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As Brooklyn Restaurants Close, Seamless Can't Keep Up With Delivery During Hurricane Sandy

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On Monday afternoon, Tiama Lewis, 29, and Kaye Powelo, 30, residents of Brooklyn's Clinton Hill neighborhood, started to get a little hungry. But unlike many of their fellow New Yorkers, they hadn't done much in the way of grocery stockpiling in advance of Hurricane Sandy. Few local restaurants were delivering, so they decided to brave the increasingly daunting wind and rain to grab Jamaican beef patties and pizza on Myrtle Avenue, the main neighborhood drag.

"I don't mind the weather," Lewis said, as she stood inside Little Louie's Pizza on Myrtle. "If the wind blows this way, I just turn that way."

"I've been going here since I was little, since it was across the street," Powelo added. "I love the chicken pizza. I'm not going to let a storm stop me from getting a slice."

Most restaurants on Myrtle -- and throughout New York -- had already closed by sunset on Monday, when the storm really started to kick into high gear, and streets that normally thrum with the speeding bicycles of New York's thousands of delivery men and women were occupied by nothing more edible than autumnal fallen leaves.

The front door of Little Louie's was adorned with stickers advertising its availability via the online restaurant delivery services GrubHub and Seamless. The websites for those two companies indicated that the pizzeria was still delivering around 4:30 p.m. Monday. But the cashier at Little Louie's said the pizzeria hadn't been delivering for hours.

Still, demand for food -- and even delivery -- didn't dissipate throughout the storm, and many businesses that stayed open as long as possible reaped big dividends.

Thirty percent of Seamless's partner restaurants in New York City that are normally open for delivery on Sunday night closed in anticipation of the storm, according to Ryan Scott, the company's vice president of marketing. That meant total system order volume fell about 10 percent. But many customers made larger orders that same night, spending about 18 percent more on average than they usually do, so total revenue was up.

Scott said Seamless expected demand would be high ahead of the storm, so the company allocated significant resources to customer service. Algorithms trawled restaurants in the system for longer than normal wait times or missing order confirmations to try to determine whether any of those restaurants had closed without alerting Seamless. The company reassigned customer service representatives to mark closed restaurans as quickly as possible. Expected wait times for delivery were adjusted upward automatically and averaged about twice as long as normal.

"This is a moment of truth for a business like ours," Scott told The Huffington Post. "We really are very prepared. You can never over-prepare for an event like this. We are all hands on deck."

Despite the preparation, snafus abounded, and the problems continued to mount as Monday wore on. Seamless customer service was doing its best to address inquiries, especially those made via Twitter, but there were too many changes for the service to keep up.

Back in Clinton Hill, several restaurants that were listed as delivering on Seamless were actually closed or, like Little Louie's Pizza, not delivering.

At Anima Italian Bistro on Myrtle, employee Carlo Urgiles, 28, said that they planned to keep serving food until 10 p.m. The restaurant's takeout business had remained brisk throughout the day Monday -- "lots of pizzas," but the restaurant was no longer making deliveries. "We don't want to risk our guys like that," Urgiles said.

Three blocks away, Putnam's Pub was at least as crowded, with local residents crammed around the bar. Owner Gerry Rooney, 32, said that he felt obligated to serve food and drink as long as possible, as a service to the neighborhood. He said the lunch hour at Putnam's had been busier than it almost ever is, but Rooney stopped serving food at 5 p.m.

"A lot of the guys in the kitchen live out in far Queens, so I'm driving them home," he said. "The people who work at the bar mostly live with a two-block radius, so when the storm gets bad, we can just lock the door and run home. But I wouldn't want to drive on the BQE once the hurricane hits."

As the storm continued to ramp up, one restaurant on Myrtle kept delivering: Domino's Pizza. Because the pizza goes out in a van rather than on a bike, delivery men and women are less deterred by rain and wind. And it's company policy to stay open as long as possible.

"It's the rule," employee Angel Perez, 21, explained. "Domino's always stays open, no matter what."

Yet by 7:30 p.m. on Monday night, as the wind howled as loud as a hungry wolf on a full moon, even Domino's had stopped answering its phones. Brooklynites, for once, were delivery-less.

Click through to see how other restaurants were affected by the storm:

Restaurants, Chefs React To Sandy
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