It’s not just beach resort towns in New Jersey that felt the brunt of Sandy. Among the worst-hit areas was the working class community of Union Beach, New Jersey — located just across the Raritan Bay from Staten Island. The powerful storm surge flooded much of the town, damaging hundreds of homes and businesses, and reducing buildings on the waterfront to piles of rubble, including one local restaurant, whose owner is still struggling to pick up the pieces.
Angelita Liaguno-Dorr, who everyone calls “Gigi,” opened Jakeabob’s Bay, a seafood and burger joint named after her two sons, Jake and Bobby, 14 years ago. It quickly became a fixture in the community. She turned it into a place to get a bucket of steamers and a mug of beer, listen to live music at the tiki bar and gaze at the skyline of lower Manhattan off in the distance.
Now its roof is collapsed, its deck is destroyed, and parts of the building are scattered throughout the neighborhood.
Pointing to a pile of debris across from what’s left of her restaurant, Liaguno-Dorr notes some teal painted wood. “That’s a part of the front of our tiki bar. And this is, what? Seven dumpsters later?” she explained. “We’re missing the office. We’re looking for the office.”
(Photo: A menu and place-setting pulled from the rubble at Jakeabob's Bay restaurant./Scott Gurian)
The restaurant’s 20-foot, walk-in cooler somehow ended up across the street, on top of a parked car. The little that’s left of the restaurant’s dining room is filled floor to ceiling with scraps of lumber and building materials. It’s a difficult scene to take in, so Liaguno-Dorr says she tries not to come here too often. Instead, she’s been spending her time helping out at Union Beach’s borough hall.
In the weeks since the storm, borough hall has turned into a relief center, buzzing nonstop with activity. Residents can come here to stock up on food and other essentials. FEMA has an operations center for people to file claims. There are counselors if people want to talk. And out on the front lawn, a chiropractor gives free adjustments, while volunteers form a line to unload trucks and helicopters packed with everything from baby formula to spackling knives. Liaguno-Dorr says this outpouring of support warms her heart, but she’s not really surprised.
“I’ve always know that this community would always pull together. We’re no longer a community. We’re one big family. And that’s really how I feel,” she said.
(Photo: The remains of a house along the waterfront in Union Beach./Scott Gurian)
Still, she remains worried about what’s next. Sandy was the third, and by far the worst, storm to have damaged her restaurant. She wants to rebuild in the same location if she can, but she’s concerned about the potential for future storms.
“I believe it’s the place that makes it special,” she said. “If someone said to me, ‘Gigi, listen. This is what we’re going to do: We’re going to do this, and we got you and we can do it here and you’re good,’ I think I’d be foolish not to think about it. You know, you have to weigh out all your options.”
Those larger concerns will have to wait, though, until cleanup is complete. In the meantime, Liaguno-Dorr is keeping busy at the relief center and at home. Her house in nearby Middletown was not damaged in the storm, so she’s hosting fifteen friends and relatives, whose homes were destroyed and who have nowhere else to go.