Pommes Frites manager Jordan Cezar on East Village explosion: ‘Traumatizing!’

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Massive fire engulfs a cluster of buildings in the East Village including the popular Pommes Frites (top photo), which has an all-Filipino management and staff. Pommes Frites photo by Elton Lugay

Massive fire engulfs a cluster of buildings in the East Village including the popular Pommes Frites (top photo), which has an all-Filipino management and staff. Pommes Frites photo by Elton Lugay

By Cristina DC Pastor

It was around 3 p.m. of March 26, and Jordan Cezar, shift manager at Pommes Frites, was about to take his lunch at one corner of the restaurant when he experience a really loud explosion. He felt the room shake, and the poster décors on the walls and the kitchen pans and bottled dips on the shelves came falling down.

“It was so strong it felt like we were raised, parang umangat yung floor,” he recalled when interviewed by The FilAm.

The lights went out, smoke was coming into the restaurant, and people were screaming “Everyone get out, everyone get out.” Pommes Frites’ three Filipino employees, including Jordan, 31, rushed out of the restaurant and dashed into the cold weather wearing only summer shorts and T-shirts.

That explosion in the East Village resulted in injuries to 25 people, according to news reports. Two remain missing.

Outside, Jordan and his two workers, Joey Vedoral and Joseph Sumpay, watched the commotion — firefighters hosing down the buildings and New Yorkers not knowing which way to go — from a block away. They witnessed how the ball of fire has totally destroyed their place of work, their ‘home.’

Pommes Frites, an East Village favorite among tourists and locals, has an all-Filipino staff. It specializes in Belgian fries served in a variety of dipping sauces. Owners Suzanne Levinson and Omer Shorshi, who introduced the specialty eatery to New York about 20 years ago, like Filipinos “because they said we are hardworking and easy to get along with, and they look at us a family,” manager Ivan Roque said in a 2011 interview with The FilAm.

Jordan Cezar: ‘What if it was us? We work with cooking oil’

Jordan Cezar: ‘What if it was us? We work with cooking oil’

Jordan said, “I was crying, parang hysterical. It could have been us. What if it was us? We work with cooking oil, all of us could have been burned. It was traumatizing.”

The responsibility to make sure everyone was unhurt fell on Jordan’s shoulders, being the shift manager. The manager, Ivan Roque, had left for the day, and 3 p.m. was the start of Jordan’s shift. A restaurant trainee – an Indonesian man – had also left before the explosion occurred.

“I made sure everyone got out, my workers, the 10 or so customers,” said the Caloocan-born Jordan, who has been working with the restaurant for about seven years.

Pommes Frites took a massive blow. The explosion, according to reports, was traced to a gas leak in the sushi restaurant next door.

Said Jordan: “We’re Building 123, the sushi restaurant next to us is Building 121.”

“For a minute, I spaced out ako. Parang natulala ko. I was watching the whole world turn around me,” Jordan recalled.

He promptly called the restaurant owners who arrived in about 15 minutes, bringing them coats and thicker shirts. Then he called his father in Maryland and a sister, also working in New York, to assure them he was fine. A bit shaken but otherwise OK.

And then he realized his back pack, containing his ID cards, credits cards and other important documents, was eaten up in flames.

“Basta walang nasaktan, OK lang,” he said.

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