Long Island Waterfront Restaurants Reopening After Sandy

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone joined Fire Island business leaders in Ocean Beach on Friday, May 10, 2013.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone joined Fire Island business leaders in Ocean Beach on Friday, May 10, 2013.

Rachel’s Waterside Grill on Freeport’s famed Nautical Mile celebrated its grand reopening about six months after Superstorm Sandy swamped the popular eatery. CJ’s Bar and Grill, one of the best known pubs in downtown Ocean Beach on Fire Island, has meanwhile been rushing to open its doors by Memorial Day weekend.

Both restaurants’ owners joined public officials in recent news conferences declaring that the waterfront tourist destinations they call home are back in business—although reconstruction may not be complete until closer to the unofficial start of summer in cases such as CJ’s. The comeback is the latest sign LI is not giving up after the catastrophe.

“It was hectic, and crazy, and busy, and fun,” Ivan Sayles, owner of Rachel’s Waterside Grill, optimistically told the Press while describing the April 26 grand reopening as an adventure. “It is like opening a brand new place. Business was phenomenal.”

Restaurants re-opening in hard-hit areas include Fatfish Wine & Bar Bistro in Bay Shore, Captain Bill’s Restaurant and Catering also in Bay Shore, View Restaurant in Oakdale, E B Elliot’s Restaurant in Freeport and in Long Beach: The Cabana; West End Pizza; East End Pizza; and Whale’s Tale, according to the Long Island Restaurant Association.

In the days and weeks after Sandy, it wasn’t clear how many local businesses that lost inventory and equipment to flooding would reopen. Nearly seven months later, the discouraging sight of debris has been replaced with ‘open’ signs on business doors.

“It has been inspiring to walk these streets where flood waters would have been at our waist six months ago,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said at a May 10 news conference in Ocean Beach. “All of these business opening and ready for the tourism season is nothing short of a miracle.”

Relief can be detected in the voice of the several business owners who have recently reopened their stores.

“There was three feet of water in this building,” said Chris Mercogliano, who owns CJ’s, the 40-year-old bar that was initially believed to be gone forever after Sandy. “We had to completely gut it; all new electric, all new plumbing. It was basically a brand new place. There’s not much left of the old place now.”

He and several other FI business and civic leaders launched the Revive Fire Island campaign to raise money and awareness of the barrier island’s comeback.

“It’s been a long, hard struggle, but as you can see we’re open for business,” said Ocean Beach Mayor James Mallott, who owns The Albatross bar. “We want everyone to know that we are here.”

Back in Freeport, where the local chamber of commerce told reporters that some Nautical Mile establishments will not return this season, the optimism was tinged with harsh realities.

The future of Rachel’s Waterside Grill became dimmer after the storm when government aid was not provided for the desolated business. But a $50,000 grant from National Grid provided well needed help to get the restaurant back on its feet, said Sayles.

Peter’s Clam Bar on Long Beach Road is among the local shops mounting a comeback after Sandy assaulted the eatery. Dominick DeSimone, the bar’s co-owner, describes the months after the hurricane as agonizing.

“[The work has been] very heart breaking,” he said, noting that they reopened despite renovations being one third completed. “We’re waiting for some aid, but there’s no aid at this point.”

Kurt Smith, owner of Flair House clothing store in Ocean Beach, said Sandy forced him to leave his winter job to oversee the rebuilding of his boutique.

“I was pretty much here all winter,” he said. “Seven days a week since February; just making sure that the finished work was done and get everything opened up close to on time. I opened up a week later than I usually do.”

Smith, like other small business owners who rely on a short window of warm weather on LI to draw customers, is banking on patrons returning from bygone seasons.

“Hopefully people will come back to and enjoy the Island again,” he said. “Probably my favorite thing to see is when people come here and they find out what it is and then they fall in love with it for the first time. It’s kind of like a tag line; once you come here you pretty much never leave.”