Rockaway restaurant fights back for its place in the sun

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Robert Kaskel opened Thai Rock on Beach 92nd Street and Jamaica Bay in 2011, and he is hoping to reopen the building's back deck later this month after his businesses were damaged during Superstorm Sandy. Photo by Christina Santucci
The view from the back deck of Thai Rock looks out onto the Cross Bay Memorial Bridge. Photo by Christina Santucci
Thai Rock is located at 375 Beach 92nd Street in the Rockaways. Photo by Christina Santucci
The interior of the Rockaway Beach restaurant is gutted six months after the storm. Photo by Christina Santucci

Robert Kaskel’s businesses in the Rockaways sustained more than $1 million in damage during Superstorm Sandy.

But after six months of work to make the building structurally stable, he is optimistic that the back porch of his restaurant,Thai Rock, will reopen later this month while repairs continue inside.

Kaskel had laid plans for three businesses - Thai Rock, a live music venue on the porch and a water sports shop - with his wife Metta in 2010 and opened up in the rented location in Rockaway Beach the following year.

“We spent that winter renovating the place,” he said. “Now we have a lot of renovating to do all over again.”

As the repairs are made on the rest of the building, Kaskel hopes the projected reopening of the deck on May 20 will provide the couple with some money coming in. They have been living without any income since Sandy hit in late October.

“I can do the water sports and I can do most of my bar life and some entertainment perhaps and even some very limited cooking just by getting the deck operating,” he said. “It’s the fastest thing for us to do.”

Kaskel explained that it would be less work to demolish the popular restaurant and completely rebuild. However, it would take longer and cost more money upfront.

“Since you have to do everything, it’s piece by piece. Take this part out, put in a new one. Take the next part out and put in the next one. So you are actually doing double work,” he said.

When Sandy’s storm surge flooded the peninsula, the restaurant, which is situated on piers at Beach 92nd Street, became unstable. Most of the structure is built over water and about 10 percent to 15 percent is over land.

“My building was ready to fall into the bay after Sandy,” he said, sitting inside his apartment above the eatery Sunday.

In addition, Kaskel and his wife had to make a decision about whether they wanted to stay in the property and continue to pay rent, buy the building or shut down the businesses. Before the storm, Kaskel had been in talks with the property’s owner about buying the location. Even if he had opted to continue renting, Kaskel would have been responsible for making repairs to the storm damage because of his triple-net lease. Every single aspect of the property was the responsibility of the Kaskels.

“If we are going to go forward with this business, which we love and we put our everything into, then we need to buy the property,” Kaskel told his wife. “It was clear to me that I either decide to stay or go.”

After cobbling together the money to make the purchase, Kaskel and his wife then focused their attention on the repairs to the building, which also became their home as their house was badly damaged during Sandy.

The walls and the flooring - and then parts of the subfloor - had to be removed in the building.

“The walls almost around the entire building were no longer connected to the house,” he said.

Contractors built temporary support structures inside to keep the roof from falling down and the walls from collapsing.

“That was about all of the money I had at that point, so we stayed like that for a while,” Kaskel said.

About a month ago, Kaskel was able to secure temporary financing with an interest rate of 13 percent. He described this as a good rate, even with the strings attached: he had to pay a year’s interest up front and faces a deadline to pay the money within a year with no possibility of an extension.

“It’s not enough to get the place operating again, but it’s enough to get the contractor back on the job and start working,” he said.

Kaskel is currently applying for a disaster loan from the Small Business Administration.

“I’m not in a position to afford something like what I need to do without some serious government help,” he said.

He hopes a loan will help provide the funds needed to make the more repairs.

“Now there is a really big push to get back on track to fixing the building itself, now that the building is solid, and the amount of work is really tremendous,” he said.

Kaskel said what his business needs most is money. He has organized several fund-raisers - in Manhattan and Long Island - mostly as promotional events.

“It’s really at that $1.3 to $1.5 [million] plus range that I need to find just to reopen,” he said. “Making a couple of thousand bucks at most for a fund-raiser or two, that doesn’t touch that kind of number.”

Kaskel explained he does not want to look for money within the Rockaways because many of his neighbors are struggling just as he is.

“Everybody has been hurt so hard,” he said.

Still, the Rockaways need businesses - his and others - to return to help revitalize the peninsula, he believes.

On Sunday, Metta Kaskel gave this reporter a quick tour of Thai Rock’s gutted interior and back deck, pausing to look at water lapping the pillars of the Cross Bay Memorial Bridge.

“When there is a sunset, it’s just beautiful,” she said.

Updated 1:00 am, May 3, 2013
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Reader feedback

william Ruiz from Ozone Park says:
Robert Kaskel and his family have been a major force in the Rockaway community. His Thai Rock on Beach 92nd has been a cultrual mainstay for as long as I can recall. It would be a major travesty to lose such a valuable asset in a community already realing from the trauma of Hurricane Sandy. Let's show the Kaskel Family that we value and truely care their business and its value. His business is needed there and it's a place that we all consider home. We need our electice officials to come together and help people like Robert Kaskel and his family.
May 2, 2013, 3:40 pm

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