Michael Lomanaco, executive chef at Windows on the World, vividly remembers where he was: at Lens Crafters, on the ground floor of the World Trade Center. This mundane, routine stop kept him from heading on up to the 106th floor to start his work day. On an impulse, he stopped to have his vision checked for a new pair of reading glasses. Oddly, this small gesture saved his life.
Unfortunately, many of his co-workers weren't so lucky. Perched up in the sky, Windows of the World commanded an unparalleled view of New York City. On that particular morning, at least 78 cooks, waiters and staff were already at work when the first jet struck. None of them made it back out. Countless numbers of other food industry personnel who worked throughout the complex in numerous corporate dining rooms and other small food service establishments are among the dead or missing.
Restaurant folk generally form a tightly knit counterculture. For the most part, they don't live financially secure lives, and their work, while aesthetically oriented, is mostly hard physical labor. The bonds they form border on familial: They survive inordinately stressful circumstances together, develop their own patois and dress codes and, in hard times, collectively mourn their losses.
In an effort to assist the families of the victims, survivors of the WTC food service professionals have gathered to form the Windows of Hope Family Relief Fund to help secure the future of the victims' families. The movement has rapidly spread to become an international relief effort. On October 11, restaurants all over the country are donating a percentage of their evening's proceeds to provide immediate emergency aid as well as future scholarships and funds for the families of the victims.
Locally, a network of Tucson restaurants has banded together to join the October 11 effort. While the list is already substantial, it has room to expand considerably. All local restaurants are urged to join, regardless of their size or affiliation. This is an excellent opportunity for corporate chains to make their presence felt and join in the Tucson effort to support their local sense of community, as well.
Those of us who patronize restaurants are asked to do our part as well by spending the evening of October 11 at a participating venue. With so many victims of the WTC disaster, it has been hard for many of us to know exactly how to give, in what way and for how long. Certainly patriotism is running at a fevered pitch. Some people have painted their horses red, white and blue. Others have stood in the formation of human flags or gathered in stadiums to belt out the national anthem. And behind all these well-meaning gestures lies a collective sense of helplessness.
It is hard for many of us to absorb the magnitude of the disaster. We run the danger of being overly stimulated to the point of despair by the barrage of traumatic images in the media; at the same time, we run the risk of becoming desensitized by those same horrifying images we can only comprehend abstractly.
If we are to find hope, perhaps it resides in finding comfort in joining a larger sense of community, broadening our own definition of "family." If we have learned anything from the tragic events, perhaps the most poignant is that the world is really a much smaller place than we imagined. The world shrunk a little bit on September 11, and no small measure of hope is found in the notion that we are more of a global community than we realized. Perhaps it is true: Even the smallest of gestures can contribute directly toward saving lives.
To make your contribution, make a reservation with any participating venue:
Janos and J Bar: Chef/owner Janos Wilder will be donating 10 percent of receipts from both restaurants. 615-6100.
Fuego: Chef/owner Alan Zeman will be having a "New York, New York" themed evening with a special menu and Sinatra style music. Ten percent of receipts will be donated, and a wine tasting will be auctioned off. 886-1745.
The Grill at Hacienda del Sol: Chef Albert Hall will be donating 10 percent of the evening's receipts. 529-3900.
The Gold Room at Westward Look Resort: Chef Jason Jonilonis will be donating 10 percent of the evening's receipts. 297-1151.
Arizona Inn: Chef Odell Baskerville will be donating 10 percent of the evening's receipts and auctioning off a cooking class. 325-1541.
Ovens Bistro: Chef Steven Critcher will be donating 10 percent of the evening's receipts and auctioning off wine donations. 577-9001.
El Charro: Chef/owner Carlotta Flores will be running a special all month to benefit this cause. Call the restaurant for more details. 622-1922.
Jonathan's Tucson Cork: Chef/owner Jonathan Landeen will be donating 10 percent of the evening's receipts. 296-1631.
Karen's Wine Country Café: Owner Jennifer Wyrick will be donating 10 percent of lunch receipts featuring a special New York style menu. 455-5282.
Barrio Grill: Manager Ted Parks donating 10 percent of the evening's receipts. 629-0191.
Sullivan's: Manager Chris Rockwood will be donating nationally. 299-4275.
Anthony's: Owner Anthony Martino will be donating 10 percent of the evening's receipts. 299-1771.
Daniel's: Owner Jeff Fuld will be donating 10 percent of the evening's receipts. 742-3200.
Bistro Zin/Wildflower: Owner Sam Fox will be donating 10 percent of the evening's receipts from both venues. 299-7799 or 219-4230.
Capriccio: Owners Marti and Tom Bruener will be donating 10 percent of the evening's receipts. 887-2333.
Linen: Chef/owner Tate Pierson will be donating 10 percent of the evening's receipts. 797-3397.
Vivace: Chef/owner Danny Scordato will be donating 10 percent of the evening's receipts. 795-7221.
Ghini's French Café: Will be donating 10 percent of the evening's proceeds. 326-9095.
Soleil: Will be donating 10 percent of the evening's receipts. 299-3345.
For local information, call 615-6100. For last-minute additions to the list of participating restaurants, see the ad elsewhere in this issue.
For national and international information, to make direct donations or to learn more about the relief fund visit the Web site at www.windowsofhope.org.