ESSEX – Cascades of water from a burst fire-sprinkler pipe were still raining down through all four floors of his Los Charros Cantina when chef and owner Colt Taylor arrived Sunday morning after getting a pre-dawn call from state police.
“I saw a bunch of fire trucks and I went in the door with them and the water was just pouring down,” a despondent Taylor recalled Wednesday as he supervised clean-up of what he estimates could be $1 million in damage that will close the popular 3-year-old Mexican restaurant for at least a month. “It was heartbreaking.”
A cold snap that ruptured a cast-iron coupling on a fourth-floor sprinkler pipe at about 5 a.m. led to tens of thousands of gallons of water permeating the Main Street restaurant and filling the basement shin-deep.
“We’ve got plenty of heat going on but it just froze up,” Taylor said of the sprinkler system, which is tested four times a year. “It damaged all the wood floors, ceilings, walls, insulation, electrical – the whole nine yards. This is a 12,000 square-foot building and every floor is sprinklered so the system has a lot of water in it.”
Walking from top to bottom of the 1984 building which until recently also housed sister restaurant The Essex that he’s moved to Old Saybrook, Taylor pointed out the destruction that was mainly concentrated in the basement and the fine dining area above it.
“This is extremely high-end stuff,” he said as a crew of workers essentially gutted the area and hauled debris to a huge dumpster parked outside. “This wall is hand-done Venetian plaster with 48 individual layers of beeswax over the top. It’s destroyed. These are hand-picked maple floors that have 24-karat gold leaf hand-stenciled trim around the entire floor. A lot of money was put into this from the start.”
The basement prep kitchen also sustained extensive damage, including to refrigerators and other equipment.
Flexible heating and cooling ducts that funneled water from the upper floors remained hanging and ripped open Wednesday.
Part of the restaurant’s sound system, expensive sconces and other lighting were ruined, and Taylor is worried that some artwork may have been damaged.
But even as he continued to absorb the extent of the wreckage, Taylor was already planning how to keep the place alive – an increasing challenge during the roller-coaster pandemic that has at times decimated the restaurant industry’s customer base and workforce.
The main kitchen, dining and bar area adjacent to the fine dining room were mostly spared, he said, and he hopes to have it up and running within a month if possible.
That would return about 40-percent of the restaurant’s capacity, he said, while reopening the entire restaurant will take at least several months.
For now, he is trying to keep his 20-plus employees on the payroll.
“The staff aspect of this and the family aspect of this is pretty deep,” Taylor said, noting that he has 14-month-old twins at home to care for as well as his businesses. “I’m devastated and we’re still scrambling and trying to figure things out. But we’re going to push with every fiber of our being to reopen quickly.”