Rest assured — the tree behind the bar is still there.
And, amazingly, not much else appears too different at Sofia’s restaurant in Margate, which reopened last week after repairing the damage it suffered from Hurricane Sandy.
Businesses along Amherst Avenue, one of the areas hardest hit by heavy flooding during the Oct. 29 storm, are in various states of reconstruction and reopening, with contractors working every day to get things back to working order.
Maynard’s Cafe, which saw its outdoor patio washed out by rising water, had its enclosed pavilion up and running within days and the indoor bar not long afterward.
Next door, at Sofia’s, owner Sofia Papastamelos was calling contractors before she was even allowed to re-enter the island in the days after the storm.
“Don’t take any other jobs,” she recalled telling them. “When you come in, you work for me” — and in fact, when she did get into town, “the contractors were already with me.”
She even slept in her office for a few days as she dealt with the aftermath of more than 30 inches of water inside the building.
“Someone said to me, ‘Did you have damage?’” she recalled. “I said, ‘God didn’t spare me out of all of Amherst.’ ... We’ve worked around the clock. We lost every piece of equipment we had.”
Kitchen equipment “was tossed like little toys on top of each other. ... And when the so-called sand gets in here” — it was more like mud, she said — “it goes everywhere. The refrigerators inside and outside were filled with sand.”
What helped, she said, were the floors.
“There’s quite a few hard surfaces,” she said, “You’re standing on marble, travertine and stone. It was an advantage not to have to pull out carpeting and hardwood floors.”
A large part of the staircase had to be replaced, along with wooden paneling at the bottoms of walls, and a bench that used to be near the bar is gone.
“We did whatever needed to be done,” Papastamelos said.
Finally, Sofia’s opened its doors again two weeks after the storm — a soft opening midweek, when the last of the bar equipment was being delivered, and an official reopening Nov. 15, a Friday.
“Nobody thought we were open,” said Peter Kleiner, who does advertising and public relations work for Sofia’s. “I was sitting at the bar by the front desk and heard six calls asking, ‘Are you open?’ ‘Are you open?’”
Said patron Fran Sullivan, of Margate, “She was very lucky, with all the flooding she had. It’s horrible to say they were lucky, but they were. The first night they were open, they didn’t even have beer boxes.”
“All of us are very happy they were able to get back on their feet so fast,” added former Margate schools Superintendent Dominick Potena.
Other restaurants along Amherst are still working their way back, including Steve & Cookie’s by the Bay and Tomatoe’s, where 25 people were working Thursday morning. Rich Richmond, the contractor working at Steve & Cookie’s, said everything that needed to be replaced has been replaced, and they were able to save all of the old, unique molding and booths — even the piano was being cleaned and returned.
“It’s going good,” Richmond said. “I had my doubts at first, but it’s going good.”
Added owner Cookie Till, “The booths, (that’s) big — that’s the character. These walls, we pieced them together. The paneling is all cypress. You can’t find it, so we really wanted to save it. And it’s actually pretty impervious to the elements. It’s good stuff. ... You look at it now, and it’s slowly moving from a construction site back to a restaurant. Actually, more than slowly. Moderately quickly.”
Till said she plans to officially reopen Dec. 7, when the first post-Sandy party is scheduled.
“We don’t want to put it back together exactly the same,” Till said. “Something happened here; you don’t want to forget that.”
The owners of Tomatoe’s were also aiming to reopen late this week.
“Believe it or not, we’re a week to 10 days out,” Karen Sherman, wife of owner Carmen Rone, said late last week.
“Anything four feet or below had to be replaced,” Rone said.
“Walls, wiring, floors, furniture, equipment,” Sherman added.
“Anything you could think of,” Rone said. “Anything that can float, floated.”
“Things you didn’t think could float, floated,” said Sherman. “But we’re very fortunate. We have a lot of good people working here and working hard.”
So where will Amherst Avenue be next year?
“I see it coming back very strong,” Papastamelos said. “I think people will be very nostalgic, people will be rooting for it. It will be an all-new street here.”
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