ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- Two beloved restaurants in St. Augustine, just miles apart, took a direct hit from Hurricane Matthew but have had very different stories in the six months following the storm.
The two restaurants, Viola’s and Matanzas Inlet, are located along A1A in Crescent Beach and the owners of each restaurant both originated from New York before opening up businesses on the First Coast.
When Hurricane Matthew hit Viola’s was one of many restaurants in St. Augustine that was flooded, unsure if they’d ever be able to recover, but thankfully their businesses is now doing better than ever.
Husband and wide Andrew and Helen Viola own the restaurant.
“When his family moved down from New York that’s when we got married, 34 years ago,” said Helen.
They’ve been in the restaurant industry since that time owning several different businesses, but this particular place is special to them.
“Our name is on this one, we said this was going to be our last one,” said Andrew.
Thriving now, just six months ago their last restaurant looked like it was on its last leg after it was flooded and their furniture was pushed out into the street.
”Everything was full of water, every drawer, it was just really devastating,” said Andrew.
The most frustrating part of Hurricane Matthew for them was when their hurricane insurance denied coverage.
“We were not covered because it was considered a storm surge, not a hurricane, and we had hurricane insurance but not flood insurance,” said Helen.
Despite that costly obstacle the community rallied around them, helping them to rebuild and eventually reopen. Now they say business is booming and they couldn’t be happier. Sadly, that’s not the story for everyone.
“We have some friends down the road who weren’t able to open back up, they lost their cars, their house, their restaurant, all in the same hurricane,” said Helen.
About five miles down the road from them you’ll find that restaurant they’re talking about, Matanzas Inlet, owned by a similar couple married over thirty years. However, the owners Joan and Jerry Galasso lost everything in the hurricane and the struggle has only gotten worse.
“We come here about once a week to get our mail, and just check on it, I mean how can it get any worse?” said Joan. “It’s a debris field here. We’re in limbo. We don’t know what to do.”
The Galassos say they have tried everything to get this place back in order. But they can’t do much until FEMA gives them an answer about insurance coverage. They have contacted FEMA several times but they are still waiting for information on how they can move forward.
“We raised our family here, all the help was like family too,” said Jerry.
The Galassos have tried to clean up as they wait for answers from FEMA but every time they come to their restaurant they discover more trash or items missing. They’re worried about theft especially because this area is dangerous with broken glass covering the ground.
“We had someone from NOAA come here and tell us there was a five or six foot storm surge in the building,” said Jerry.
There are remnants from their final night of business last October but nothing of what this place used to be remains. What was once a popular restaurant with a beautiful waterfront view attracting celebrities like Kenny Chesney is now a lot full of wreckage and full of memories.
It wasn’t just the restaurant they lost, but their home and cars were flooded too.
“You know, material things aren’t important. You learn what’s important.”
They have hired a public adjuster and plan to hire an attorney. They say FEMA told them there was a light at the end of the tunnel months ago but they haven’t seen any proof of that.
The Galassos recently did an interview with the Smithsonian as well. That story will air in a few weeks. Until then, they continue to come to the restaurant they once called their second home in hopes of finding help in some way.