Some Gwinnett businesses kept serving through the storm

Why today? Jessica Hachat thought.

She knew that snow and ice were on the ground and that everyone from her friends to the governor were warning her to stay off of the roads. But Hachat’s beloved dog had labored breathing and she wouldn’t get up.

After months of going through chemo treatments for Kayla, her boxer, Hachat couldn’t just sit at home, like much of metro Atlanta, riding out the historic ice storm. She had to get Kayla to the vet.

“I felt really helpless,” the Lawrenceville woman said. “When I felt like she needed it most, we didn’t have anywhere to go.”

Thankfully, not every business closed for the storm.

So on Wednesday, Hachat loaded Kayla up in her father’s four-wheel drive truck and carefully carried her through the icy parking lot to Blue Pearl Georgia Veterinary Specialists.

“They were definitely on a bare-bones staff, but we got what we needed,” said Hachat, who lost her ailing pet the next day but was comforted to know that she had done everything she could for Kayla. “It meant a lot to me that they were there for her.

“I would have always wondered, if I had not taken her, if there was something that I could do,” she added. “I’m really thankful that they were there for people like us, when we needed them.”

From packed Waffle Houses feeding National Guardsmen to Kroger locations open to sell diapers, this winter storm did not shut down everything in Gwinnett.

Everyone pitching in

At the Hilton Atlanta Northeast hotel in Peachtree Corners, staffers knew that the storm could make it nearly impossible to replace people at the end of shifts. But with more than 200 rooms booked, plenty of people were depending on them for service.

So Bruce Johnson, along with about 20 more employees, packed some clothes and a toothbrush Tuesday and prepared to stay for a few nights.

“We had to scale back our services a little bit,” Johnson said. “It was everyone pitching in where they were needed.”

The general manager took a turn at laundry duty and some sales staffers took to the kitchen, Johnson said. With everyone staying at the hotel eating at the Hilton’s restaurant, a nearby company calling in to order boxed lunches for its employees and people ordering room service, the kitchen staff had to stay up until 1 p.m., he said.

But they had comfy beds to sleep in once the orders slowed down.

“There was a sense that we were all in this together,” Johnson, the hotel’s marketing director, said not just of the spirit of employees but also the guests. “It was a great atmosphere.”

The staff at Blue Pearl, the veterinary office where Hachat took Kayla during the storm, are used to staying open 24 hours. Staffers were warned about the possibility they would be stuck, so they brought extra clothes and took cat naps on the couch, said spokeswoman Kimberly DeMeza.

In addition to the animals that the hospital cares for overnight, DeMeza said, the clinic saw many people bringing in their pets in an emergency.

“We were prepared to hunker down and do our jobs, which is to care for our patients,” DeMeza said. “These doctors and nurses are sort of used to running on adrenaline, so they are used to pushing through.”

‘A service to the community’

While the South isn’t known for snow and ice, it is known for Waffle House, a 24-hour-a-day tradition.

So the Norcross-based company activated its own storm center to make sure that locations from Louisiana to Virginia were open to serve.

While some restaurants ran out of milk, bread and eggs, Waffle House’s Pat Warner said the restaurants were well supplied.

While some locations in Augusta had to have generators rushed in when the power went out, Warner said there was no disruption to the Gwinnett spots.

“It’s all about taking care of the customers and the associates,” Warner said, adding that the company put some of its staffers up in hotels near their locations to make sure they could get to work.

“We are typically the only thing open, so we are a lot busier than we usually are on a Thursday afternoon,” he said, adding that the company has prided itself on being there for the community 24/7 since it opened in the ’50s.

“That’s a big role we play in the community, to be there for folks,” Warner said, adding that even when people stayed home due to the inclement weather, cooks were slinging hash and serving coffee to first responders trying to keep warm.

By the time cabin fever set in, Warner saw people arriving on foot, and the parking lots filled up with ATVs.

“They had to get out. They were hungry and they didn’t want to drive,” he said of the customers who walked to the store. “We see it as a service to the community, and we had plenty of hash browns. …

“That would be a real crisis,” he joked, “if we ran out of hash browns.”