News & Gossip

Lynn Wagenknecht, Owner of the Odeon

Left without power or phone service, a TriBeCa institution regains its footing. While its annex across the street has folded, The Odeon is thriving. Here's Lynn's story in her own words.

Tribeca pioneer: Lynn Wagenknecht has owned the Odeon for 21 years.

Wagenknecht was on her way to the restaurant when the World Trade Center was struck.

Even before the buildings fell, people were running from the area and coming in with shrapnel in their arms and it was very, very upsetting for everyone and confusing. Our general manager then made the decision — when I was en route — to evacuate everyone, which was the right thing to do. He basically locked the doors and that's how we left the Odeon for that day and the following day.

Wagenknecht and her managers were allowed to return Thursday to secure Odeon, because a loss of power had wiped out the electric door locks.

We were basically walking around checking things with flashlights. ...Everything refrigerated pretty much had to be thrown out and cleaned from floor to ceiling. It was disturbing — the air was extremely bad — as people know.

We called up the staff and said if anyone wanted to work, we were going to take a group in and start the process of throwing things out. We had five or six people taking out hundreds of bags of food that needed to be refrigerated.

By Monday, they were allowing deliveries if there were invoices. So we opened with a very reduced menu. We pared down to our classic items with a few changes like an apple pie. We focused on the things we thought were not only practical, but that people tend to think of as food they rely on in everyday eating.

One of our waiters had a baby girl around the time of all of this, and I promised him we would celebrate her 21st birthday there.

Our primary concern was getting everyone back to work. Restaurants are a very money-in, money-out type of business. When you have a setback, even for a few days, that can really affect the whole capabiltiy of keeping your bills paid and your employees on salary.

Neighborhood fixture: Wagenknecht (here with friends) hosted a packed "Welcome Back to Tribeca Party" with Paper magazine last week.

The neighborhood was terrific. They were so happy to see us open, even with that limited menu. People in the building brought big groups in the first night and made an effort to come each night we were open, to show their support. You felt you were sort of doing it for the neighborhood, which was great, and of course it was a mutually beneficial support system.

The Odeon has sold off its bar annex, cut some staff hours and still has no phone service, but is otherwise fully operational. Closing the restaurant was never a consideration for Wagenknecht.

I suppose I just felt, what are the other options? As has been said by other people, why should we accept someone else determining what we can and cannot do as a living, as a way of life? Of course I was aware of that business might be slower, but so be it. Then you operate at whatever level of business you can afford to and just go forward. ...One of our waiters had a baby girl around the time of all of this, and I promised him we would celebrate her 21st birthday there.

Getting back to work and trying to normalize things helps, but one thing about being in TriBeCa — even though there's a strong sense of community and all of that is very special, there also is an added stress of basically facing it every day.

I think more than ever people need a place to relax. There's no reason for the good times and enjoyable moments in your day to be any less. ...We're just trying to help people be in a place where they can forget about their own — and the world's — worries for a bit.