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Tomatoe’s Fights Back

One of Margate’s most beloved Amherst Avenue eateries was down after Sandy, but not out.


By Frank Gabriel
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jan. 30, 2013

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Photo by Carmen Rone and Craig Billow

Despite her best efforts, Karen Rone’s expressive pale-blue eyes still water up when she talks about it.


 

“It” refers to the experience of witnessing the ruination of everything she and husband Carmen — owner/operators of Margate’s bayfront restaurant Tomatoe’s — had spent decades building.


Fronting Amherst Avenue just steps from the inland waterway connecting Risley’s Channel with Beach Thorofare, their multi-level corner restaurant was gutted, thrashed by Hurricane Sandy’s windy, watery wrath. In the resulting tempest, Tomatoe’s sustained well over a half-million dollars in damage to property and inventory.


The story actually starts with the restaurant’s annual Halloween Party, held last year on Saturday night, Oct. 27. That evening, the final one prior to the storm’s landfall, provided some grotesque degree of irony for the Rones.


“When we got back into the building, it was still decorated, blood dripping from the ceilings,” says Karen. 


Plus about four feet of briny water that had violently tossed everything within. Chairs, booths, tables and the entire, custom-made bar — recently remodeled by local art-and-design firm Chora Leone — were destroyed or had to be dismantled, along with the loss of every drop of wine and spirits. Even undamaged bottles, totaling near 500, had to be emptied and then trashed after exposure to those unsanitary conditions. In what sounds like a scene out of the Prohibition era of Boardwalk Empire, Karen explains, “It took a day and half, pouring them down the drain and then throwing them out.”


By late day Monday, the scene remained chaotic: “Water had receded, but there was just sludge, flotsam and jetsam everywhere.” The following morning, their staff — consisting of 60 or so year-round employees — began to trickle in, eager to help in any way they could, for which both Karen and Carmen Rone are sincerely grateful. 


“Thank God for our employees,” she said.


The physical structure itself, built sometime around 1950, luckily remained intact. And though a front-of-the-house sushi station — one of the restaurant’s signature design elements — was also trashed, the main kitchen, slightly elevated, remained safe. Karen jokes that they soon began “running a soup kitchen out the back door for a month,” feeding workers and locals who were engaged in the massive neighborhood cleanup.


Her gallows humor conceals emotions that are, to this day, quite clearly raw. Even now, three months later, the trauma’s lingering effect remains readily apparent just beneath a polished, professional veneer. Stopping to breathe deeply and compose her thoughts before speaking, she says, “People in general were just amazing.”


Most notable among them, the local public adjustment firm run by Thomas Lacovara, a regular customer. Lacovara’s offer of assistance proved crucial; by dealing directly on their behalf with insurers, the Rones were able to focus on getting the enterprise itself back on its feet.


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