When Hurricane Sandy’s waters receded, things could not have been more different for two neighboring restaurants in Margate.
One, Johnny’s Cafe, started to clean up within two days — and is now going forward with a dual expansion: a new dining room on one end and a walk-up cheesesteak business on the same block.
Meanwhile, a call to Fedeli’s Restaurant gets the following recorded message: “We are closed permanently. Thank you for calling.”
Fedeli’s demise echoes the challenges facing many shore business in the months since the storm — and it’s a reminder that a full return to the days before Sandy isn’t guaranteed.
For Fedeli’s, an institution in Margate for 30 years and the descendent of Ferraro’s restaurant in Atlantic City, the cost of reconstruction would have been too much, owner Dan Fedeli said.
“The flooding made the decision for us,” Fedeli said. “We’ve been doing this since 1929, and had contemplated selling in the next couple of years. The flood just moved everything up.”
The first floor was completely flooded, he said, as were all buildings on that stretch of Ventnor Avenue, just a few blocks from the bay.
He and his mother, Jean Fedeli, had insurance, but the cost of repairs was estimated at $75,000, he said.
“Sandy made people make decisions quicker than they normally make,” Fedeli said. “It’s a tough situation, because I still get phone calls for banquets, and I have to say that unfortunately, we don’t do them anymore.”
Most shore businesses, as damaged by floodwaters as they were, were able to reopen in the past few months or will reopen for the summer, including in Margate, Margate Business Association President Ed Berger said.
In Ocean City, though, two businesses along hard-hit Asbury Avenue — the Flying Carp Gift Gallery and the Cricket Box — are not going to reopen, Ocean City Chamber of Commerce President Michele Gillian said. The owners have prospects in terms of selling the location, she added.
But a recent day of service to help businesses get back on their feet — volunteers tearing out drywall, ripping out carpets — has helped stabilize the neighborhood, Gillian said. And as far as she knows, no restaurant in the city has been forced to close permanently.
“All those places coming back, it says a lot for the city,” Gillian said. “There was a big push in the city to make sure businesses, especially restaurants and retail, reopen.”
In Brigantine, the Rod & Reel bar at the far north end of the island remains closed, both due to flooding issues and a transitional period in ownership, Brigantine Times owner and Chamber of Commerce President Emmett Turner said.
Otherwise, the situation was similar to other local shore towns. A salon had to temporarily relocate, but even the beachfront Laguna Grille is expected to be open again by St. Patrick’s Day.
Meanwhile in Margate, as Fedeli’s sits dark, the buildings to the left and right bustle with activity. Johnny’s Cafe is preparing to open its new dining room sometime next week and its cheesesteak business sometime in April.
“There was nothing here,” Johnny’s owner Joanne Liccio said as workers tramped around the newly installed bar. “It was a dead zone.”
The plan to turn what had been at most a lot big enough for two cars into a dining room had already received final approvals in September, before the storm.
“It was already in the works,” Liccio said. “We already ordered tile for the floor and already got permission. We knew we were closing (temporarily) on Jan. 2. Sandy just pushed us back.”
The scheduled work was actually a benefit, she added. Contractors already lined up for the expansion were called in to work on fixing up the restaurant immediately after the storm.
Work to create John’s Cheesesteaks, meanwhile, is also ongoing in what was formerly Rita’s Water Ice, with the hopes of getting up and running by spring.
As for Fedeli’s, Dan Fedeli said that he has three or four buyers interested in the location, though he did not name them. The staff was part-time and had day jobs, and Fedeli himself may return to the restaurant game sometime soon.
Johnny’s current expansion plans do not include the Fedeli’s property.
“It would have been nice,” Fedeli said about having a proper send-off for the decades-old restaurant. “I’ll miss the people. I’ll miss the summer people. It’s just one of those things.”
Contact Steven Lemongello:
Follow @SteveLemongello on Twitter