PORT ORANGE — All was well Monday morning at Giuseppe’s Steel City Pizza on Nova Road — or so it seemed.
Hurricane Irma had knocked out the electricity, but a full glass of water kept frozen in the freezer with a quarter at the brim had not begun thawing — a sure sign it hadn’t been out more than 30 minutes.
Owners Julie and Joe Mialki knew from experience the power was usually restored quickly, and after a hurricane business is booming.
“It’s normally like there’s a rock concert and we’re giving away free tickets,” Julie said. But hours later, the building remained in darkness. A tree uprooted by Irma had dragged down a nearby power line.
Giuseppe’s wasn’t the only small business disrupted by Irma’s wrath. The story of how the Mialkis got up and running again reflects the experience of many Volusia and Flagler County restaurants.
Tuesday morning, the Mialkis arrived to find “total food spoilage,” she said. “We had to empty every cooler, and bleach and clean without power.”
The lost inventory was expensive — more than $20,000 worth of ingredients went in the dumpster — and insurance coverage likely will be “very minimal, if any at all.”
Mialki cringed over every discarded item, she said, “but you gotta do it. I’m not gonna serve something questionable. I’d rather lose money than get even one person sick.”
After 36 years in business, customers become like family. The restaurant is a haven for fellow Pittsburgh Steelers fans, but it attracts plenty of regulars who favor opposing teams.
“They won’t sit next to the (Jerome) Bettis jersey (framed on the wall), but they sit and eat pizza,” Mialki said. “It’s the food they come for.”
The Mialkis were inundated by phone calls in the storm’s aftermath from hungry customers and concerned well-wishers, and about 50 made inquiries in person, she said.
Darlene Librizzi was one such regular, and she returned Wednesday to check on a large catering order for her grandson’s first birthday celebration.
“I didn’t have a good feeling at all. I thought we weren’t going to have food,” said Librizzi, a customer of 12 years. But her fears likely will be eased. Mialki expects to be firing on all cylinders soon.
In South Daytona, Backyard Boys BBQ on South Ridgewood Avenue also lost power but found a creative way to serve customers the same day Irma cleared out.
In the meantime, owner Tim Carner set up his outdoor vending equipment and smokers to attract storm-weary wanderers braving Monday’s lingering winds.
“We had lines of 100 people all day long, including utility workers and people trimming trees,” Carner said. “Nobody could find food anywhere.”
The rush continued Tuesday. A broad banner advertising the open business was obstructed from view in a parking lot packed with power company trucks.
Diners found their way back to Giuseppe’s on Tuesday as well, but found some of their favorites missing from the menu.
Weekly customer Jeff Murphy came for the spaghetti but settled for a pie instead. “The pizza’s always good,” he said.
Everything is made from scratch, Mialki said, and it takes time to prepare their spaghetti sauce and salad dressing, so only pizza, wings and some subs that could be prepared more quickly were available Tuesday.
She’s short on staff, too. Of the restaurant’s roughly 50 employees, she has yet to hear from 10 evacuees and others are still making their way back to the area. It’s the first time since she and her husband opened the restaurant in 1982 that they’ve been faced with such a situation.
The pair were married right out of high school and moved from New Jersey to Florida before beginning the business. In the early days, Mialki said, “We gave a lot to the community when we didn’t have it to give.”
Now, they’re reaping the rewards.
“The community is here for us, and we’re here for them,” she said. “It will take a little while to recoup, but we’re strong.”
— Business Editor Clayton Park contributed to this story.