Dave Kerpen | Likeable Leader: Sushi, Sandy & Stamina
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Likeable Leader: Sushi, Sandy & Stamina

Likeable Leader: Sushi, Sandy & Stamina

A year ago today I was upset over not being able to run in New York City Marathon after training for months. A year ago today I was annoyed to be out of power in my home. But those annoyances paled in comparison to what so many small business owners went through one year ago in NYC and beyond.

When Victor Chan heard Hurricane Sandy was headed for Lower Manhattan last October, he had just enough time to board up the windows of SUteiShi, his Financial District sushi restaurant, and move his computers to higher ground. Like most of the other merchants in the area, however, he had no way of knowing that the powerhouse storm would eventually deluge the neighborhood with 6 feet of floodwater. When it was over, his restaurant looked like an exploded rainbow roll, and he had lost all of his supplies as well as all of the interior fixtures and cooking equipment to the super storm.

Ultimately, water damage to the infrastructure of the building would keep Chan from starting his restaurant renovation until July 2013. However, the sushi entrepreneur wouldn’t let the storm put him out of business – instead, he relied on both his intrepid spirit and the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), to help him save his life’s work and finances. One member of EO sent a truck, another got him a generator, and another gave 30 gallons of gas. “All of these resources were so vital right after the storm.” Chan said.

Why did they help? Victor had been a generous, friendly, and helpful member of the EO community for years. Willing to spend his time and expertise on others, Victor has helped many fellow small business owners – so when he was in need, they literally lined up for the opportunity to help him.

Immediately after the hurricane ended along with the extensive clean up, Chan started looking for a way to keep his core team employed and his customer base intact and looked for a commissary space to expedite the delivery service. Many disappointments followed and he even considered a food truck. His first bit of luck played right into his never-say-no spirit: his neighbor Jacklyn Gowey, of the Made Fresh Daily bakery, had a kitchen she only used until 4pm. Gowey rented the space to Chan in the evenings from 5pm to 10 pm, and by December 5, 2012, Chan had created a delivery version of SUteiShi that allowed him to stay in business feeding the storm-ravaged downtown neighborhood while keeping five workers on the payroll.

When Chan finally got back into SUteiShi’s original location on Peck Slip in July, family and friends helped him financially, raising $50,000 through an online crowdfunding site, and fellow members of EO helped him with goods and services to begin renovations. His general contractor, HVAC vendor, stereo equipment vendor, accountant, bookkeeper, website technician, Internet provider, flooring material vendor, and printer were all EO companies that came and helped Chan in various ways.

“EO has been such a great asset in our recovery. They’ve helped us to come back even stronger than before,” said Victor. He credits EO – but I credit him. As a likeable leader, he put in the effort to help others and so when he was in need, he didn’t even need to ask for help, to receive lots of it.

SUteiShI re-opened almost exactly one year after Sandy, on October 18, 2013, with a warm neighborhood reception and a block party where Chan welcomed back his loyal customers and his full, pre-storm staff. Chan hopes that SUteiShi will be even more successful now than it was before Sandy: “This such a great neighborhood, I’m proud to be a part of it.”

This is the first article in a weekly series on Likeable Leaders. If you would like to nominate a likeable leader to be featured here, please let me know in the Comments section below!

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