By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
Ida-damaged Samba Montclair, a popular Brazilian eatery on Bloomfield Avenue, is back open thanks to the help of the community and the work of owner Ilson Goncalves.
Like many businesses in Montclair, Samba Montclair sustained tens of thousands of dollars in damages.
“After one week after the flood we opened again,” Goncalves said. “Because I cannot wait. I had to roll up my sleeves and get back to work.”
Goncalves’ contractor — who was working prior to the storm, renovating Samba’s kitchen — helped him finish the job and connect a sump pump in the basement to take the water out. The contractor replaced the business’s water heater and air conditioner as well.
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“He drove two hours to grab the water heating system from Pennsylvania. We didn’t have a hot water system to wash the dishes,” Goncalves said. “He drove two hours to do the job for me. So that’s the amazing part because imagine that without him, it was going to be a big problem because everybody was so busy.”
But he still had an issue — the thousands of dollars in food and equipment lost after the flooding.
On the night of Sept. 1, when Ida hit, Samba Montclair was packed as usual. Cell phones started buzzing around the restaurant alerting customers and staff of flood warnings in the area. At first, Goncalves wasn’t concerned, but soon he saw the water begin to rise outside the restaurant and then pour in through the door. He made the decision to close the restaurant early.
Customers and employees got out safely, and Goncalves thought the restaurant only had minor damages to the dining room and some loss of the outdoor furniture, he said. But when he checked his basement, the water was nearly six feet high.
It was one of several businesses near Montclair’s North Fullerton Avenue deck that suffered serious damage, as waters in the deck reached above cars and SUVs, and spilled into adjacent and nearby buildings.
Samba was left with more than $50,000 in broken appliances and $6,000 in spoiled food that had been shipped the morning before the storm.
“Everything went to garbage,” Goncalves told CBS2 on Sept. 8. “And FEMA comes out with $1,000 to $5,000. What am I going to do with $5,000 if my damage is over $64,000?”
While Goncalves was trying to work on getting his restaurant back together, Samba’s PR firm, diaz*Schloss communications, owned by Karen Schloss, set up a GoFundMe campaign to collect funds for repairs and to restock the restaurant. It can be found by searching “Help Save and Restore Samba Montclair” on GoFundMe.com
Goncalves was told about the page, but he was too busy trying to fix whatever he could to reopen the restaurant.
“Karen tried to help me and I said: ‘Listen, Karen, my mind right now can’t think about nothing,’” Goncalves said. “I was just so busy. I can’t think about numbers. I can’t think about money. I just want to go back to work and try to fix whatever I can.”
When the GoFundMe page was set up, Goncalves thought he would get a couple of thousands of dollars, maybe less. To his surprise, the page collected about $12,000 in the first 24 hours.
“I was not expecting that,” Goncalves said. “I was expecting maybe a thousand or two, maybe max $5,000. I think [Montclair] it’s an amazing community. And a lot of people who saw me supporting all of them before and they felt bad for me. I just wasn’t expecting that at all. I’m just happy to be honest.”
As of Tuesday, Sept. 21, the GoFundMe page had surpassed its original goal of $25,000 and raised $30,531.
Donations went beyond the GoFundMe page. A customer Goncalves has known for a long time came to the restaurant with three buckets of cleaning products and rugs. Another person in Arizona read about his situation and wanted to help.
“She asked me if I needed anything. She said she can come here and help me. I told her, ‘No, no, I am fine,’” Goncalves said. “You know, that’s amazing. Like people from so far away message me on Facebook and say, ‘Listen, if you need any help, we can try and travel by you and help you if you need anything.’”
Goncalves said the outpouring of help came because he also likes to help people, and thinks the good he has been giving to the community has now been returned to him. Samba Montclair has donated more than 50 meals each week to Toni’s Kitchen, the food ministry of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, for the past year and a half.
In the comments on the GoFundMe page, more than 20 people voiced their support for the restaurant, something that made Goncalves cry. About 430 donated, and Goncalves said he is grateful for even the smallest donation.
“I am so grateful for this amazing community because I love all of Montclair. I love my customers,” Goncalves said. “I feel my customers are my family. I’m just grateful every day. I cannot say thank you enough.”