MATLACHA, Fla. — A little more than three months after Hurricane Ian hit southwest Florida, a Matlacha restaurant is back open for business.
Employees at the Blue Dog Bar and Grill spent a lot of time rebuilding the restaurant.
"Just proud of them, how far they’ve come in a couple months," said Mitch Cosgrey, one of the first customers on Wednesday. "One of our favorite places."
On the outside there was minimal damage. The inside had more than four feet of water. The destruction is something contractors and homeowners are cleaning up daily, though the recovery is creating a lot of traffic on Pine Island.
Customers and employees say they don't believe it will create a ton of congestion, but rather bring the island back to life.
"It’ll help, it’ll help the economy and yeah, there will be more traffic because a lot of people will come out here," Cosgrey said.
"I think it’s a real positive for the community because it’s one more step towards a step of normalcy," said John Lynch, owner of Blue Dog. "You need to get those people back to work, you need to get them — making car payments, making their rent, their mortgage."
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This day, he says, has brought on a mix of emotions.
"We just turned on the open sign and unlocked the doors," Lynch said. "Happy, excited, relieved, tired and a little bit scared."
The positive feelings are echoed by the customers, but the restaurant no longer has an echo. Wednesday, customers packed the once empty restaurant.
"On Wednesdays we ride somewhere to a restaurant and have lunch and we picked this place today and we heard they were open and here we are," one customer said.
The reopening was not promoted on social media. Lynch says they wanted a soft launch to get back into the groove of things.
"That’s the best part about it, just waiting to be able to cook and now we’re finally doing it," said assistant kitchen manager Merri Shallow.
It's going to take at least a week to get a full menu and open up the patio, but customers say it's not going to stop them from enjoying a Matlacha staple.
"It’s so great to see a place still survived back open again, I think it's great," a customer said.