09/15/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT
For diners, Windows on the World—the restaurant that once perched atop 1 World Trade Center—was an unforgettable experience. But to those who worked amid the clouds, it was something far more. "We were a family," says Magdi Labib, 49, a former wait captain there. "Like any family, we used to fight sometimes, but we always kissed and made up. It was a very special feeling."
That feeling was shattered when 73 workers died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Now Labib and about 50 surviving bartenders, waiters, cooks, dishwashers and cleaners are trying to get it back. With support from New York's Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), an organization that helps restaurant workers, and funds from private investors, they plan to open a new restaurant—which may be named Windows on Tribeca—blocks from Ground Zero. "People won't come because they feel sorry for us," says head waiter Fekkak Mamdouh. "People will come because it's a world-class restaurant, and they'll appreciate us because we are survivors."
The group hopes to raise $3.5 million and sign a lease on an 8,000-sq.-ft. space. But they've already had help from top New York City chefs, who pitched in on the menu (trendy fare, including chicken sushi rolls, port-and-honey-roasted quail, and fried banana with macadamia brittle ice cream), and architect Chris Smith, who helped create Robert De Niro's Nobu. The business will be collectively owned by former Windows employees, many of whom have been unemployed since 9/11. "It sounds corny, but we see the restaurant as a beacon of light," says ROC executive director Saru Jayaraman. Labib and his coworkers couldn't agree more. "It will help us honor our friends who died," he says. "Their souls will be with us there. Their memories will always be in our hearts."