CU Loan Aids Start-Up Of Restaurant For Former World Trade Center Workers

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When the latest entry to this city's panoply of restaurants opened last week it represented a new kind of monument to the victims of 9/11.

That's because the owners of Colors, a multi-ethnic eatery in Greenwich Village, a short walk from Ground Zero, are all former employees of Windows on the World, the famous restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center that perished on that infamous day.

The owners of the new venture, who include Haitians, Jamaicans, Italians, Mexicans, Thais, Columbians, Mexicans and other ethnics, survived the perilous terrorist attacks of five years ago only because they were not at work that day-unlike their 73 co-workers who were all killed when the famous landmark was destroyed.

The Colors waiters, busboys, bartenders, chefs and dishwashers all have an ownership stake in the cooperative venture that was financed by a group of area lenders, including Lower East Side People's FCU, which used some of the grant money obtained from the World Trade Center Business Recovery Loan Program to help finance the restaurant. "We thought, 'what a great project to use the (funds),'" said Walter Merkle, chief lending officer for the well-known community development credit union.

Financing for the $2.2-million project, which was organized by the Nonprofit Finance Fund and the nonprofit Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York, came in a little short. "Our role was to bridge the funding gap," said Merkle. "They came to us and said, 'can you help?'" he said. "We tried to round up other community development credit unions but unfortunately we were unable to so. But with some other last-minute funding we were able to bridge the gap."

In order to qualify the cooperative restaurant for the $49,500 loan, the group has become a member of the credit union.

The capital was made available from repayments from a $300,000 grant provided to Lower East Side People's FCU from the Empire State Development Organization used to fund World Trade Center recovery projects.

The opening of Colors represented a tribute to the former co-workers at Windows of the World.

At first, they considered building a monument to 9/11, including memorabilia. But the former Windows workers, many of whom suffered from depression and other grief-related illnesses, agreed that was too morbid. So they agreed on a new restaurant that would feature favorite dishes of their late co-workers.

Under the cooperative plan, the workers will own 20% of the venture and everyone will earn at least $13.50 an hour, double the minimum wage for New York restaurant workers.

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