By JOHN T. WARD
To be honest, Christina Di Iorio says, she got to the point where she didn’t want to reopen Dive, the Sea Bright restaurant and bar that she and then-fiancé Steven Graniero saw nearly wiped out by Hurricane Sandy.
Their insurance company hadn’t lived up to its obligations, she said. A vendor was suing them, and they weren’t able to get any traction with the government or private lenders to restart the Ocean Avenue business. And then there’s the hard reality of two bodies of water – the Atlantic Ocean and the Shrewsbury River – just yards away, all too ready to combine forces to once again smash the town as they did on October 29, 2012.
And yet there Di Iorio was on Tuesday, putting the final touches on a completely revamped Dive for a low-key opening at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
“I agree with you: I think we’re nuts,” she told redbankgreen. “But our clients, our families, our fan base – they all embraced us. I’m doing it for them.”
Well, that and the fact that she and Graniero didn’t see any other way out of the financial hole they found themselves in, she acknowledges.
The couple, longtime restaurant employees who met while working at Mix Lounge in West Long Branch, bought what had been the Ocean Avenue bar Elements in mid-2010, transforming what had been a velvet-rope club into something more organic to the flip-flop vibe of downtown Sea Bright: a casual eatery with big doors facing the ocean.
Little more than two years later, Sandy appeared to kill the dream.
For most of the past 18 months, the couple worked at the Wine Loft in Long Branch, paying vendors $15 here, $50 there, just to stay in good graces. But one big food vendor wouldn’t budge, and sued them.
“Thank god we had wedding money to pay them,” she said, referring to gifts received at their marriage last September.
But as the dispute with their insurer escalated – Di Iorio and Graniero are now suing the company – she admits she was tempted to file for bankruptcy and be done with it.
Graniero, though, persuaded her that the best chance they had to recoup their investment was to double down by rebuilding and reopening Dive. Friends rallied with a couple of fundraisers and things began falling into place, Di Iorio said.
Now, Dive is ready, having cleared its final inspections this week. Di Iorio and Graniero brought in a new chef, Kyle Hopfensberger, formerly of D’Jeet in Shrewsbury, to run the kitchen, and Graniero – who Di Iorio said is an instant friend to all customers – will manage the bar.
And what about the threat of another wipeout? Next time there’s a threat of a storm, “we plan to put everything we possibly can into a U-Haul and get it out of here,” Di Iorio says with a laugh.
Meantime, it’s back to doing what they started when they opened in nearly four years ago: brightening up the downtown with a place “where you can walk in off the beach in your bathing suit, grab a burger and drink with your kids and people you know, and go back to the beach,” Di Iorio said.
Starting Sunday, July 2o, Dive will also begin easing back into a regular schedule of live music when Random Test Reggae returns.