the flog

REBUILDING a Piece of San Marco

Beloved eatery faces long road back from Hurricane Irma


Scavengers perusing San Marco's northern end these days walk away with bundles of half-destroyed treasures, picked from the piles of hurricane trash still out on the curb. But passersby leave hungry if they had been headed to the popular European Street Cafe. The restaurant took a major hit from Hurricane Irma.

The building was left standing in two feet of water. Due to legal guidelines, the café had to clear up to two feet above where the water ended. The vast majority of the café's walls, counters, appliances, parts of the ceiling, and décor has been demolished. Flood insurance is covering the majority of the damage, which could cost up to a half-million dollars. However, income lost will not be covered for the five months European Street Cafe is to be closed.

Andy Zarka, co-owner and son of European Street Cafe's founders, runs the restaurants across Jacksonville. Just about every day, Zarka opens the doors to what is left of his restaurant as workers arrive. And every day, people stop on the street to grab the remainders from that day's demolition. Zarka said they seldom have to have the dumpster emptied because of scavengers seeking keepsakes.

 Zarka said just about everything has to be replaced. "We are almost treating it like a brand new restaurant. It is going to have the same general layout, same menu, but we are going to update the look," Zarka said.

The European Street Cafe began as a restaurant called Mr. Dunderbak's in the Regency Square mall in 1980. Not only has the restaurant changed its name, but it added several new items to its German-inspired menu and wide assortment of beers. It's now known as a local speakeasy, frequently holding small concerts and community events. And of course it's popular because of its enormous beer selection.

Before the hurricane, the San Marco location employed approximately 25 people. Some of the employees have chosen to take shifts at one of the other locations. Others have had to move on to different employment. However, Zarka said any and all of them are welcome to come back to work at the café when it reopens.

Zarka said he's been grateful for the community support and for encouragement from customers whom he also calls friends.

"I think that is something we have fostered for a long time-a sense of family and community," Zarka said.

Zarka said that he wanted to give back in some way to those who have given support to others during the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. The business started a weekly social media campaign called #ESTrong to recognize local do-gooders. Anyone can nominate someone deserving recognition for the work done after the hurricane. The weekly winner receives a $50 gift card for the café and recognition on Facebook.

San Marco's European Street Cafe is currently gutted down to little more than the building it began with. The columns are left standing with few walls to cover them. The floors are stripped to the concrete they began as, and the original layout exists only in the minds of those who have seen it. However, the exterior structure remains as intact as the community that supports it.

After Zarka locked the doors of the café, he picked up a piece of debris and walked away, carrying a piece of the restaurant to his car.

"We are just working a little harder. This one being gone certainly hurts, but we will be ok." Zarka said.

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