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Savannah's Alligator Soul owner determined to reopen after flood

  • City workers have been inspecting the stormwater system behind Alligator Soul since the restaurant was flooded during a storm on May 17. Eric Curl/Savannah Morning News
  • Alligator Soul owner Maureen Craig points out a window well that was discovered behind the kitchen wall after the restaurant was flooded on May 17. Eric Curl/Savannah Morning News

Instead of making reservations on Friday, owner Maureen Craig’s assistant, Jackie Noel, was busy calling people to cancel their dinner dates at Alligator Soul.

Outside the office, a waist-high box-shaped industrial dryer sat in the hallway and the restaurant was devoid of tables and chairs. Instead, the dining room was crammed with equipment from the kitchen, which stood bare with portions of the walls torn away.

The fine dining restaurant that has been serving Cajun- and creole-inspired Southern delicacies for 14 years has been closed for two weeks, leaving the livelihood of the restaurant’s owner and 43 employees in jeopardy.

On May 17, a heavy storm hovered over Savannah and the torrential rains brought ruin to the basement-level restaurant at 114 Barnard St.

As employees made preparations to open for dinner that night, a deluge of water, as well as dirt and sand, rushed in from behind one of the kitchen walls, flooding the restaurant in minutes, Craig said.

“It came in like the fire department opened three hoses,” she said.

A hole in an underground window well behind the kitchen wall was later discovered, pointing to the opening for the flood waters.

When city workers dug up the asphalt of the lane next to her restaurant’s wall, they found a large cavity adjacent to the window well, where much of the dirt had been washed out into the restaurant through the hole, Craig said. City staffers filled the cavity with concrete, she said, but the location of a breach she believes is in the city’s stormwater system is still being determined.

Once that is found and fixed and the building’s walls are also found to be properly sealed, Craig intends to reopen the restaurant she established with her husband, a chef who died in 2007.

“It means a lot to me,” she said. “I wouldn’t want for the legacy to end like this.”

On Friday, city workers were working around an open stormwater manhole in the lane behind the building where the restaurant is located. Assisting in the process was a pump truck and smoke machine used to check the condition of storm lines and determine if their is a leak.

Since the flood, city inspectors have been checking to make sure there are no problems with the stormwater system after the building’s manager asked them to inspect the lines in the area, said Roger Raines, stormwater management director. Those tests are ongoing, but no problems have been found so far, Raines said Thursday.

While they are working with the owner to see if they can learn anything about the city system, Raines said it is the building owner’s job to seal up the structure.

“It’s their responsibility, whether there is something wrong with our system or not,” he said.

Meanwhile, Alligator Soul regular Dennis Cravens, who has his own table dubbed Cravens’ corner, said he is eager for Craig to reopen. A business development director for a logistic firm, Craven said one of the customers he takes their frequently was also upset by the news.

“He replied back that a little bit of his heart just died,” Craven said.

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