Rockaway without chocolate would be like Rockaway without surf. And while the surf was sure to return there was doubt about chocolate after Sandy crushed Rockaway’s hometown chocolate maker, Madelaine Chocolates.
“When we heard the storm was approaching we did some preparation to protect the facility against it,” said Norman Gold, a co-owner of the company, one of Rockaway’s largest employers. “There was not much more we could do. We just had to pray and hope for the best.”
The three brick buildings that Madelaine calls home on Beach 95th and Beach 96th Street look like fortresses. But they were no match for a superstorm. On October 30 the owners discovered that the storm’s wrath was mightier than their hopes and prayers.
“When I returned to the factory on Tuesday morning, the morning after the storm hit, my first impression was one of utter shock,” said Gold.
Co-owner Jorge Farber explained that before getting into the factory they had to fight their way through a door that was blocked by debris.
“When I first walked into the door, we actually forced ourselves in because there were some desks and packaging and utter debris that was blocking the door,” said Farber, the president and CEO. I pretty much knew we had a questionable business in our hands.”
Farber added, “After the 29th [of October] we came to a standstill, and we had very limited resources at that time in how we were going to, and if we were going to, bring this back into production,” said.
Scott Wright, the chief administrative officer for Madelaine Chocolate, said that’s when National Grid got in the picture. “Even before we got power restored …they reached out to us through the New York Economic Development Corporation to say that there was going to be a grant program for their customers who had been affected by Sandy,”
On February 14th, the company got a $250,000 grant from National Grid that enabled work to begin on the first of its 14 production lines. After National Grid came through with the grant the race was on to get back into production for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
After months of uncertainty, in late June, chocolate fish and other sweets came rolling off the production line.
Before Sandy the company employed 400 people. Now they are at 25 percent of that. Estee Farber, the company’s marketing director, said that while they are in production for all seasons, only four of their lines are running along with several foiling machines.
“The storm caused millions of dollars worth of damage,” said Farber. “We are continuously repairing and rebuilding machinery, equipment, and parts of the facility. There is still so much to be done.”
After receiving the grant Farber’s focus was on the future.
“I want to see machinery running. I want to hear the noise,” said Farber. “I want to see the beautiful foil coming out of the machine and tell our customers we are back with our employees. That’s what I am looking for. That’s my dream.”
For Rockaway, the bitter taste of Sandy remains. But Madelaine Chocolate is doing its part to ensure a sweet future.