San Marco: Peek inside European Street's hurricane repairs

Dining staples working to reopen after Hurricane Irma damage

By Crystal Chen - Assignment editor/reporter, David Benfield - Web producer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Four months after Hurricane Irma, some of the businesses hit hardest by the storm are still closed.

San Marco staples such as Bistro Aix and European Street Cafe are still recovering, and News4Jax is asking the question on the minds of their loyal customers: When will they reopen?

Bistro Aix doesn't have an exact opening date but anticipates reopening next month.

European Street owner Andy Zarka invited News4Jax in for a tour of the ongoing renovations.

The flooding has receded, and the “Road Closed” sign that sat right in front of the restaurant is gone. 

The building itself might not look like as if it has changed much from the outside, but step inside and you'll see all the work that's going on to bring the restaurant back.

“All of the restaurant equipment, compressors, etc., are on the ground and those all got flooded,” Zarka said. “The AC units, so it was basically starting over.”

He admitted that the cleanup after Irma hasn't been quick or easy, because a lot of structural and electrical work needed to be done.

“There was so much structural work and drywall and things that you take for granted,” Zarka said. “You know, electrical, plumbing, etc., that it just felt like it was crawling and crawling.”

Repairing and replacing the blown-out circuits, floors, and walls took time -- and sleepless nights.

“I lose a lot of sleep wondering, 'Oh, my gosh, is it still going to be European Street?'” he said of the business, which has been a San Marco staple for two decades.
 
Zarka said a few of the challenges he faced were surprising.

“Chairs. You would think that picking out chairs would be easy,” he said. “Trying to find a chair that doesn't look like every other chair in the city in a restaurant that has been open in the last two years has been incredibly difficult.”

But four months after the storm, the walls and tile floors are starting to take shape. The kitchen, ceiling fans and -- yes, even the chairs -- have all arrived.  Zarka's patience is paying off.

He said he's had support from the community.

“It's been fun,” he said. “There's the folks that (say), 'We really missed you. We're excited you're coming back.'”

So when is European Street reopening? 

Zarka said he doesn't have an exact date yet but he's hoping for the first week of February.  

He assured his loyal customers that it'll be the European Street they all know and love -- just with a fresh coat of paint.

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