Chris Wood, as seen in a video, above, and Mayor Dina Long, below, at Saturday night’s event, which raised $130,000 for Sea Bright Rising. (Photo by Wil Fulton. Click to enlarge)


A hotel in Long Branch was transformed into a showcase of the area’s best culinary talents Saturday night, courtesy of the charity organization Sea Bright Rising and the generosity of local vendors and restaurant owners.

Complete with a live band, charity auction and a video showcasing the relief effort, the sold-out gala, dubbed “The Big Beach Bash,” raised almost $130,000 for Sea Bright’s recovery from Hurricane Sandy, according to the charity group’s Facebook page.

But the real story of the event was perhaps best told by the restaurateurs and merchants whose tables lined the walls of the ballroom of the Ocean Place Resort and Spa. Many were Sea Bright business owners trying to help rebuild their broken beach community joined by owners from neighboring towns looking to lend a hand to friends in need.

Over the lively the noise and, redbankgreen spoke with some of these participating businesses, and here’s what they had to say:

“Being able to come here and help out is simply amazing,” said Chris Paseka, co-owner of Red Bank’s Sugarush, while passing out cupcakes to several passersby. “It was no-brainer, really. I drove through Sea Bright on my way here, and it’s overwhelming what happened there. I’m just glad we can help out and that so many of our loyal customers came here to support us and the town as well.”

“Everyone is dealing with the situation and all have been very giving, for sure,” said Theresa Bowler, a co-owner of Donovan’s Reef in Sea Bright. “My daughter and I are actually living here [in the hotel] now because we can’t go back to our home. It hurts my soul, it really does. Sea Bright has been a huge part of my life. It will take time, but we’ll be back, there’s no doubt, and events like tonight will help get us there.”

Jamian LaViola, owner of Jamian’s Food & Drink in Red Bank, has an intimate connection to the shore community. “I lived in Sea Bright for years, it where was my wife and I started our lives together, it was where I started a family. I learned to swim and surf there. It has a special place in my heart,” he said. “It feels great to really pitch in and give back to a place that has given me so much. It still has a lot left to give, and when it gets back on it’s feet, I’ll be bringing my kids there to learn the same things I did,” he said.

Brian McMullin, an owner of Gracie and The Dudes Ice Cream on Ocean Avenue, also waxed on the unique complexion that is Sea Bright.

“We need to build this town back up again, without doubt, but we also have to make sure it maintains that unique feel it’s always had,” McMullin said. “We’re small-town businesses, there’s only a couple chain stores in town, everyone had a first-name basis with their customers – I’m pretty much only known as ‘the Ice Cream Guy.’ We need to keep that vibe around, it’s part of what makes the town so special.”

“This is a cause that’s close to my heart,” said Judy Matthew, who co-owns Red Bank’s Dish and also caters Chapel Beach Club’s Side Dish snack bar. “Everyone here is so positive and so thankful and appreciative towards those of us that came out here to pitch in. It seems like everyone I run into thanks me for coming out. I’m just happy i was able to help,” she said.

“I know all these guys,” said Cono Trezza, owner of Sea Bright Pizza, whose Ocean Avenue shop, like all others, was destroyed by the hurricane. “It’s like all our friends coming together to help us out and trying to do whatever they can to get us back on our feet. It’s another step in the process of coming back bigger and better than ever.”

“It’s amazing,” said Dive Bar co-owner Christine DiIorio, another Ocean Avenue staple devastated by Sandy. “It’s great to be a part of all this and also to know we have all these people, business owners and volunteers willing to help us out. They know we would do the same for them,” she said

Chris Wood, a key component in the creation of Sea Bright Rising, was featured heavily in the Sea Bright Rising video and also appeared briefly on-stage – spurring resounding chants of “Woody, Woody!” throughout the crowd.

“Its astounding how many people have a soft spot for Sea Bright,” said Wood. “It’s really hard to express it in words, to be honest.”

Mayor Dina Long thanked all those involved with the benefit and sending out some inspiring and timely words for those in attendance.

“If we all work together, rebuilding isn’t only possible, it’s inevitable,” she said.