By John Burton
SEA BRIGHT — It’s been a year of tragedy and triumph for Ray and Anjelica Lena, who own and operate Anjelica’s restaurant.
Almost one year exactly since Super Storm Sandy pummeled the 1077 Ocean Ave. eatery, and just about two months since Ray’s wife and Anjelica’s mother, Phyllis, passed away, the father and daughter have seen their restaurant return.
“It has been the hardest year of my life,” said Anjelica, for whom the restaurant was named.
The restaurant reopened first for a soft opening on Monday and Tuesday, Oct 14-15. On that first night, the newly redone dining room was filled with family and friends. And when Ray and Anjelica entered, they were greeted with a standing ovation, Anjelica said, her voice cracking a little and her eyes welling up.
“Before, it was my life,” she said, working long hours as the restaurant’s general manager. “But now I have an appreciation of what my parents put into it.”
Her parents first opened the restaurant 18 years ago, when Lena was 9. She remembered seeing the sign for the first time and being overwhelmed by it. “I remember crying,” she said.
When the new sign went up this year, Lena said at first she was just too busy to really take stock of it. “I was trying to get it done,” she explained as everything had taken on a hectic pace to complete the work and get the doors opened. But soon after it sank in and the emotions took over and the tears again appeared, she said.
When the Lenas were interviewed for The Two River TimesTM last May, they told of how Super Storm Sandy had damaged their business. The restaurant was overwhelmed by water, flooding the location, sweeping up everything, including the large industrial refrigerators, which were washed to the rear of the building a length of about 100 feet. The Lenas had to replace everything, gutting the entire building, installing all new electrical and plumbing systems. Along with the restaurant’s renovations, they have constructed two apartments in the building’s upper floor, and restored some of the space for storage and office, Lena said.
After the storm the family faced the challenges of caring for a seriously ill loved one and had to consider what to do next about the restaurant. “I think people knew it was hard,” she said of those times and the difficulties her family faced. “But it was harder than most people could ever know.”
They had given some thought to relocating. “But it just didn’t feel right,” she said. “We just had the desire to be back in this business, in this building, in this town and see our customers.”
Following the work, Lena had to concentrate on decorating the location without her mother’s input, without her eye for detail, Lena said. “Doing it without her would be hard,” Lena acknowledged But the end result, with antiques lining the walls, the restored tin roof and new murals painted on the surviving bare brick wall, “I think she would approve,” she said.
Now with the staff of nearly 20 who have all returned and the appreciation of the customers who have been returning in strong numbers, she looks back over the last year and all that it took and all of the family’s strength. “It was definitely a labor of love,” Lena said.