Michael Lomonaco escaped with his life on Sept. 11, 2001 all due to a detour on his manner to work and a pair of busted studying glasses.
On that day, the New York City chef was headed to his job as culinary director of Windows on the World, the famed dining space at the World Trade Center. He took on the place in 1997 after an already spectacular profession that included stints at such iconic Big Apple eateries as Le Cirque and the 21 Club.
But Windows represented a towering subsequent step, actually and figuratively, because it was a high-profile restaurant located close to the prime of certainly one of the Trade Center’s twin towers.
It was additionally an especially demanding job — the “restaurant,” unfold throughout the 106th and 107th flooring of the North Tower, was truly a couple of eating and ingesting spots rolled into one, serving as many as 1,000 prospects a day. And that meant Lomonaco usually put in lengthy hours, arriving at 8:30 a.m. and dealing by dinner. It additionally meant he had little time to attend to private chores.
“‘I could see people waving tablecloths out the windows of what I took to be the restaurant.’”
So, Lomonaco took benefit of no matter free moments fell his manner. And on the morning of Sept. 11, he used one such second to get his glasses fastened, pushed to make an appointment by his spouse forward of an Italian trip the couple was taking the following week. He was at a LensCrafters retailer in the Trade Center’s purchasing concourse when the first aircraft hit.
MarketWatch spoke with the 66-year-old chef, who now heads Porter House Bar and Grill and Hudson Yards Grill, two eating places in New York City, to discuss what occurred that day and the way he has since moved on with his life.
8:46 a.m.: The first aircraft hits the North Tower
Lomonaco was initially scheduled to go to the LensCrafters at midday on Sept. 11. But as a result of he was working forward of schedule due to a lighter-than-normal commute, he determined to pay a go to early that morning when he had an opportunity — “What chef doesn’t want to save time?” — with the hope he might be accommodated. “I thought, ‘Let me see if I can do this now.’” The retailer certainly had a gap.
When the first aircraft hit at 8:46 a.m., Lomonaco was nonetheless at LensCrafters. “We were minutes away from being finished…They were probably about to sell me a new frame,” he says. Suddenly, he was jolted by the crash. “I just thought, ‘Could that be the subway?’ It turns out it was the impact of the first plane.“ The lights flickered and then went out in the store. And within a minute or two, the building’s security team arrived and advised that the concourse was being evacuated.
When Lomonaco got to the street, he saw that “the sky was littered with paper, like confetti. That was all from the offices.” He additionally noticed “smoldering, burning debris” on the floor. “I took it to be a small car,” he says, however he realizes now it was in all probability a part of the aircraft’s fuselage.
He headed away to make calls at a pay cellphone since his cell service was out. He reached his spouse — “I said, ‘I don’t know what’s happened. I just want you to know I’m outside” — and the Windows on the World possession. He began pondering of his staff at the restaurant. “I was trying to make a mental list of who was working.” He figured he’d return instantly to the Trade Center. “If I can help in any way, I thought, ‘Let me go help.’ It was not logical. It was emotional.”
9:03 a.m.: The second aircraft hits the South Tower
But Lomonaco didn’t make it again to the scene. Instead, he was certainly one of many bewildered New Yorkers on the road when the second aircraft hit at 9:03 a.m. “I heard the roar of the jet engines. I looked up at the moment of impact,” Lomonaco remembers. And then, he realized the full gravity of the scenario: “This is an attack. We’re under attack.” Someone grabbed his arm and tried to pull him right into a constructing — “They offered me safety” — however he walked north.
Eventually, he stopped to see the harm. “It was terrifying and shocking all at once…I could see people waving tablecloths out the windows of what I took to be the restaurant. I imagined they broke the windows. I imagined the space was filled with smoke.” At 9:59 am., the South Tower collapsed, adopted by the North Tower at 10:28 a.m. The Twin Towers had been gone, however Lomonaco remained protected.
Lomonaco says that 79 individuals who labored at Windows misplaced their lives that day. So did 91 restaurant guests (the eating spot had its a.m. regulars and was additionally internet hosting a conference that morning). The Windows workers was a various, worldwide group — to the level the workforce referred to itself as the “little UN.”
In the aftermath of 9/11, Lomonaco helped arrange the Windows of Hope fund to assist the households of Windows staff who died, together with the households of different Trade Center food-service staff who perished.
“These are people who could be easily forgotten, overlooked and neglected, the people (often) at the lowest strata of the economic pay scale,” he says. To date, the fund has raised $22 million.
A brand new chapter in New York
After 9/11, Lomonaco held totally different restaurant and consulting positions. He additionally says he had some selection alternatives to work in Chicago, San Francisco, Las Vegas and elsewhere. But he by no means thought-about leaving the metropolis put up 9/11: “I’m a native New Yorker and I was never going to move after this.”
Eventually, he received to understand a dream and set up his personal restaurant in Porter House, a steakhouse with an upscale, gourmet-centric method. In some ways, the Midtown institution, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary this 12 months, is a continuation of Windows on the World, since Lomonaco borrowed some culinary concepts he started exploring at Wild Blue, the restaurant-within-a-restaurant at the Trade Center eating spot. Lomonaco additionally introduced aboard key workers folks he had at Windows.
“‘I’m a native New Yorker and I was never going to move after this.’”
Lomonaco remembers how folks had been hesitant to return to eating places in New York after 9/11. And the identical has been true throughout the pandemic, albeit for various causes. It took him many months earlier than he reopened Porter House. And he’s lastly reopening Hudson Yards Grill, his different institution, in the coming weeks. But Lomonaco stays bullish on the metropolis and its eating scene. “New York may be down, but you can never count us out,” he says.
Lomonaco notes that he was hardly the just one to cheat loss of life on 9/11. Indeed, prospects left Windows as late as 8:44 a.m., in accordance to one report.
“Many people survived that day in other ways, too,” Lomonaco says. But he considers himself “among the fortunate.” And ever since 9/11, he has aimed to look ahead. “I’ve tried to balance my life by never taking life for granted,” he concludes.