Steve & Cookie’s in Margate seeks to reopen in December

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Cookie Till of Longport works to restore her restaurant on Amherst Avenue in Margate. Cookie Till of Longport works to restore her restaurant on Amherst Avenue in Margate.

MARGATE – This Cookie is not just tough, she is resilient.

Cookie Till of Longport, the owner and proprietor of Steve & Cookie’s by the Bay, is working to restore the Amherst Avenue restaurant she has owned for 16 years.

Till said Thursday, Nov. 15 that there have been no tears, just a lot of decisions to be made in order to get the eatery up and running by early December.

Till stayed in her home during the storm, and when the water failed to recede after the first high tide Monday, Oct. 29, she called on her friend Mike Richmond at 3 p.m. to come get her in a high-wheeled vehicle. She asked if she could stop by the restaurant on her way through Margate.

“I got to my front door, and it wasn't pretty. I walked in and I guess the water was 8 to 10 inches – and that was the low tide before that next high tide. I knew I was screwed,” Till said. “At that point there was nothing to be saved or to do except grab a bottle of scotch and wait out the storm.”

She returned to the restaurant the next day to see everything turned upside down, she said.

“When I walked in the day after the storm and everything had receded, there was mud on the floor and chairs all over the place. I had that feeling of when we first got in here, when we first renovated; before that they were ready to tear the place down because it hadn't been occupied in five years,” Till said.

She said the first thing she did was remove the artwork from the walls and put it into the dry rooms upstairs. Many of the paintings were done by local artists.

When the mandatory evacuation was lifted, she turned the corner to see 20 of her employees asking, “What do you need us to do?”

“That choked me up,” Till said. “They were OK. They were here, and they were here to do whatever needed to be done.”

Till said the good news is that no windows were blown out, and the solar panels on the roof remained in tact. The new generator she purchased before the storm that was waiting to be connected was sitting in water. The hardwood floors, the walls, the stoves and walk-in refrigerators are being replaced. Till said the stoves had water marks that were nearly 2 feet high.

However, the main bar and bar booths were able to be saved, she said. The word on the piano is still out; its legs were standing in water, but no water got into the soundboard.

The front bar is currently being restored. The front bar is currently being restored.

She said there are decisions to be made every day and lots of coordinating with contractors, inspectors and manufacturers.

“We’re doing it right and not cutting any corners; we’re not hanging out and hoping to get it done. We have got to move. We are on everybody, and everybody understands there is a sense of urgency, and they're with us,” Till said.

“Some of my employees were able to able to pick up laboring work, able to help me and they are trying to help me. I have 70 employees, and trying to get them back to work is important and just getting back into the schedule of what we do.”

She said while dozens of contractors are working every day, friends and local businesses stepped up to help feed the crew.

Local proprietors and businesses that have contributed lunch are Lisa Savage from Sage, Luke Palladino, Boca, Tony Baloney’s, Caesar’s Entertainment, AtlantiCare and the Inn at Sugar Hill.

“These guys love it; they’re psyched, and it keeps them happy,” said Till. “I would want to do something like that; I’m in this business and I would want to feed people. They look forward to that and it makes it a fun, good atmosphere.”

Till, who lost her car and was displaced from her home in the storm, said she has had a lot of people reach out to her personally as well.

She said driving through the neighborhoods and seeing everyone’s belongings on the sidewalk makes her think.

“It’s a new beginning – it just kind of sucks right now,” she said.

The break from the daily grind has given her a minute to consider her vision for the business that has been part of her life for nearly two decades.

But reality sets in quickly.

“I try not to think about not having any income; here are all my bills I have to pay,” Till said, picking up hefty stack of paper. She said some vendors are giving as much as 90 days to pay.

“There is no way other than forward,” she mused.

Till said it was heartbreaking to call the 500 people who had Thanksgiving reservations and tell them they couldn’t come.

“That was kind of sad,” she said. “Thanksgiving's a big deal for us – but not this year.”

The disaster will bring the community together to support local businesses, she said.

“I want to have even more resolve to support all the businesses that are rebuilding. This is where you want to spend your money. Instead going to the mall shopping for Christmas, everybody should be right here,” said Till.

At first she thought she would put the restaurant back the way it was, but that would have been like sweeping the memory under the rug. She decided that changing the décor would serve as a reminder.

“We went through something here, and I don't want to forget it.”

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