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A water main breaks, and the dream of their new restaurant goes under water

Chivonn Anderson and Adam Volk signed the lease for their now-flooded restaurant on July 5. And yes, their insurance policy is good, they say.

Chivonn Anderson and her business partner, Adam Volk (right), chat with fellow restaurateur Peter Woolsey (left) outside their future restaurant, Redcrest Kitchen, at Sixth and Bainbridge Streets in Philadelphia on Monday. Woolsey owns Bistrot La Minette next door.
Chivonn Anderson and her business partner, Adam Volk (right), chat with fellow restaurateur Peter Woolsey (left) outside their future restaurant, Redcrest Kitchen, at Sixth and Bainbridge Streets in Philadelphia on Monday. Woolsey owns Bistrot La Minette next door.Read moreMICHAEL KLEIN / Staff

On July 5, when Chivonn Anderson and Adam Volk signed the lease for a restaurant at Sixth and Bainbridge Streets in South Philadelphia, their lawyer warned them to be sure their insurance policy was in force that day.

“God forbid, there’s a flood or fire,” he said, according to Anderson and Volk, who are planning to open a second Philadelphia location of Redcrest, their chicken restaurant, on the former site of Bainbridge Street Barrel House.

Not three weeks later came the flood, as a 30-inch cast-iron water main ruptured beneath the street outside early Sunday. Water filled the basement and rose into the first floor.

Now, “instead of our opening being in six to nine weeks, it’s probably more like six to nine months,” Anderson said Monday.

The flood, which has closed Sixth Street between South and Fitzwater Streets for the foreseeable future, also shuttered other businesses, including Emmy Squared restaurant at Fifth and Bainbridge Streets, which is expected to be closed much of the week.

About 100 people lost power from the break, a Peco spokesperson said Monday. All but three properties’ electricity has since been restored, and the remaining residences will regain power once it is deemed safe, the spokesperson said.

Restaurants are particularly vulnerable to flood damage because their food storage and refrigeration systems typically are kept in the basement. Once water seeps into a walk-in refrigerator, the circuits can be destroyed and food is unsalvageable. Peter Woolsey, who owns Bistrot La Minette next door, said he lost all his food when the power was cut. “We only had an inch and a half of water” in the basement, he said.

Philadelphia, like other old Northern cities, is crisscrossed with large, century-old water mains that break down in the heat of the summer, the cold of the winter, and the vibration of traffic overhead. A cause has not been determined for the rupture of the main at Sixth and Bainbridge Streets, which was installed in 1891, said Philadelphia Water Department spokesperson Brian Rademaekers.

» READ MORE: Water main break floods Queen Village neighborhood

The average age of water mains in Philadelphia’s water infrastructure is 76 years old, Rademaekers said. In February, a 48-inch main erupted in Hunting Park, causing mass flooding and requiring 11 people to be rescued by watercraft.

A 48-inch main cracked near Sansom and Juniper Streets in Center City in June 2018, flooding buildings and shutting down the 1300 block of Sansom Street for 11 months. The rupture of an 8-inch main in January 2020 at Third and Arch Streets closed the intersection for about three months.

Rademaekers said it was too early to provide an accurate timeline for repair or a monetary estimate of damages caused by the break, which fell between the Queen Village and Bella Vista neighborhoods. Water Department staff has reached out to available property owners and pumped out basements, he said in an email. “Our goal right now is to make the site safe for workers and people in the neighborhood, and we understand the frustration for impacted residents and businesses,” Rademaekers said.

About 12:30 a.m. Sunday, residents’ fire alarms began sounding and the water pressure dropped. The street’s surface actually lifted from the gusher, which flowed mainly east along Bainbridge and north on Sixth, said Michael Harris, executive director of the South Street-Headhouse District, which was helping the city’s Office of Emergency Management reach out to affected residents and businesses.

Marissa Taffer, a marketing consultant who lives in an apartment near the intersection, said she awoke to an alarm. After it didn’t shut off, she said she called the fire department. “The dispatcher told me to stay put,” she said. When she awakened at 7 a.m., she saw the damage and the work crews from various city agencies.

By Monday, water and gas service was beginning to return. Many properties still had no electricity, and by Monday afternoon, Peco was unable to provide a timeline for its return.

In February 2018, Volk opened his first Philadelphia location of Redcrest at 11th Street and East Passyunk Avenue in South Philadelphia, and later brought in Anderson as a partner to expand the brand. They had been scouting University City for a second location when their real-estate agent, Vincent Stipo, suggested the Bainbridge Street Barrel House, which closed in June 2020.

Volk and Anderson are planning Redcrest Kitchen, a bar-restaurant with far greater ambitions than their takeout shop on East Passyunk Avenue. Volk, who previously opened a Redcrest in Brooklyn, now also operates a bar-restaurant called Esme in Brooklyn.

But with the basement likely needing to be gutted and reoutfitted because of the flood, “we could find another location to open before this one does,” Volk said.