BY EILEEN STUKANE | Just as a kitchen is the heart of a home, Malibu Diner has become a central gathering place as Chelsea slowly recovers from the bomb that exploded near 131 W. 23rd St. early Saturday evening — so close to the 14-story Selis Manor (135 W. 23rd St.), where the 200+ visually impaired residents were required to stay inside in the explosion’s aftermath.
However, businesses were given opposite instructions by authorities. They were told to evacuate, and at Malibu Diner (163 W. 23rd St., btw. Sixth & Seventh Aves.), owners Alex Grimpas and Jose Collardo were forced to close down. The community needs its beating heart however, and on Sunday morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo stood under Malibu’s awning and said it must open.
A bomb was not be able to break the long relationship between Malibu Diner and Selis Manor. Barbara Police, a resident of Selis who had worked in the administration of Governor Mario Cuomo, personally entreated the mayor and governor on Sunday, and with the combined efforts of Malibu Diner and the American Red Cross of Greater New York, 200 people at Selis Manor received Sunday brunch. In fact, Malibu has been serving breakfast to Selis Manor residents for three years. “We know almost everybody by name,” Collardo said. “I know where they live, and a lot of them have my cellphone number.”
Alex Grimpas added, “Yes, we do business here but we’re also here to give back to the community.” Three years ago he and Selis Manor decided upon a voucher system that would allow Malibu to provide at-cost breakfasts for residents. Grimpas thought he would be delivering the meals — but it turned out that residents wanted reasons to leave their apartments and socialize. Being blind or visually impaired, they know the number of steps they must walk to travel from Selis Manor to the doors of Malibu, and Grimpas and Collardo offer a welcoming environment and nutritious meals of fruit, yogurt, and eggs, among other selections.
Responding to the need to deliver, now that residents had to remain in their homes, the owners worked with the Red Cross to get breakfasts to Selis Manor on Sunday and today, Monday. “The Red Cross does pay for the meals, but we give them a price that is very, very low for 200 breakfasts,” Grimpas said. The owners also decided to donate food to the emergency workers and responders on the scene, and to allow them use of their bathroom facilities. When Chelsea Now visited Malibu Diner, boxed meals were being carried out by Red Cross volunteers.
“When there is a resident that is impacted that’s when the Red Cross comes into play,” said Uikki O’Bryant, Senior Disaster Program Manger of the American Red Cross of Greater New York, as she organized her volunteers. “We are helping address the emergency management staff that are on the scene, making sure they’re hydrated. This is what the Red Cross does. We come at the time of need. We’re really trying to represent the community, neighbors helping neighbors.”
Josh Lockwood, Regional CEO of the American Red Cross in Greater New York, who was visiting the area, explained, “Immediately after the event part of our role is to support the first responders with meals, and water, and mental health counseling if needed; so we’re nearby almost immediately providing services to the policemen, FBI, fire fighters, anyone in need. Subsequent to that we worked with our partners in the city and identified any residents who were in need of meals because perhaps their cafeteria had been damaged, so we’ve been supplying breakfast, lunch, dinner, to residents as long as needed. We were happy to connect with Malibu Diner and get some meals from them to provide to residents, who seem very resilient and very full of gratitude as well.”
As the community begins to normalize, it seemed the Red Cross would be leaving today. Since Saturday’s blast, 50 rotating Red Cross volunteers had been helping Chelsea residents. On this day, five volunteers were on the scene. “We’re taking our cues from the city,” Lockwood said. “Since we’re supporting the city’s efforts, they’ll tell us when it’s safe.” Lockwood was accompanying NY State Senator Brad Hoylman. Both had just visited Selis Manor. “Thankfully no one was injured there,” said Hoylman, “mostly just windows blown out. There were some near misses, though. The daughter of one of the residents was about to walk some dogs, but she didn’t put her foot out the door, thank goodness, and avoided a catastrophe.”
Hoylman praised the city’s responders. “I’m extremely impressed by our uniform servicers and first responders,” he said. “The fact that there was no loss of life — we should be grateful, and everyone from our first responders to our NYPD, Fire Department, Emergency Office of Management, Bellevue Hospital, really worked in concert. That night [of the explosion] I really saw the best of New York City.”
At the Malibu Diner, Grimpas reflected on events. “Soon we’ll come back up to normality. People love when they see that we’re here, to be with them, to help the community. Every day we have to be thankful that we’re alive and able to enjoy this beautiful life. Really this is a lesson for us, an opportunity for us to come closer, for people in Chelsea to come closer, and we are here for them.”