For years, many locals have planned their Thanksgivings around a trip to Steve & Cookie’s By the Bay in Margate, where they would enjoy their turkey and stuffing in a family-like setting.
This year, though, the very bay that forms part of the restaurant’s name forced its way inside the restaurant, as well as every other restaurant up and down the stretch of Amherst Avenue.
Now, Steve & Cookie’s owner Cookie Till and a team of contractors are working every day to get the business back up and running by early December. But take a look inside — where water almost reached the second level — and you will see they have a lot of work ahead of them.
“We’ve been removing water-damaged areas for what, the last week?” Rich Richmond, of Richmond Brothers Builders in Margate, said late in the week following the storm. “I don’t know how to word it. It’s unique stuff we’re tearing out. And we’re going to redo it in a unique way.”
Inside, the building looks like new construction — bare floors, wall beams exposed, plastic sheeting everywhere. The bar booths have been removed, and it doesn’t look like a business that will be open for Thanksgiving.
“We’re thinking early December,” said Till, sitting outside to have a sip of coffee as crews walked in and out of the restaurant. “We were really shooting for Thanksgiving, but the more we opened up, the more we uncovered. We didn’t want to risk it, we wanted to do it right. We didn’t want, come summer, to have the walls starting to grow mold.”
There were 500 people with reservations for Thanksgiving this year, Till said, “And we called every one.”
Among those with reservations were the Richmonds themselves, said Rich’s wife, Kim, of Margate.
“It’s kind of sad,” she said. “We’ve had Thanksgiving there on and off for years, ever since it opened. You get to know everybody, it’s like a big, happy family. You get to see your neighbors, all the local people you know.”
Of course, having it at home won’t be too much of a problem this year — Till is staying with them after the storm also damaged her home, so she will be on hand to help with the cooking.
Another Thanksgiving regular is Rush Haines, of Philadelphia and Ocean City.
“Oh, God, maybe 10 years, off and on?” Haines said when asked how long he’d been spending the holiday there. “Steve & Cookie’s is a really special place. It really is a family feeling. It’s disappointing. I feel bad that they have so much damage.”
The immediate, noticeable level of damage inside Steve & Cookie’s was misleading, Till said.
“At first I was like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s going to be months and months,’” Till said. “Then I got in here and started cleaning up and I got a little bit more optimistic. Then I started opening the walls up and I said, ‘Oh, no!’”
All the restaurants up and down what was once called the Barbary Coast suffered major damage.
Over at Tomatoe’s, workers also helped fix up a business that was stripped to the bare bones.
“Anything that touched seawater has to be replaced,” owner Carmen Rone said. “Any plug, wire, anything in the water has to be cut and rewired. It’s a total gut, basically, from 4 feet down.”
Rone’s big holiday is the Christmas season, and getting up and running by then “is a matter of getting equipment and furniture back from the manufacturer,” Rone said. “All of our stuff was custom. … It’ll definitely be no later than New Year’s. We will be open New Year’s Eve. That’s a given.”
Next door at Maynard’s, things were even better. Despite damage to refrigerators and parts of the outdoor patio being rearranged, the enclosed pavilion was back up and open for business within a week of Sandy, owner Steve Troiano said, and the main bar was ready by the end of last week.
Back at Steve & Cookie’s, Till was focused on saving some of the original decor.
“The building was built in 1936,” said Till. “We have (original) molding, and it looks like we were able to pull it off and save it. We’ve cut out the walls and had to replace them. ... And we had some beautiful wood, and we don’t want to lose it. You can’t find that anymore.”
Added Till, “I’ve never done this before. Everyone’s been coming out of the woodwork, everybody’s giving advice. … But we’re getting there. So many people have been helpful and supportive.”
With the kitchen out of commission, a series of people has swung by and provided food to the workers, Till said — which helps, when so many are there working.
“We have 20 people working every day,” Richmond said. “All working around each other and cooperating. It’s like a community effort.”
And when everything is finished, regulars said they’d be back again next year.
“I’m obviously saddened about the situation,” said Thanksgiving regular Erica Rudolph-Roberts, of Upper Township. “But when the building is back up, it’s going to be great.”
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