Three-and-a-half months after Hurricane Sandy, it's still not clear whether a longtime Staten Island restaurant will ever reopen, but the owner won't go down without a fight. NY1's Amanda Farinacci filed the following report.
Joe LaRocca has spent nearly every day of the last 25 years at the Midland Beach restaurant that bears his name.
But since Hurricane Sandy hit, he said he finds visiting the badly damaged pizzeria and ice cream shop a challenge.
"Why look in here and feel the pain? It hurts," he said. "We really had done a lot to get to this point of 25 years of success, and now, all of a sudden, it's out the window."
A popular neighborhood gathering spot, LaRocca's was ruined when the storm surge flooded it out.
The roof collapsed under the weight of the water, which also came through the floor.
Heavy kitchen equipment was tossed around. Electric and gas lines were knocked out, and the heating system was destroyed.
LaRocca said that repairing all the damage could cost $350,000.
"Until we can see a plan where we can have access to $350,000 to rebuild, it doesn't pay to do it piecemeal," he said. "Because you have to keep in mind, too, the health department has their ruling. So I can't do one piece of it and not do the rest. It has to be all done in order to reopen."
LaRocca said he's still waiting on a loan from the Small Business Administration. He said that his flood insurance provider is fighting with his property insurer over payouts, leaving him with only minimal help from insurance claims.
He also said he's ineligible for grant money because aside from replacing the roof, he hasn't done enough rebuilding to qualify.
"We're in a bind right now," he said. "No one has the answers."
But that hasn't kept LaRocca from helping the community as he waits to see what will happen to his restaurant.
The pizzeria now serves as a staging area for storm victims and volunteers who need food, clothing and other supplies.
LaRocca said that he hopes to reopen in some form this summer, even if it means offering a more limited menu to make rebuilding a little bit easier. He said that for him, getting back in business is his only option.