By John Burton
SEA BRIGHT – Cono and Karen Trezza are happy to be back kneading pizza dough and feeding their customers.
The couple’s business, Sea Bright Pizzeria, has been rebuilt after being closed for eight months after being wrecked by Super Storm Sandy. They reopened in June.
“To get back to work after everything … I can’t explain how it feels,” Cono said, trying to collect his thoughts about what they have gone through, what it all means and the emotions he has been feeling as they work to get their business back on track.
“It’s the American dream, you know?” said Cono, who came to the U.S. from his native Italy in 1980.
The Trezzas, who live in Lincroft with their two sons, Luca, 12, and Christian, 11, first opened their pizza restaurant on Ocean Avenue in 2005. They moved a few doors down the street to their 1068 Ocean Ave. location on what turned out to be the eve of Hurricane Irene in 2011. Having weathered that challenge reasonably well in a building that is probably nearly 100 years old, they figured they were good.
But then came Sandy.
The October 2012 storm devastated Sea Bright, including the pizzeria. Especially hard-hit was the Ocean Avenue business district.
“Structurally, the front of the store was blown out,” by the waves and the water that flooded the area, Karen recalled. “Everything inside was demolished.”
“The whole façade,” which was fronted by glass, Cono said, “was gone – destroyed.
“Every piece of equipment was upside down,” including the large pizza ovens and much of it ruined.
Cono returned to Sea Bright the day after the storm to check on his business.
“It was shocking,” he said.
The full extent of the damage and what it would entail to return to business did not sink in for weeks.
While Karen had second thoughts about returning, her husband never did. He did find the prospect of rebuilding “daunting. You didn’t know where to start,” he said.
An extra boost to the Trezzas’ spirits came from an unexpected source. As the state’s first lady Mary Pat Christie was touring the borough, Cono was cleaning up debris when she walked by. The governor’s wife asked Cono how he was doing and what could she do to help. “I told her, ‘It’s OK. We’ll rebuild, bigger and better than ever.’”
Earlier this year, Gov. Chris Christie quoted Cono in his State of the State address, Cono noted with pride.
For Karen, hearing the governor talk about his love for the Jersey Shore “really turned me around” and she embraced rebuilding.
“We gutted the whole building; we tore up the floor,” Cono said. They had to replace everything.
When they first worked on the restaurant in 2011, they installed the electrical equipment under the floor. This time they placed it about 6-feet high, hopefully high enough to spare it from any future flooding. The Trezzas decided to fill in the building’s crawlspace, a move recommended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
They also are getting flood panels, which can be put up along the building’s front and rear areas in case of a serious storm or flood alert and hopefully will mitigate flooding.
None of this was cheap, with rebuilding costing about $300,000, Karen said. “We were underinsured,” which left them looking for available U.S. Small Business Association loans for assistance.
Cono is pleased with the outcome, including the new tables, equipment and brick walls. “The first time we thought we did it right,” he said. “But now it’s done right.”
The push was to open in time for the all-important summer season, they said. “If we lost the summer, it could have made the difference” between coming back and not, Cono said.
“The summer is huge; it was a must,” Karen said.
When they reopened June 28, they were greeted by many of their loyal customers who came to show their support – and for some, to express surprise that Sea Bright Pizzeria was able to get back so soon, Karen and Cono said.
During those first days, “I made a lot of pizzas, a lot,” said Cono, who ran out of dough at one point.
Now it’s all about looking forward, they said.
“We’re here to stay,”
Cono stressed. “Bigger and stronger.”