Central Michel Richard general manager David Hale said he was already home and in the shower when he got the call about Tuesday's bizarre accident in which a black sedan hopped the curb on Pennsylvania Avenue and traveled a "football field's worth of sidewalk" to smash into the restaurant's patio and facade. He imagined the worst.
Because he couldn't get a clear sense of the situation via phone, Hale started to create his own mental scenarios as he drove back to Central from his home in Mount Pleasant. He feared the car had plowed through the window near the front lounge, injuring countless guests. He envisioned a smoking vehicle dripping gasoline or some other flammable liquid, just waiting to ignite.
"It wasn't quite the worst-case scenario," Hale said after he surveyed the scene Tuesday evening, "but obviously it wasn't great.”
Indeed, four people were injured after the accident, including a 2-year-old child. D.C. police did not have an update on the victims' conditions on Wednesday afternoon, but Hale said he was hopeful for their "speedy recovery" after early reports described some of their injuries as "life-threatening." The accident, police said, is still under investigation.
The general manager was pleased by the response of all involved: emergency crews, staff members, patrons and even the landlord, who sent out a team last night to power-wash the area and build a plywood barrier for the broken window pane near the coat-check, where the car had rammed into the building. One customer who had left the dining room to attend to the injured later called back to pay the neglected tab, Hale said.
Not everyone was so calm, of course. "There were a few guests shaken by the sight," Hale said. Central's staff, the GM added, went table to table to inform diners what had just happened outside.
"They were very accommodating," Hale said.
The general manager declined to estimate the damage until insurance adjusters had finished their work. But he said that aside from the broken window pane (and its bracket), the restaurant lost only some outdoor furniture and plants. Central had just launched its patio service in April, Hale said, and it would continue serving customers there today, even though the restaurant was down a table and the outdoor service station had "suffered quite a bit of damage."
"Functionally, it's fine," Hale said. "It just doesn't look as good as when I bought it" two months ago.
Hale said he spoke with the celebrity chef behind Central last night and today, keeping Michel Richard informed of the situation at his bistro. Richard is in New York City, working on his latest projects, Pomme Palais and Villard Michel Richard. "I think he was excited to come back and support us,” Hale said.
The general manager said that the staff at Central is mostly concerned about the victims of the freakish accident. "The biggest thing for us is knowing … that everyone is recovering," Hale said.