BUSINESS & ECONOMY

Restaurant Owners Suffer in the Aftermath of Sandy

By Lauren Wanko
NJ Today

It’s lunchtime at the Greek Peak Restaurant in Seaside Heights, but the eatery is empty.

“I typically had six people waiting for pick-up. I had a full dining room,” said Greek Peak owner Fotene Digirolamo.

This season business is down about 40 percent.

“Every day I’m praying that I’ll be here again tomorrow. I’m living day by day. That’s how difficult business has been,” Digirolamo said.

That’s become the new reality for many shore eateries this summer. New Jersey Restaurant Association’s Marilou Halvorson says business is down anywhere from 20 percent to 60 percent. During the summer months, shore restaurants typically do better then those in North Jersey, but not this year.

“This year we’re seeing the opposite. Many of restaurants, I was talking to one in particular that’s up in Chatham saying this is certainly the busiest June/July that they have seen probably ever,” Halverson said. “So I think we’re seeing a shift now where unfortunately our shore businesses are not doing the type of volume they normally do.”

Industry leaders blame the weather and insist vacationers think shore businesses aren’t open since Sandy ravaged the coast. At Shore’s Steakhouse at JR’s Ocean Grill in Seaside Heights, co-owner Jack Stewart thinks other factors are at play.

“I think part of it is that the residential here in Seaside is not completely rebuilt. So I think we’re getting more day-trippers,” said Stewart.

Back at Greek Peak Restaurant, Digiroloma thinks local officials used their resources to promote the boardwalk, but overlooked the Boulevard.

“I go outside and I think it’s a day in the winter, that’s how slow it is outside,” Digiroloma said.

Stewart hopes business will pick up since rides recently opened on Casino Pier, although the Ocean County restaurant owner didn’t have high expectations for the summer.

“A lot of us weren’t sure if we were gonna be repaired and open in time. A local business owner actually put it to me a good way. I told him we were down about 30 percent over Memorial Day weekend. And he said no you were up 70 percent,” Stewart said.

Farther North in Asbury Park, business is down about 20 percent at Langosta Lounge.

“In our world, we depend on the season to get us through off season. And if we don’t build up our resources financially by the end of the summer, it’s tough,” said co-owner Richard Schlossbach.

The Schlossbachs own five restaurants on the boardwalk here in Asbury Park. All of them were wiped out by the superstorm. Pop’s Garage is still under construction. The owners hope that will open within the next two to three weeks so they can monopolize on whatever’s left of the summer tourism season.

“We count down weeks — six weeks left, five weeks left, now we’re at about four solid weeks of business before the lights go off here and everybody leaves, so come as much as you can,” said Marilyn Schlossbach.

It’s a message these restaurant owners hope resonates with vacationers before the summer ends.