U.S.A. - The terrorist attacks on New York City's World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, DC on September 11 inflicted casualties on the vending and coffee service industries. Operators and suppliers have rallied to aid victims and assist in rebuilding efforts.
Perhaps the most severely affected operation is Aramark (Philadelphia, PA), which was active both in the WTC and the Pentagon. It operated five cafeterias and a Children's World Learning Center in the Pentagon. By great good fortune, all the Aramark employees and all the children were evacuated successfully.
Matters were far worse in New York City, where Aramark was involved in many workplace and leisure activities. It operated a food court atop WTC #2, as well as a variety of shops and other concessions, including provision of tour guides for the observation deck.
The company reports that a total of 37 employees were in both towers and the lower mall area beneath them at the time of the attack. Seven are missing.
The World Trade Center complex housed a large number of commercial tenants who were clients of vending and coffee service operations. The two 110-story towers provided about an acre of office space per floor, or 220 acres in all; their destruction reduced total office space in New York City by an estimated 10%.
Greg Henchel of Corporate Coffee Systems (Westbury, NY) served a number of clients in the Twin Towers and nearby World Trade Center #7. "We know of some loss of life; one client lost five people," Henchel told V/T. The disruption of communications made it difficult to assess the extent of the disaster for some time after the initial blow was struck. But it was clear that a major catastrophe was in the works, and Corporate Coffee System called all its drivers and instructed them to get out of the city. As luck would have it, all were able to do so within an hour.
RGM Vending (Old Tappan, NJ) had four machines on each of 10 floors in World Trade Center Tower #1, serving the offices of Empire Blue Cross/Blue Shield. RGM's Bill Andersen was on his way to visit the location on the morning of the attack. The traffic was extremely heavy, so he turned back , and began to notice emergency vehicles going past. He called his route driver and instructed him to leave the city.
"Luckily, he had serviced the account on Monday morning," Andersen said. "I tried calling our contacts at 9:00 AM to see whether they were all right, but I couldn't get through." After a survivor hotline had been established, he learned that his two location contacts survived the attack. "But they lost more than 40 employees, and our hearts go out to everyone touched by this tragedy," he said.
RGM estimates that it lost a quarter of a million dollars' worth of equipment, and an equivalent volume in annual sales, with the destruction of the World Trade Center. "I'm doing all I can to drum up new business," Andersen told V/T. And he wonders whether the disaster relief programs now being drafted will consider businesses that lost capital assets whose cost had not yet been paid down.
Robert Kalkan, president of Rainbow Foodservice (Little Falls, NJ) and a past president of the Mobile Industrial Caterers Association, reported that the good news is that he did not lose any employees, family members or friends. The bad news is that he knows many people who did. And some truck operators, across the river from Manhattan, had a terrifying view of the collapse of the Twin Towers.
Rainbow, which supplies catering trucks serving suburban markets in the greater New York City area, alsodoes substantial business supplying prepared food to vending companies. Some of these had equipment and clients in the World Trade Center. He was unable to deliver food to Manhattan for a week, but this made little difference, since the operators serving the World Trade Center had lost their key customers.
Mike Freed of Rockland Vending (Suffern, NY) also considers himself very fortunate not to have lost any employees. "Our route drivers are in the area on Mondays and Wednesdays," he explained. His company had some machines installed next door to the World Trade Center complex, but does not yet know their fate, since the entire area has been sealed off.
The attack had effects extending beyond the impact area, Freed added. Many customers involved in the financial industry who were not in the Twin Towers nevertheless lost telephone and data communications and were compelled to move to temporary quarters. Employee populations in lower Manhattan thus have declined dramatically.
The nature and extent of the disaster did not become apparent all at once. As details became clearer, many businesses mobilized resources to assist emergency services workers responding to the buildings' collapse.
Henchel reported that Corporate Coffee Systems had two priorities: to get supplies through to clients who are carrying on in the affected area, and to provide assistance to the rescue teams. The company loaded three pallets of supplies for immediate delivery to the emergency service workers in the area, he said. Stock drawn from the warehouse included water, candy, sugar and "Fig Newtons;" the cookies reportedly were very popular with the rescuers.
"And we sent a driver with a full truck in every day at 5:00 A.M., to try to get products to our customers in the area," he added. "The driver finally convinced the police to let him get through to five or six clients. They didn't have paper towels or toilet tissue; they were very appreciative."
Corporate Coffee Systems has been keeping a driver on call for an extra three hours a day to fill orders as clients manage to call. "Our customers chose us because they depend on us, and we have to support them through these terrible times," Henchel said.
Rainbow Foodservice also was able to respond quickly to support the disaster relief effort. Kalkan dispatched catering trucks to deliver hot dogs, water, and "Gatorade" to the impact area. Because of the general congestion in the streets, their instructions were to drop off the supplies and clear the area.
Rockland Vending has been delivering bottled water to the volunteers working in the wreckage. And Freed, an aviator who is active in voluntary medical airlift programs, Angel Flight and Air Life Line, stood by all day Tuesday in the event that victims required swift transportation to specialized medical facilities outside the New York City area. This was part of a general mobilization of medical resources that included hospitals in a wide area around the city. Unfortunately, there were very few survivors.
The aviators were able to lend a hand by picking up and delivering supplies, Freed explained. "A lot of people want to help," he told V/T. "Unfortunately, there's not much they can do."
Corporate Coffee's Henchel observed that "without Manhattan, we're out of business." In the immediate aftermath of the assault, sales dropped 30% as normal work patterns were disrupted. The volume is coming back as progress is made in cleaning up and reopening the area.
"Financially, the loss is substantial but it won't be devastating," the CCS principal explained. "Emotionally, it's beyond devastating."
And it will take a long time to get over. This year, CCS plans to replace its usual holiday-season client gifts and mementos with a substantial donation to a charity directly involved in helping the victims of the disaster.
"As a New Yorker and an American, it's incredible to see how we're all working together, and it makes me proud," he noted.