Twenty-eight years after getting their start in business and nearly three years after losing that business to a ruinous flood, Yogesh and Jyotsna Thakker are right back at the beginning.
The early years of running a restaurant are difficult. Now in their 60s, the Thakkers — known in the community as “Yogi” and “Jay” — are reliving many of those challenges, with a few new hurdles.
The Thakkers’ dilapidated Subway restaurant on Devine Street in Columbia became an icon of the devastation wrought by the historic 2015 floods, which washed South Carolina in more than $2 billion worth of damage, The State reported a year after the disaster.
On Oct. 4, 2015, Yogi Thakker awoke to find footage of his flooded restaurant plastered on local and national news stations.
“I was scared,” he said.
“I was shaken,” said the couple’s daughter Payal Thakker, who helps run the restaurant. “What now? It was devastating to see my parents’ reaction that day. How can you pick up the pieces from that?”
When they could return to the building several days after the flood, the Thakkers found water marks near the ceiling.
The Subway had been ravaged, as had a pair of title loan businesses located beside it and across the street. Everything inside the restaurant was lost. Yet the Thakkers were hopeful.
“We thought maybe in six or eight months we’d be back on track after we just do the cleanup and renovation,” Jay said.
It was 32 months before the Thakkers finally reopened their restaurant this July.
Their new Subway sits across Devine Street from its original location, now in a shopping center anchored by Bi-Lo and Staples stores.
The couple was told they couldn’t reopen the restaurant in its old building, which overlooks the steep banks of Gills Creek near the Rosewood Crossing shopping center.
The city is considering using flood recovery grant money to purchase the neighboring title loan property and plans to turn it into permanent green space. But the Subway property wasn’t eligible for the hazard mitigation grant the city is using to buy flood-damaged properties, said Missy Caughman, the city’s flood recovery manager.
The city is using grants to purchase about two dozen residential properties that were destroyed by the flood. It’s possible the first ones could finally be demolished around the flood’s third anniversary, Caughman said.
Since the flood, the Thakkers have continued to pay property taxes on the business they couldn’t run.
Now, they’re paying rent for the first time as business owners.
And they’re preparing to spend $11,000 to tear down their old building.
The city has offered to purchase the land after the demolition, Yogi said. But, he said, the city has offered only $10,500. That’s the current appraised value of the property, Caughman said, and the money to buy the property would not come from flood recovery funds.
The Thakkers have not accepted the city’s offer.
In all, Yogi estimates the family has suffered about $1 million in losses and expenses since the flood.
Even with the restaurant reopened — with a sleek new Subway design — the rebuilding process remains slow. Business has been somewhat sluggish, partly thanks to the less visible storefront.
But regular customers, many of whom have come to their restaurant for years, are slowly finding their way to the new location. Word is making its way around the community that they’re back, the Thakkers said.
“It’s picking up, and I see a lot of the old customers,” said Joyce Goodwin, a longtime employee who rejoined the Thakkers when the restaurant reopened. “They were all hugs and kisses and so glad to see us and ‘I was hoping you would be here!’”
At this point, the Thakkers are “hoping for the best,” Jay said. “We’re trying so hard.”