Cheeseburgers in a Storm-Battered Paradise

Lucy Buffett, Jimmy’s sister, fires up the grill to support her Alabama community in the wake of Hurricane Sally

Photo: Courtesy of LuLu's

Lucy Buffett, left, serves burgers and drinks at LuLu’s in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

The power had been out since Tuesday at LuLu’s restaurant in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Debris littered the sprawling bayside deck. A giant palm rested diagonally against the roof. Hurricane Sally, a slow-moving Category 2 storm that made landfall near Gulf Shores early Wednesday morning, had flooded homes and brought the city more than twenty inches of rain. But Lucy Buffett wasn’t about to let it take her down, too.

“Ever since I was a kid growing up in Mobile, we’ve had hurricanes,” says Buffett, owner of LuLu’s and a younger sister of the musician Jimmy Buffett. “My daddy taught us that it’s our job to set the tone. We get back to work and we clean up.”

For Buffett, that meant driving to Publix early Saturday morning, loading her cart with as much hamburger meat as she could buy, and bringing it back to LuLu’s. There, she lit the flame of her propane grill. On social media, she announced she’d be serving free cheeseburgers for lunch all weekend, and first responders and work crews would be ushered to the front of the line.

photo: Courtesy of LuLu’s
Buffett gave priority to first responders and work crews.

By 11 a.m., more than 200 people had wrapped around Buffett’s canary-yellow restaurant, waiting for burgers and Cokes. “There’s hardly anything open around here because there’s no power, so this is a big deal for people,” Buffett says. “I hope the warmth of the food, the comfort, reassures them that things will get back to normal.” To Buffett, a ray of light shone through Sally’s storm clouds: “Times like these bring out our best,” she says. “I notice more kindness right now than division. I hope we can sustain that as long as possible.”