By Lauren Wanko
It’s heating up in the kitchen this season. At Woody’s Ocean Grille in Sea Bright, executive chef Onofrio Moscato hired five new staffers. He says business is better than last summer.
“We’re seeing more of a tourist crowd from North Jersey, into Staten Island, New York, even from southern states,” Moscato said.
The restaurant’s owner launched Sea Bright Rising, a Sandy recovery non-profit. Moscato attributes the boost in business to their outreach efforts.
“What they’re saying is, ‘We heard what you did and we want to bring the business back to you,'” Moscato said.
Across the street, rebuilding continues on Ocean Avenue. Anjelica’s Restaurant, a fixture in the Monmouth County community, was wiped out by the storm.
As owner Raymond Lena rebuilds, he notices neighboring businesses owners aren’t.
“As you see along the strip a lot of these places aren’t open. It’s disheartening and it’s sad. I mean, I know this kid very well who was here, and I know the kid from the liquor store, and the guy who owned the gym and stuff. They’re all gone. They’re never coming back,” Lena said.
New businesses are now replacing storefronts decimated by Sandy, like Jake’s Surf Shop.
“We saw that as an opportunity for us to kind of start a new business here in the town,” said Jake’s Surf Shop owner Jake O’Donnell.
Nearby, Alice’s Restaurant celebrated its grand opening three weeks ago. Employee Shuana Harten notices more locals than tourists.
“A lot of people just don’t even come around because they’re like, ‘Oh yeah that town was hit really hard,'” said Harten.
Monmouth County Director of Tourism Jeanie DeYoung said, “The greatest challenge to the tourism industry in Monmouth County, and I would say statewide, is the fact that we did experience Superstorm Sandy. There are other states trying to take advantage of our visitors and saying that, ‘The Jersey Shore is not ready and they’re not gonna be ready for a while, so come visit us.'”
Still, DeYoung says her department received 6,000 requests for vacation information packets — up 1,000 from the year before.
“I think people wanted to make sure that Monmouth County was gonna be ready to receive visitors,” DeYoung said.
Tourism is a $2.1 billion industry in Monmouth County.
“Probably — and I throw this out there — a number of over $1,000 per resident here would be affected if we did not have a tourism season,” said Monmouth County Director of the Board of Chosen Freeholders Thomas Arnone.
DeYoung says some shore towns are reporting lower beach badge sales this season because schools were in session later than usual this year. And this summer’s weather has been far from perfect.
Clearly Mother Nature isn’t cooperating this season. In Belmar, the beach and boardwalk are empty because of the rain and almost all of the shops are closed.
Farther north, at Keansburg Amusement Park and Runaway Rapids Water Park, co-owner William Gehlhaus is all too familiar with the realities of relying on good weather for good business.
“On the nice days, it’s the same and better on rainy days of course it’s rainy days so, but because we’ve had the rainy days we’re down a little bit,” Gehlhaus said.
Still Gehlhaus says soda sales are up 10 to 15 percent. And since Sandy hammered the coast, every success is that much sweeter.