NAPLES — Michael Mir was in the middle of dinner service when the gas started to go out.
It started slowly: The gas started to thin at first as he and his nephew prepared dinner. Then the grills went out. And before he knew it, the restaurant was totally without gas.
Mir, chef and owner of Bha! Bha! Persian Bistro, 847 Vanderbilt Beach Road, was among the thousands of businesses and residences in Collier and Lee counties without gas Friday.
A natural gas line explosion in Lee County caused restaurants and some businesses from Fort Myers to Naples to close this week. More than 8,000 customers were without gas Friday because of the accident. Restaurants were among the hardest hit, and many restaurants were forced to close their doors Thursday night when the gas went out.
Escargot 41, 4339 U.S. 41 N. was one of those restaurants. Jackie Fevrier, the restaurant’s owner, said she needed to turn away customers Thursday night after the gas went out.
Fevrier said that without gas, the restaurant – which serves classic French cuisine – was unable to operate. Fevrier said she didn’t know when the restaurant would be able to open.
“We don’t know if we’re going to have gas tonight,” Fevrier said Friday afternoon. “We open at 5:30 p.m., and if we don’t have the gas, then I have to call everyone again (and cancel). It’s very sad.”
While some restaurants were forced to turn people away, others said Friday they tried to quickly adapt to keep people in the seats.
Mir said once the gas went out, he explained the situation to customers and began serving an improvised slow braised lamb dish. Mir said he put whatever ingredients he had on hand to create a meal for customers.
“It turned out to be an inspiring menu at the end,” Mir said of his Thursday service. “Once that was gone, all we had was dessert.”
Mir said his staff served all the customers that decided to stay.
Lisa Boet, owner of Bamboo Cafe, 755 12th Ave. S., said her restaurant was also able to feed customers thanks to electric-powered convection ovens and portable gas tabletop burners. The restaurant also switched to a table top electric fryer so they could serve French fries on Friday night.
“If this situation continues through this weekend we will be able to continue providing our menu in its entirety to our guest,” Boet said in an e-mail Friday.
Not everyone is able to serve a full menu, though. Cori Carciun, owner of Daniela’s Restaurant, 13500 U.S. 41 N., said she and her sister, Daniela, planned to open their restaurant with a limited menu Friday night.
Carciun said they planned to cook as much as possible on a grill set up in front of the restaurant. But that plan — and the lack of gas to boil water — meant many pasta dishes wouldn’t be on the menu.
Vin DePasquale, owner of Riverwalk, 801 12th Ave. S., and the Dock Restaurant, 845 12th Ave. S., said he doesn’t think the gas outage will have a negative effect on restaurants bottom line this season.
“I think this is shaping up to be a good season, taking into consideration this little hiccup,” he said.
Beth Preddy, spokeswoman for Naples Originals, a consortium of independent restaurant owners, agrees. She said she thinks restaurateurs will make the most of the situation and do whatever it takes to get people in the doors.
“Restaurateurs are ... an adaptive species,” she said. “They’re in it for passion, that’s how I know they’ll adapt. They always seem to. They’re so good at surviving.”
Mir said Friday afternoon he planned to serve a grill menu, but that plan changed around 3 p.m. when his gas came on just two hours before service was set to start. His good fortune was short lived, though. The gas went out again at 7 p.m., just as dinner was picking up.
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