FORT MYERS BEACH
The road to recovery for businesses on Fort Myers Beach has not been easy. Favorite hangouts where people on the beach have made memories for years have been taken away.
Tor the restaurants in Times Square, trying to rebuild has been especially hard. Despite the tough recovery, the people who manage those popular spots tell us persistence is key.
WINK News spoke with Tom Houghton, the owner of La Ola Restaurant, the night before Hurricane Ian made landfall in Southwest Florida. He was standing where his restaurant used to be, putting down sandbags and preparing for a flood.
Houghton said that night that he was going to open his restaurant back up as soon as he could after the storm. Even though he didn’t know the entire concrete structure of his restaurant would crumble to the ground, he kept that promise.
“It’s definitely been a journey for sure. You know, so a lot of sleepless nights,” said Houghton. “I think we all still have those breakdowns every once in a while. A lot of times for me, it might be in my car when I’m driving all by myself,” Houghton said.
After landfall, the entire restaurant was gone. “It’s crazy to think about all that we’ve been through and how far we’ve actually come. So it’s, it feels good.”
Houghton’s restaurant wasn’t gone for long. “I’ve got a lot of people that have been with me for a long time. I just felt like I had to bring it back in whatever shape or form I could.”
Determined to come back is an understatement for Houghton. First, it was the food truck less than two months after the storm hit. “Around November 2. And Terry over across the street was nice enough to let us use his parking lot because it was, you know, the restaurant was still a big pile of rubble at the time.”
Now, it is something bigger. “It’s two 40-foot shipping containers that have been converted into one bar. They’re shipping separately, then they’ll get joined together when they arrive on-site, so the rear unit has a 10 by eight walk-in cooler on one end, a 10 by eight bathroom cube.”
A larger operation will feed more people and bring more life back to the beach, and hopefully, fewer birds.
“We do have a problem with birds. And don’t feed the birds, people, please,” said Houghton.
Houghton has provided extra garbage cans in the area to hopefully lead to less trash and fewer birds.