By John Burton
SANDY HOOK – A trip to the beach at Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook for many means a trip to the Sea Gulls’ Nest restaurant and bar, especially for its daily sunset ceremony.
But, because of the damage Super Storm Sandy caused at the federal park – especially to the building that houses the restaurant – it is unlikely the restaurant will be operating this summer.
“The restaurant will not be opening anytime soon,” said John Warren, a National Park Service spokesman, in an email this week.
Scott Segall, co-owner of H.S. Concessions, which operates the Sea Gulls’ Nest and all of the park’s concessions, agreed.
“I really can’t imagine it being ready for 2013,” he said.
The park’s infrastructure took a beating from the storm, especially its water and sewer system and electrical system. There also was damage and destruction to structures, roadway and the paved bicycle/foot path that runs the approximately 7-mile length of the park.
Area D, where the food concession building was located with the Sea Gulls’ Nest on the upper level, was where the ocean met the bay.
“All of the first level pretty much washed away,” Segall said. Concession equipment, like the refrigerator and walk-in freezers were found “dislodged and floating in the parking lot.”
The Sea Gulls’ Nest, which was closed for the season by the time the storm hit, had stored equipment and tables and chairs in storage bins on the lower level, which was lost with the water rushing through the building, Segall said.
According to Segall, the National Park Service owns the structures and is responsible for any repairs. H.S. Concessions leases the use of the structure.
Structural engineers are in the process of evaluating the building. While it appears to be in relatively good shape, “I would highly doubt that would happen in time for any restaurant to open this summer,” he said.
What many now know as the Sea Gulls’ Nest, perched about 25 feet above the beach area, has been in its current form since 1996, Segall said.
Segall’s father Ed and his H.S. Concessions (for Happy Snack), first won the federal contract to operate the park’s concessions in 1961, when Sandy Hook was a state park. By the early 1980s, he placed a couple of permanent trailers in Area D and established a small café with them, which eventually became the Sea Gulls’ Nest, featuring food, drinks and live musical entertainment during the summers, Segall remembered.
The restaurant gained some local prominence for its daily sunset ceremonies, with the elder Segall acting as master of ceremonies and asking the patrons to join in singing “God Bless America” and to take a moment to remember those who have served this nation.
For Ed Segall, who is 85 and lives in Florida for much of the year, the thought of not having that daily tribute is “very emotional for him, it’s very difficult for him,” Segall said. “It’s who he is, it’s what he believes in.”
The National Park Service previously announced the park, which has been closed since late October, would be open to the public May 1 with some area beaches open for Memorial Day weekend.
Park officials have put the emphasis on repairing concession buildings in Areas I, referred to as North Beach, and G, with Gunnison Beach, which weren’t that badly damaged, according to Segall. Other areas, such as D, will rely on mobile concessions units, opening possibly around July 4 and most likely temporary restroom facilities for the summer, while the park service continues with the repair work, he said.
H.S. Concessions has a 10-year contract to provide the services at the park, including food stands, beach, umbrella and float rentals and incidental shops.
Segall noted he hasn’t formalized the 2013 season contracts, which had to be amended because of “all these complicating factors,” but expects to finalize them shortly.
The current 10-year contract runs until December 2014, and his company will again bid on the next one, he said.