DAVID GREENE, host:
Many of the places in Hurricane Irene's path were big tourist destinations: North Carolina's Outer Banks; Cape Cod; Ocean City, Maryland. Some of the communities escaped relatively unscathed, allowing business owners to breathe a sigh of relief and hope for a big turnout this Labor Day weekend. Other places were not so lucky.
Sallee Tee's Grille is right on the water in Monmouth Beach, New Jersey. It's a famous local eatery where you can go in and order anything from jumbo sea scallops to sushi and deli fare.
Nick Kouvel is the chef and general manager of Sallee Tee's. As the storm was making its way north, he stayed at the restaurant until Saturday afternoon, when coastal residents were ordered to leave.
NICK KOUVEL (Chef/General Manager, Sallee Tee's Grille): We have a lot of locals. Im sure we could have a lot of people here for a little bit, but it was a mandatory evacuation so we had to close.
GREENE: Do you remember a storm thats done this much damage?
KOUVEL: Well, I've been here for almost 12 years and I have never had water come in like this. No, I've never seen anything like this. This is the most devastating that I've ever seen. You know, I think everything kind of played together, kind of like the perfect storm. We had a new Moon, we had high tide and we had a storm surge at the same time. So this place is virtually under water.
GREENE: We got Nick Kouvel on the phone from the restaurant, as he was beginning the long process of making repairs after the storm.
KOUVEL: It's a disaster in here. You know, I mean, as you can hear in the background, I have people ripping carpets up right now. We're trying to get items cleaned. And everything is a loss, in terms of food and everything - you know, the quality we serve here. Anything that is even a thought has to go, you know, there's nothing. We have to clean out.
GREENE: And as best you can, I know that sound in the background you said is people pulling up your carpeting. Describe the scene that you're looking at.
KOUVEL: Im looking at a group of men that are tearing up carpet that we had just did renovations a few months ago. Im looking at a scene that's making me sick right now. Im looking at the saturated carpets being ripped up. And, you know, it's just musty, nasty right now, and it has to be taken care of a step at a time. We won't do anything other than doing it the right way, 'cause that's how we always do it at Sallee Tee's.
GREENE: Give me a sense, if you can, how much business do you think you're losing each day, each week that'll go by.
KOUVEL: Oh, if we're closed for a couple weeks - including this - it could be somewhere in a couple of hundred thousand dollars for a two to three week period, easy.
GREENE: And how many workers do you have?
KOUVEL: Around 60,
GREENE: And will they all be without their paychecks for a little while?
KOUVEL: Some people who will be utilized in the restaurant, there's some people who are going to just have to collect unemployment. You know, I feel horrible because we have wonderful people that work in this place. And all Im trying to do is get a handle on everything so I know how to handle them, as well as possible, because they deserve nothing but to be treated great.
GREENE: And, Nick, how important is Labor Day weekend to the business, usually?
KOUVEL: It's a huge weekend. You know, it's our last hurrah. We're a seasonal place. We're not as seasonal as a lot of the restaurants in area. We continue to do a, you know, a vibrant business all year long. However, Labor Day weekend is a very, very busy weekend for us.
GREENE: And what are you telling your customers? I mean Im sure some of them might be wondering if Sallee Tee's is going to come back, if you might have to close.
KOUVEL: Yeah, right now, all Im telling them is thank you for your patronage and we're going to try to get open as quick as possible. 'Cause when we're closed it's a big thing for the people around here because they love coming here.
The owner, Joey Amiel, made a statement that, you know, could be a protracted closing. There's things that we have to do so that we can get this place back to the level that we demand before we serve people.
GREENE: We've been speaking to Nick Kouvel who's the chef and general manager at Sallee Tee's Grille in Monmouth Beach, New Jersey.
Nick, thanks for talking to us. And best of luck to you.
KOUVEL: Thank you very much.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.