SEA BRIGHT: RISK-TAKERS FLOODING TOWN

Antonio Murray, above, opened Beach Burgers and Grille on Tuesday. Below, Billy Geltzeiler with server Greer McCarthy at Billy G’s Beach Bistro. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

Store by store, restaurant by restaurant, the old-timers are coming back to Sea Bright, a town where not one was spared the trauma of Hurricane Sandy.

From Angler’s Marina to Yumi, from Woody’s Ocean Grille to Northshore Menswear to Bain’s Hardware,  merchants have restarted their businesses as quickly as their bank balances would allow. Others are in the process of renovating. Expect Gracie & the Dudes to return shortly. Ditto for the the 7-Eleven.

But within this returning tide is a second wave: newcomers to Ocean Avenue business district. Risk-takers willing to stake their livelihoods, and their life savings, on the chance that the Shrewsbury River and the Atlantic Ocean won’t again meet in the places their renting. Not soon, at least.

Last week, redbankgreen introduced you to Alice Gaffney, a former school cafeteria cook who opened Alice’s Kitchen in the space long occupied by Steve’s Breakfast & Lunch. Here’s a look at three more newcomers – owners of a full-service restaurant, a burger place and a surf shop.

Jake O’Donnell in his week-old surf shop. (Click to enlarge)

BEACH BURGERS AND GRILLE, 1064 Ocean Avenue

Antonio Murray knows from Sandy. He lived with his family in Monmouth Beach “until Sandy took my house,” he says, and now lives in Oceanport. His mother, Toni Pecoraro, who owns the Century 21 Homes of Distinction realty office at Ocean Avenue and River Street, saw her business wiped out by the storm.

So, um, is he crazy to open a restaurant just a few doors away?

“People need food here,” says Murray, who’s just 24 and does double duty as a cop in Fair Haven.

And what of the risks involved, not only the kind that any entrepreneur faces, but the very real possibility of another storm devastating this narrow spit of sand?

“If it fails, it fails,” Murray says, unperturbed. “It’s only money. It’s not that important.”

The restaurant sells burgers, hot dogs, cheesesteaks and pretzels.

By the way, Pecoraro, too, is planning to be back in business, with a tentative reopening date of August 1, Murray says.

JAKE’S SURF SHOP, 1096 Ocean Avenue

At just 21 years old, Jake O’Donnell is even younger than Murray. The Rumson resident, a recent early graduate of University of California San Diego, majored in communications, but opening a shop “was always in my head,” he tells redbankgreen.

After Sandy, he and his girlfriend, Abigail Eastwood, saw opportunity where others saw wreckage and the possibility of more. They found this former bank space, which had been vacant since 2009, and saw that it had incurred only some floor damage because it’s elevated from the street by a few steps. They were hooked. They opened Jake’s 10 days ago.

And the risk of a storm? “That’s like the biggest concern,” O’Donnell said, adding he’s staked “everything I’ve got” on its success.

The shop, brightly lit by ample windows, carries surfboards, wet suits, and beach apparel.

BILLY G’S BEACH BISTRO, 1132 Ocean Avenue

When he opened Billy G’s in January, 2012, Billy Geltzeiler had originally wanted the space he’s now in, but it wasn’t available; a sushi restaurant had it. So Geltzeiler, who’d spent 35 years in the insurance business, opened Billy G’s in Long Branch, at the corner of Ocean and Atlantic avenues.

Less than 11 months later, Sandy struck, and though the building he rented wasn’t damaged, the storm “killed the neighborhood,” he said. The mailman told him his route dropped from 600 addresses to 300, he said.

Last December, after serving 98 dinners on New Year’s Eve, Geltzeiler closed the restaurant and turned his attention again to Sea Bright. He reopened Billy G’s in June.

How does he rationalize the possibility of another storm-related wipeout?

“I’ve lived on the river for 35 years,” he said. “That storm was the second worst in a century. You take a shot.”

The restaurant, which features a fusion menu, opened last month. It’s open Monday through Saturdays for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and Sundays for breakfast and lunch.