Lucky's Real Tomatoes in Brooklyn suffered $1 million in damage when Superstorm Sandy barreled up the East Coast in October 2012. A $25,000 emergency loan, issued by NYBDC in the weeks immediately following the storm, allowed the business to get office operations functioning again.
"NYBDC was the first one to come through for us. The loan enabled us to get the brains of our operation back up. It took a big load off the shoulders of the people running the company," said Lucky Lee, who co-owns the business with her brother, Alan Marcelli, its CEO. Lee, the "Lucky" in Lucky's Real Tomatoes, is chief operations officer.
Lucky's Real Tomatoes grows, ships and sells homegrown, sun-ripened tomatoes to select gourmet retailers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, and to some of New York City's finest restaurants.
Flooding from Superstorm Sandy devastated the company's warehouse, wiping out its tomato inventory, refrigeration and other equipment, furniture, floors and the phone and electrical wiring systems. NYBDC's $25,000 loan was used to help rebuild computer operations.
Lucky's 17,000-square-foot warehouse in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, is a block off the East River in an area defined as "Zone A," or the section of New York City that is most at risk of flooding in a big storm. Zone A properties were among the hardest hit by Superstorm Sandy. The business did not have flood insurance at the time of the storm and is relying on loans and company profits to fund the restoration.
"We had to throw out everything and start new," Lee said. Staff returned to work immediately after the storm to begin clearing away the damaged goods and debris. Because of their dedication, Lee says, customers were receiving their regular tomato shipments two days after the storm hit. The tomatoes are grown in Florida for nine months of the year, and in the Smoky Mountain region of North Carolina during the remaining three months.
That kind of commitment and the company's solid reputation were guiding factors when NYBDC approved the $25,000 loan, said Dave Hanold, NYBDC vice president. "The goal of the recovery program is to supply small but meaningful loans to companies that had established reliable businesses prior to the storm," Hanold said. "Lucky’s had been unable to secure other forms of financing, even though the company had been operating successfully for so many years. Because of their history of profits and successful operations, it was very easy for us to approve this loan."
Fifteen months later, parts of the warehouse are still unusable and the business still leases refrigeration trailers. Still, Lee is proud that all 25 of the company's staff remain employed. Moreover, she says, the loss caused by the storm, and the need to increase profits, motivated the sales team to increase business by 15 percent last year.
Lucky and Alan's parents, Tony and Linda Marcelli, started selling the specialty tomatoes in 1979, after a family illness brought the Marcellis to Florida. Tony developed the idea for bringing homegrown tomatoes from Florida to their hometown of New York City during the winter months, and then selling cases of them to some of the city's finer restaurants.
Since then, Lucky's Real Tomatoes has established a notable clientele that includes such prestigious New York restaurants as Peter Luger, Wolfgang's, Restaurant Daniel and the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
Lee says NYBDC provided invaluable support as the company rebuilt itself after the storm.
"When something like Sandy happens, you're reeling," she said. "It wasn't just that NYBDC came through with the money. We felt like we had an amazing partner through all of this."