Known everywhere as one of New York's premier see-and-be-seen restaurants, Windows on the World had it all: Wall-to-wall, 107th-floor views of the city, an exceptional wine list, a celebrity chef.
Along with its companion, Wild Blue, a more casual dining room that shared the same kitchen, and the Greatest Bar on Earth, the troika were world-renowned for inspirational dining.
Renowned until last Tuesday, that is, when two commercial airplanes hit the World Trade Center towers in a terrorist attack, bringing them down in a fiery collapse that took the life of thousands of office workers, airline passengers and commuters traveling beneath the buildings.
Among those lost were 79 Windows employees setting up business for the day — the assistant chefs, waitresses, bus boys and other working people who make up the backbone of any restaurant.
"Obviously it was devastating, for lack of a better word. A lot is going through your head, like you're sure of who was there and who wasn't there," said Wild Blue manager Brook Harkavy, who had left the building around 1 a.m. the morning of the bombing, after the restaurant closed for the night.
Harkavy said she slept through the calamitous impacts, first learning about them when her mother called to tell her the news. Harkavy said she looked out the window of her apartment with its view of the World Trade Center and saw it was on fire.
Windows didn't serve breakfast to the general public. But it did offer a club members-only dining service to professionals. The restaurant was also hosting a banquet that morning, and many staff who weren't usually there at that time had showed up for the event.
Four of the restaurant's 300 staff are confirmed dead in the wreckage. Still unaccounted for are kitchen staff, servers, inventory workers, security, housekeepers, and pastry chefs. Chef Michael Lomonaco, host of the Discovery Channel's cooking show Epicurious, was not at the restaurant.
Windows has set up a toll-free number for people to phone in with any information about the staff. "We're fairly certain about a lot of people who were there," Harkavy said.
The Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union has also established an assistance fund for those affected by the attack.
Brooks Bitterman, research director of the union, said they have had an outpouring of assistance from other unions and employers. Money will be used to provide aid for hospital stays, funeral arrangements and personal financial demands in the coming weeks. Death benefits will also be paid to the families of the victims.
A Sign of Stature
For most career restaurant workers, working at Windows on the World was a sign of success. At just 25 years of age and with a degree from Boston University in hospitality administration, Harkavy has many options for her future. She had even considered moving to France, "but all the things you think about change when you're thrust into a decision."
Harkavy isn't sure what she's going to do now. The Trade Center's collapse doesn't just mean the loss of her company's workspace as it does to so many other survivors. It means having to start over with a new employer, a new direction.
Owner Joseph Baum has two other restaurants, but Windows was the hub of the enterprise. Most of the two other restaurant's accounting and bookkeeping was done at the Trade Center, and each of those restaurants already have full staffs. The dislocated workers can't be absorbed.
Bitterman said the union workers had an especially good relationship with Windows' owners Baum and David Emil, who oversaw daily operations.
"What is remarkable is that they functioned very well," said Bitterman. "They were a tight-knit group, probably the tightest-knit of any restaurant in New York, certainly any union restaurant. [Emil] had always had mutual respect [with the workers]. That's why the restaurant worked as it did. He created a really remarkable space."
Harkavy said Windows' owners will give the survivors referrals, but it's unlikely they will be able to offer them jobs. They are considering dissolving the company. Bitterman said the union will try to fill in that area.
"For the people who are out of work, they need jobs. We're really trying to work hard on that, [but] it is particularly difficult because the hotel and restaurant industry was already having tough times," Bitterman said.
The hospitality industry as a whole is suffering in the aftermath because of a decline in travel and hotel reservations. On the bright side, Harkavy said, New York is a "Mecca for the best of what the industry offers."
If you have information on Windows on the World employees, please call their toll-free hotline at 1-877-226-5170.
If you would like more information on the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Assistance Fund, please call 212-541-4226 or write Local 100, 321 West 44th Street, 5th floor, New York, NY 10036. E-mail messages can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org