NEW YORK — Mathias Van Leyden is in recovery mode. He’s been preparing LouLou’s, his French restaurant on 8th Avenue, for a triumphant return.
“The brick didn’t burn, it was just dark so we just painted over it. It looks good, it’s going to look better than before,” said Van Leyden.
Last month, prosecutors say an arsonist set fire to the restaurant’s outdoor dining structures and artificial plants hanging from the building’s facade. That blaze put a stop to business and caused thousands of dollars in damages.
“All the sound, the speakers, decorations cost a lot of money,” Van Leyden said.
Floral crews have been working to bring back that vibrant decor Mathias had in mind during the early part of the pandemic last year.
“The city was dead, there was nothing going on in the street. It was nice to make a stand by having those decorations and look more lively,” he recounted.
The French restaurant, affectionately named after his dog, opened in February of last year, a mere three weeks before the city was shut down by COVID-19. Mathias says that fire put a rotating staff of 50 employees out of work.
“People have been not working for a month now, they need to work and some people are not American so they cannot get unemployment,” said Van Leyden.
“Today, the upholster is coming to fix the back over here,” said Van Leyden, showing the downstairs space of his restaurant. Mathias says he’s also been using this time to add special details for the return of his customers.
“Everyone was sad. I sent pictures to everyone when I found out what happened,” said Franco Lacosta, who has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years.
Neighbors like Franco Lacosta say many in the area are looking forward to that sense of community LouLou’s restaurant provided and are eagerly awaiting its return.
“We’re all very excited. Personally, whenever I have all my lunches or dinner I say let’s come down to LouLou’s. It just feels good,” said Lacosta.
In spite of all the challenges, Mathias says he’s not worried. He knows his restaurant will bounce back again.
“We opened right before COVID, so we’ve been through a lot already and we’re just going to figure it out,” Van Leyden said. “I know as soon as we reopen we’ll be busy again.”