Central NJ restaurants backtrack on rebuilds and closures

Take a look at Summer Ville Homemade Ice Cream in Somerville today and it’s hard to imagine that a year ago 3-4 feet of flood water from the remnants of Hurricane Ida filled the nautical-themed ice cream shop, ruining “everything,” owner Elio DeFranco said.

That’s because after the $215,000 rebuild, of which $170,000 was recovered by insurance, it looks “nearly identical,” he said; minus one or two misplaced plastic marlins.

“I even put most of the decorations back in the same places, except for a few because I forgot where they were,” DeFranco said.

You can’t blame him for forgetting. He was finally able to reopen the shop at the end of March, almost seven months after Ida ravaged it. Half of the plasterboard was destroyed. The sealed freezers began to float and then flipped over, shattering and spilling their ice cream contents onto the floor.

“There was so much ice cream on the floor it was unbelievable,” DeFranco said.

The situation was equally dire elsewhere in Somerville. The usually calm stream that runs through the heart of the county seat has become a raging torrent. Cars at the Brookside Gardens apartment complex were swept away by the flash flood. Some of the cars were still in the middle of Mercer Street the next day. One car had rolled over on its roof, another nearly slipped into the stream and got stuck on the bank, and another ended up on top of another car.

It took two weeks just to remove all the ice from the floor at Summer Ville Homemade Ice Cream. The store had to be aired out for two weeks, then its floors, plasterboard, and electrical and plumbing systems had to be redone. All equipment had to be replaced, some of which DeFranco rebuilt himself when certain items were unavailable due to supply chain issues.

Summer Ville Homemade Ice Cream after Hurricane Ida.

Since reopening — which DeFranco said was “fantastic” — it hasn’t been easy either. Supplies and ingredients have increased by at least 50% due to inflation, and the store has seen a slowdown in business that DeFranco also attributes to the economy.

Looking back:Somerset County food businesses reeling from Ida destruction

Despite the shortfall and the cost of rebuilding, DeFranco does not regret reopening.

“It was tough, but I knew I had to do it,” he said. “I like to keep busy, I like business and it’s fun, so it wouldn’t have mattered what it would cost.”

Reopening surrounded by devastation

Another ice cream shop across Hunterdon County, which tied Somerset with the most storm-related deaths of counties in the state with five, also battled to reopen after immense damage to Ida. Its opening was also not easy.

Owowcow Creamery after Hurricane Ida.

Nearly two months after the storm, Owowcow Creamery in Lambertville has reopened after “everyone on deck” completed the rebuild, said general manager Shira Tizer Wade. It cost $150,000 and only $15,000 was recovered from insurance. Floors were poured, walls were built, storage units were installed and freezers were found while battling supply chain obstacles. However, the reopening – just in time for Lambertville’s iconic Halloween party – was bittersweet.

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“Reopening has been difficult because this part of Lambertville hasn’t fully recovered yet,” Wade said. “People have just started to come back over the past few months. It was not an easy winter for us because nobody wanted to go down to that part of Lambertville and I think it was because there were a lot of bad memories for people.”

After Ida, Owowcow Creamery was filled with 6 feet of water, and its 1,000-pound ice cream case was “floating on top of the water like a boat,” Wade recalls. Everything from gear to t-shirts was lost.

“Literally everything you could touch was gone,” Wade continued. Additionally, the shop had to rebuild its floors and walls, as well as its electrical and HVAC systems.

Owowcow Creamery after necessary reconstruction due to Hurricane Ida.

Lambertville went from scenic to chaotic on September 1 when 11 inches of rain fell there. Streams flowing at both ends of the city have swelled, causing the worst flash flood in living memory.

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Owowcow Creamery took advantage of the reconstruction to modernize its Lambertville store by revamping the lighting and installing updated counters, walls and floors with new color palettes and decor. He looked at other insurance options and created a plan to mitigate future flood damage by storing items higher and putting more items on wheels for easy transfer.

A closure after 30 years of activity

However, not all of the businesses ravaged by Ida – and there were many, especially in central Jersey, which has seen some of the greatest storm devastation in the state – have found lifeboats. .

The European Deli after Hurricane Ida.

Maria Mikiewicz, owner of European Deli in Manville, decided earlier this year to make the grocery store’s closure permanent after Ida, ending a more than 30-year legacy of offering fresh kielbasa, 13 types of pierogi and other European specialties. Today, the old storefront remains vacant, like many others in the borough.

In Manville, the Raritan River, on the northern border of the borough, reached 27.66 feet. The Millstone River, on the borough’s eastern border, hit another record: 23.73 feet. Walmart’s parking lot on North Main Street was under 2 feet of water and City Hall was also under water.

It would have cost Mikiewicz around $100,000 out of pocket to rebuild after recovering insurance. Cost, time to rebuild and material shortages all factored into the decision not to reopen. It would also have marked the third major reconstruction Mikiewicz has had to do following storms, following Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

“It was not an easy decision for the family, for any of us,” said Jan Chwiedosiuk, Mikiewicz’s nephew and co-owner of the Jersey Cyclone Brewing Company. “Much of my life, including my childhood, was spent there with my family.”

Three feet of water filled the charcuterie. Fifty percent of its products were destroyed or had to be thrown away, in part because most of the refrigeration was destroyed and all the air conditioning stopped working. Most cabinets and wall light fixtures were gone. All the plasterboard below the waterline should have been replaced.

Preparing for the future: “I just don’t know when”

Sherban’s Diner, a 63-year-old South Plainfield cornerstone, was able to reopen weeks after 2 feet of water from Ida destroyed her $50,000 boiler and caused an additional $10,000 damage to her venue private reception for 120 people.

Sherban's Diner event room after Hurricane Ida.

Much of Middlesex County was spared the worst of Ida, however, some areas – such as parts of South Plainfield – bore the brunt of the storm’s wrath. Nine inches of rain fell on the borough, home to Spring Lake and Bound Brook, the latter neighbor of Sherban’s Diner.

Insurance didn’t cover anything for Sherban’s Diner because he doesn’t have flood insurance.

“Our boiler takes care of the steam table, so you can’t have hot food without it, which means it’s not something where you can say, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll repair next month,” said Kateina Ganiaris, co-owner of the family business. “Flood insurance is very expensive, so at the moment I have to wait and see if business presents itself and if I can get allow it, I will get it.”

Sherban's Diner's event hall was rebuilt after Hurricane Ida.

Things haven’t been easy for the family since COVID-19 hit. When they reopened six months after the pandemic, business was down 50%. Now, with inflation, lingering pandemic concerns and a loss of corporate customers, it’s down 30%, but they hope to be able to offer flood insurance for the restaurant as soon as possible.

“Of course, I’m concerned that this kind of storm damage will happen again,” Ganiaris said. “Five years from now I will definitely have some kind of flood insurance because I think a storm like this will happen again. I just don’t know when.

Jenna Intersimone.

Jenna Intersimone has been a staff member of the USA Today Network New Jersey since 2014, having become a blogger-turned-journalist after founding her award-winning travel blog. To get unlimited access to her food, drink and fun stories, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Contact: [email protected] or @JIntersimone.

Richard Dement

The author Richard Dement