October 23, 2014

Restaurants

Picking Up The Pieces

Florida's hurricane-battered restaurants chip in and try to move on.

Robert W. Tolf | 12/1/2004
The Florida Restaurant Association's Dine Out for Disaster Relief Day on Oct. 14 provided an initial closure of sorts to all the destruction and desperation of our non-stop hurricane season. Some 1,900 restaurants raised $3.5 million for the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund.

Jackson's in badly battered Pensacola was one of those restaurants despite -- or better said, because of -- the beating it took, closing for a couple of weeks to tear out water-logged carpeting and make repairs. Partners Irv Miller and Barry Phillips had no trouble selling out their 100 reservations for $75 five-course dinners. They raised more than $4,100 for the fund and raised their own spirits in the process -- and those of their peers, grateful to be doing something positive after all the bitter blows.

Jamie's close by and The Fish House were severely damaged, perhaps never to reopen, and a block south was a war zone with two to three feet of water and 50% of the buildings gone and many more sustaining major or minor damage.

Huge portions of the Interstate 10 bridge broke off, and out on Pensacola Beach, isolated and without power, it was sheer desolation with most of the condominiums built before Hurricane Andrew washed out to sea.

But Flounder's Chowder House was open, handing out food to all the emergency workers and residents (non-residents had to pay $5). Generous to the extremes, but it did not receive quite the publicity that Big O's Grill did a few miles across the Alabama border in Gulf Shores. Owner Owen Gray gave away about 14,000 meals to all in distress.

Crabs restaurant was also a survivor, but owner McGuire Martin was not as fortunate. His unique pub on the mainland survived in style, with only the double-decker bus tipped over, but his house on the island was flooded with six feet of water, and his two cars were totaled. While the treasures of a lifetime were put out on the lawn for drying, workers started removing the paneling -- mold starts forming as soon as the water recedes.

McGuire's Irish Pub in Destin fared far better, reopening two days after Ivan roared through. Capt. Anderson's in Panama City Beach was "extremely lucky," as owner Jimmy Patronis Jr. put it when he immediately launched his own Hurricane Ivan Relief, collecting at his restaurant canned goods and non-perishables.

Hamilton's Seafood Restaurant & Lounge across the marina was not nearly as fortunate as the good captain, getting hit by a tornado spinning out of Ivan, severe enough to shut down the restaurant for eight to 10 months, putting 65 of the 70 employees out of work.

The east coast escaped Ivan but had its own battering-ram soakers as New Smyrna Beach lost its beach and the restaurants along with it. Daytona Beach, Melbourne Beach and Indialantic were hard-hit with oceanfront hotels and restaurants forced to shut, but the Yellow Dog Cafe on U.S. 1 in Malabar reopened Oct. 19.

The Ocean Grill in Vero Beach, veteran survivor of other big winds, sent me a postcard reporting that "rumors of our demise are, once again, false. We will reopen Sept. 17th." As manager Beth Eriksen, who started work there a few weeks before the 1984 "Thanksgiving Day Storm" hit the Grill, optimistically put it, "with minimal geographic changes in our already uneven floor." No such humor from its near neighbor to the south, Palm Court, which Gloria Estefan had just purchased. A two-story, 20-foot hole forced evacuation.

North of the Grill, Disney's Sonya's reopened after repairs and some landscaping replacement and so too did Cafe du Soir. But farther south, many structures that were on Hutchinson Island are now in it. The same fate was shared by some on the west coast, in Sanibel and Captiva.

The mighty Breakers in Palm Beach suffered some damage but was closed only a few weeks. Manalapan's Ritz-Carlton lost enough stucco facade and landscaping that it shut down until Thanksgiving.

On Singer Island, some of the condominiums are still shut down, and the tallest one will be closed for another year. The Crab Pot restaurant at the waterway entrance had a 40-foot sailboat pierce its upstairs deck and come to rest just outside its dining room windows.

In Delray Beach and Boca Raton, there was considerable damage from uprooted trees, and as everywhere else up and down the coast and as far inland as Orlando and Winter Park, there were numerous, extended power outages.

In Delray Beach, there was a similar phenomenon to that which took place in Pensacola. Ellie's '50s Diner remained as the sole functioning server of food in the area. With Christmas tree lights strung in the kitchen conserving the emergency generator and a crew of 12 working 11-hour shifts -- without air conditioning but with freezer and refrigerator fully functioning -- 3,218 meals were served to emergency workers along with gallons of hot coffee to anyone who wandered in over seven days.

Tags: Around Florida

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