Seventy-three of the 2,749 people who died in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center September 11th, 2001, worked at the elegant "Windows on the World" restaurant. It was on the top floor of Tower One, and it was not only the highest-situated, it was also the highest-grossing restaurant in the United States, posting annual revenues of more than $37 million.
This week, the people who worked with those who perished have will be opening a new, upscale culinary venture. They will not just be employees at this restaurant, though. They will be owners.
Just a few days before the new restaurant - which is called "Colors" - is scheduled to officially open, everyone is busy. Carpenters hammer away at the large, private booths that line one side of the room. Electricians work to illuminate a large map of the world that's painted on the wall on the other side. Two women carefully examine wine glasses that they're arranging on the tables. And executive chef Raymond Mohan says everyone's feeling a little bit stressed..
"I'm nervous about things not being ready," he says. "You know, the food and equipment not being delivered and things like that. It goes with opening restaurants. There's always delays - as you can see, it's a last-minute thing. Everything is last minute."
Unlike most of the people working at Colors, Raymond Mohan was not employed by Windows on the World at the time of the terrorist attacks. But his line cook, a soft-spoken immigrant from the Ivory Coast named Kissima Sahao, was.
"It was a very hard day for me," Sahao recalls. "Because we lost a lot of crew members over there. So that was a very hard day for me."
Kissima Sahao says he has floated from one failed restaurant to another during the four years that have passed since the terrorist attacks. More than half the restaurants that open in New York City close before their third anniversary -- and like the proprietors at each of the city's 18,000 restaurants, everyone involved with the Colors project knows it's a risky business.
But Sahao says he did not hesitate to invest his time -- or a little bit of money -- in the project, which is a co-operative venture: the employees own 20 percent of the business. "It's good - for me it's unity, you know, all the people coming together to open a new restaurant, the old co-workers, so that's why I want to open this restaurant."
Everyone at Colors will make at least $13.50 per hour, which is double the minimum wage in New York state. Not only that, but the restaurant has been specially designed with the physical needs of the workers in mind. An ergonomist from Mt. Sinai Medical Center was brought in to make recommendations about work space in the kitchen and the floor plan in the dining room.
Colors' general manager Stefan Mailvaganam says most people who go to restaurants
don't realize how high the industry's injury rate is. "People get burned a lot in the kitchen. They get a lot of lower-back strain. Repetitive strain injury, whether it's in wrists and, you know, other joints. So it's very hard."
The employee/owners of Colors are immigrants from 22 countries - and you can see that in the restaurant's eclectic menu. The former Windows on the World workers all contributed family recipes, which were then modified for the American palate by Chef Raymond Mohan - a native of Guyana.
Customers will be able to order a medley of curried and marinated dishes from places like Bangladesh, Egypt, Colombia, and Thailand. Pastry chef Richard Cohen, who was born in Jamaica, says that makes the restaurant a lot like the city that it calls home. "The food, it's like international cuisine, so that makes it very interesting," he says. "You learn other cultures. What Manhattan is all about is diversity. So that's good."
The staff at Colors initially considered having a "Windows on the World" theme as a tribute to their fallen colleagues. In the end, though, they decided not to do that, believing it would be better to move forward and not focus on the tragedies of the past. The co-operative nature of the venture, they say, is a subtler tribute - and the restaurant's success will be their former colleagues' legacy.