VENICE, Fla. (WFLA) – Two weeks after Hurricane Ian and the subsequent flooding from the Myakka River, the Snook Haven restaurant nestled in the backwoods of Sarasota County remains closed.
“It’s not the tropical Florida you’re used to,” said Justin Pachota, president of the Venice Pier Group. “It’s one of the oldest locations you will find for a restaurant in the state of Florida.”
The Venice Pier Group has operated the barbecue restaurant for a decade in the county-owned park.
Pachota said the flooding at Snook Haven is unlike anything he’s seen before.
“I would say I was shocked to see the water that high,” Pachota said. “I mean, I knew there would be damages. I knew there would be water, just not to that degree. Not to that level.”
While the water from the river has receded and tree companies cleared the roadway entering the park, Pachota has not been able to enter the restaurant to determine the full extent of the damage.
“Anything we had in the freezers and equipment is probably a total loss,” he said.
The park is still closed to the public and Pachota is waiting for the “all clear” from county officials once inspectors deem the site safe.
“Our restaurant company is built on resiliency,” he said.
Fortunately for Pachota, his family’s two restaurants by the Venice Pier, Fins and Sharky’s on the Pier, had limited damage. They were back open the weekend after the hurricane.
“We have an amazing group of people,” Pachota said. “Couldn’t have been open so quickly without them.”
Pachota said he’s been focused on helping the staff from Snook Haven find a place to work by transferring them to the group’s other restaurants.
“My house did get really bad damage,” waitress Nicole Cummins said. “So they got me working right away. They asked my availability. They work around it. They’re amazing people to work for.”
Cummins is now training at Sharky’s on the Pier, while her family is still displaced from their Englewood home because of wind and water damage.
“It ripped my roof off and then it all just started coming down in inside,” she said.
Cummins said she hopes Snook Haven will be able to reopen so she can return to serving the customers there.
“It would mean a lot to the employees but also the regulars that come there because it’s like home for everyone.”
Pachota said as soon as the county gives him permission, they will try to “make it happen as quickly as we can.”