Despite her restaurant suffering extensive damage - toppled appliances, ruined walls, shorted wiring - as a result of Hurricane Sandy, Likie Nika, owner of popular Longport eatery Ozzie's Luncheonette, expected to get the place up and running quickly. Boy, was she wrong.
Recovery was supposed to take a matter of weeks, Nika said, but it ended up taking months. Nevertheless, since the restaurant finally reopened May 15, it has felt like nothing ever happened.
"It's been absolutely like a love fest," Nika said. "It's good to see all of my customers. They're all back. Everybody's happy to be here. Ozzie's - it's a tradition."
Nika, who rode out the storm down the street from Ozzie's in her Longport home, stopped by the restaurant the day after the storm passed, expecting the worst - and she got it. There were sand piles and debris strewn throughout the building. The walls were saturated 4 feet off the ground, and nearly everything but the restaurant's tables and chairs needed replacing.
An insurance adjuster came by to evaluate the scene a few weeks after the storm, and Nika filed her insurance claim shortly thereafter. Expecting to have start-up money and the settlement in hand soon, Nika began repairs - but the claim stalled. Weeks, then months, passed.
By the time Nika finally received her settlement at the end of March, the equipment she needed to get Ozzie's operational was on back-order from the factory.
But while Nika's insurance experience was a disappointment, her staff was anything but. Her crew worked hard getting the place back in running order, cleaning and helping with repairs, and every member stuck through to reopening.
Fourth-year waitress Maria Bella - whom Nika praised as a whiz with a spackling knife - said she couldn't wait to get back to work.
"I never thought I would say it, but I love working," Bella said. "Now I work seven days, doubles, to make up for that lost (time). And make up for the lost exercise."
The restaurant was opened in 1948 by Ozzie Lenzsch and quickly became a shore destination. The business changed hands several times over the years before Nika bought it 12 years ago.
Ozzie's, which is open from
7 a.m. to 3 p.m., is best known for its breakfast, which covers the gamut of what's expected of a South Jersey diner. Its sandwiches and salads are popular on the lunch side of things, and the average meal is between $8 and $12 without drink.
Rabbi Aaron Gabor, Beth Sanders-Rabinowitz and Andrea Zakheim-Poetsch, all of Margate's Beth Judah synagogue, recently convened at Ozzie's for a business meeting, much as they have many times before.
Zakheim-Poetsch, who said she most enjoys Ozzie's omelets, said it's the homey feel of the restaurant that keeps her coming.
"I've been coming a long time," Zakheim-Poetsch said. "You almost feel like you're in your own kitchen, you know? It just has that feeling."
Sanders-Ranibowitz, who has been eating at Ozzie's since she was a kid, echoed Zakheim-Poetsch's sentiment, saying there's no substitute for enjoying lunch with the sea breeze blowing by.
"When the weather's nice, to be able to sit outside, close to home, right near the beach - there's nothing better," Sanders-Rabinowitz said.
Ozzie's has been a Longport tradition for more than 60 years, and if the success the business has had since reopening a month ago is any indication, that's not likely to change anytime soon.
Still, while Ozzie's is back to being much the same as it always was, Nika is making one minor change.
"I have to say, I'm upping," Nika said. "I'm upping my insurance."
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