Pasqualucci complained that with the boil water order in effect “no one knows what to do,” especially when it comes to personal sanitation.
On the outside of the shop’s door was a cardboard sign that read “Yes, we are open, but we are only able to serve bottled drinks and pastries.” A similar makeshift sign rested on the countertop.
Despite the notification, Mr. Birmingham said customers have demanded coffee although he has not given in. “They are saying, ‘I understand the risk and I’m willing to pay for it,’ ” he said. “Even though they have read about the warnings they still are walking in thinking they are going to get a cup of coffee.”
As a result his staff have been pushing juice and food products as well as coffee-making accessories that allow customers to brew up their own pot safely at home.
He said this has had a direct effect on his business monetarily. “We will get through this, but I’m hoping there will not be another round of E. coli this summer because that could really impact us,” he said.
One of the few places in town to serve coffee was Pie in the Sky on Water Street in Woods Hole. Owner Erik T. Gura said he has been making espresso coffee since the function of those machines is to boil water.
On Tuesday night he had his employees dump all of the ice into the streets and taped off all the ice machines.
For him, he was prepared, thanks to having bottled water in stock and vegetables pre-washed from vendors.
Pie in the Sky’s dishwasher operates at high temperatures, but Mr. Gura said “if folks have any concerns, we will serve food on paper plates.”
The situation, he said, is less than ideal, noting that when residents hear the words “E. coli” and “water ban” together “they become scared and start to look for more information...While it is serious, it is not catastrophic. There are thousands of strains of E. coli, some of which live in our bodies naturally, although some could cause problems for some people.”
Regardless, he said there seems to be a sense of fear among residents, evident by the phones that were ringing off the hook in his store Wednesday morning. “It is pretty easy to panic,” he said, but he was confident town officials were taking the proper steps to handle the situation although bureaucratic policies handed down by the state have made people nervous.
A run on water at supermarkets
That nervousness has meant increased sales throughout town at large and small supermarkets alike.
At the Windfall Market on Scranton Avenue, assistant manager Sean Greenwood said on Wednesday that “we’ve definitely had an influx of customers trying to purchase water and ice.”
Both Ali N. Soufan, owner of Family Foods on East Falmouth Highway, and Ray A. Rowitz, owner of the Wild Harbor General Store on Old Main Road, North Falmouth, said situations were similar at their markets.
“It is a bonanza,” Mr. Soufan said. “People are concerned, and they are saying the town was late in coming out with this information. They [town officials] have known about this since June 7 and people are wondering why they kept this secret for some time. Maybe they want to keep the tourists coming in.”
And while it has increased his business, he and others said they have not made any attempts to raise prices of commodities like bottled water or ice. “Are you kidding me? In this town you would be doomed if you did that. They will blacklist your name,” he said.
Mr. Rowitz said his store sold out of gallons of water Wednesday morning, something that “didn’t surprise me, given the situation. Most people would come in and buy five or six and, after we ran out of the gallons, buy five or six liters. They were stocking up on them so they had enough in the house.”
For his store, the biggest inconvenience was to find another method of making coffee because his regular brewer uses town water.
As a way to educate residents about the situation, he placed a sign outside his shop alerting them to boil water. “Some people made reference to that and hadn’t known. They asked, ‘What is this about boiling your water?’ ” he said.
Water the talk of the town
But at Andy’s Barber Shop, owner Adrian C.J. Dufresne said the primary discussion among customers and staff was the town’s dirty water.
“I think it is a subject of concern of a lot of people because they don’t know how serious it is or how long it is going to last,” he said. “I heard it all morning.”
He, too, was confident in the Department of Public Works that the problem will be solved soon and was pleased with how they have handled safety protocols.
As far as the health precautions recommended by the state and town, Mr. Dufresne said he has not really followed them, except for the drinking of town water.
“To be honest with you, I brushed my teeth already three times today. As far as I’m concerned I’m going to die of something,” he said. “I take life very simply. I took a shower this morning. I don’t normally drink a lot of water. I drink a lot of coffee, but everyone I met today had a bottle of water in their hands.”
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