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NORTH PORT | Restaurant still trying to recover nearly a year after Ian

Austin's North Port
Posted at 4:40 PM, Sep 26, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-26 22:25:41-04

NORTH PORT, Fla. — With southwest Florida nearing the one-year mark since Hurricane Ian, the damage on the outside is hard to miss. Meanwhile, behind closed doors, many people and businesses are still suffering, too.

Austin's North Port along Tamiami Trail near Sumter Boulevard is one of the businesses trying to bounce back.

Owner Mike Austin bought the business in May 2022 and spent the night at the restaurant during Ian, along with employees and their families.

"We had some that knew they were in dangerous areas, so they stayed here," Austin said.

Looking out the window of the restaurant, Austin saw awnings fly away, a canopy hit his truck and his sign blow away. At one point, the doors flew open, causing more damage inside. He had to use a chain to keep them closed.

When the skies cleared, Austin was able to go outside to get a closer look at the damage.

"We had roof damage, we had leaks throughout the restaurant," Austin said. "Had a lot of damage to the building, have been fighting with the insurance companies."

He and the employees stayed at the restaurant for about a month. During that time, they took all of the restaurant's food and served it to first responders.

Meanwhile, the power did not come back on for about a month, meaning the doors of Austin's stayed closed.

As we hit the year mark, Austin says he has spent close to $500,000 in damages. He is struggling with getting insurance to pay out the full amount, and says all of the damages are close to $800,000.

The damage goes beyond a dollar sign, though.

"Sitting here empty is not what we want, but of course we’re happy that we can open when we do," Austin said.

Normally, the restaurant would be open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

"We were closed for over a month and lost a bit of our employees," Austin said. "At first we tried to do just lunch and dinner. We were still stretching our staff too thin, so then we had to go to dinner only."

As Austin spoke with Fox 4, several people came to the front door trying to get a meal. It's a sight that Austin, a veteran, says he has come to terms with.

"There's no way to avoid it," he said. "You just accept life and move on."

Austin says he's going to look ahead for his business, the employees and the City of North Port.

"Keep fighting and moving forward," he said.