Finding Temporary Solutions While Facing the Daunting Task of Rebuilding

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In the weeks immediately after Sandy came ashore in Union Beach, New Jersey, it looked as if a tornado had hit the borough’s streets along the Raritan Bay. The storm surge gutted entire first floors of homes and businesses, toppled cars, and reduced buildings to piles of rubble, their contents strewn around the neighborhood or swept out to sea.

Things look different now.  The mountains of soggy drywall and waterlogged mattresses residents placed at their curbs have been carted away, and several of the most badly-damaged structures have now been demolished.

Throughout this time, Gigi Liaguno-Dorr, owner of the destroyed Jakeabob’s Bay restaurant, has been hard at work.  Seven days a week, she’s been going back and forth between sorting relief supplies at the borough hall and trying to get her business back on its feet.  She says that despite the progress that’s been made, things remain up in the air for many people.  “I still think everybody’s in limbo,” she said.  “Everybody’s still waiting, trying to figure out what’s going to happen.  If they have to knock down, how do they knock down?  Who knocks down, what is that process?  If they have to go up, what is that process?  It’s a lot to deal with.”

Liaguno-Dorr meets regularly with architects, insurance adjusters and Small Business Administration representatives to try to determine the fate of Jakeabob’s Bay.  The dock was destroyed and its roof collapsed, so the issue of if she’ll be able to rebuild and how the restaurant would have to be constructed to survive future storms remains a constant worry. 

In the meantime, she’s faced with the reality of having to continue paying the restaurant’s mortgage and property taxes, as well as the mortgage on her own house in nearby Middletown. To get some income, friends and family have loaned her money to open up a new, temporary location in a different part of town.  “We’re gonna call it ‘Jakeabob’s Off the Bay,’” she joked, “since ‘On the Bay’ is ‘In the Bay'."  

(Photo: The temporary Jakeabob's Off the Bay. Scott Gurian/WNYC)

She says the new place doesn’t really compare to the old Jakeabob’s. It’s a lot smaller, so she’ll have to have a scaled-down menu, she probably won’t have space to build a tiki bar, and she’ll no longer be on the waterfront, with the skyline of lower Manhattan off in the distance.  But she’s trying to make the best of a difficult situation. 

On a recent afternoon, she gave a tour of the new space, pointing out the location of the future bar, waitress station and dining area, where she hopes to fit fifteen tables.  She plans to hang a giant photo of the sun setting over the dock of the old Jakeabob’s, and she’ll decorate the new restaurant with a large piece of driftwood that washed ashore during the storm and other items she salvaged from the rubble. 

“I went around and collected doors off of people’s homes,” she said.  And “I’m going to restore them and make the doors into tables.  So say your address is 415 Central.  Instead of table four, it’s 415 Central and will have the family name and the address on the door.”

Liaguno-Dorr is looking forward to running a restaurant once again and returning to her regular, pre-storm routines, since these past few months have been filled with uncertainty.

“I think the whole storm itself, this whole experience is a lot of waiting,” she said.  “Us up here in the Northeast, we’re not very patient people.  You just need to know, you need to know the direction.”

It’s the sort of frustration Sandy has caused to thousands of residents and business owners along the coast.  She still faces challenging days ahead, dealing with her insurance company and making arrangements to have her old restaurant demolished.  But for now, at least, it appears that a little slice of her life will return to normal.