UNION BEACH, NJ – David Mason, an American-born Rabbi from Jerusalem and owner of CabinetHardware.org, arrived in Union Beach, NJ in early July, nine months after Hurricane Sandy hit. Mason was hoping to help one family rebuild their home in the aftermath of the storm. “When we arrived in town, it immediately became clear that the needs of the community were far greater than we’d ever imagined. Helping one family rebuild no longer seemed like enough.”
At JakeaBob’s Off the Bay, Mason found a better solution. “There was a group of volunteers from the Jewish Federation sitting with two Christian pastors, and in the center of everything was owner Gigi Liaguno-Dorr, a force of nature herself.” Gigi’s original business, JakeaBob’s Bay was decimated by the hurricane. Today, nothing remains except for pylons in the water where the dock once stood, a dock that was found eight blocks away after the storm.
“When Hurricane Sandy hit Union Beach, Gigi stepped up to help when no one else would lead,” Pastor Carl Williamson of the Gateway Church of Christ said. “She did not concern herself with her own business, but instead with the needs of the people who had lost homes and possessions through the storm.”
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This past April, Gigi opened JakeaBob’s Off the Bay, a temporary inland restaurant operating until JakeaBob’s Bay is rebuilt. “As soon as we stepped in,” Rabbi Mason admits, “I knew this was where we should focus our energies.”
The original JakeaBob’s employed 74 people, two thirds from Union Beach, a community of only 6600. “We’re used to being very, very busy. We get at least ten calls a day from people asking if the Tiki Bar is open, if there’s music out there tonight, and I have to go through the whole story of how the restaurant was destroyed. Sometimes those calls are hard to answer.” Gigi said. The temporary restaurant employs 24, just a third of the original amount.
“Maimonides tells us that the highest level of charity is to provide jobs, to help others help themselves,” Mason continues. “Rebuilding JakeaBob’s would have a huge impact on the unemployment in town, but I believe its ability to inspire would be even greater.”
“It’s a tribute to the town,” Gigi said, referring to the unique way she reconstructed her business. After the storm, with 15 displaced neighbors living in her home, Gigi brainstormed with her new housemates about how they could best pay homage to their town and the business that had once stood on the waterside. Suddenly inspired, Gigi exclaimed: “We’ll go and collect doors and we’ll use them as tabletops and dividers!” Indeed, when people walk into the temporary JakeaBob’s, the first thing they’ll notice are the doors, which are everywhere from the entryway, to the walls, to the tabletops. Each one is brightly painted and prominently displays the address it once called home. “In the kitchen, it’s not table 1 through 20, it’s 404 Shore or 910 Harris.” The homeowners get special satisfaction from sitting at their former front doors. “They come in and if someone’s sitting at their table they’ll say, ‘we’ll wait.’”
While the doors set the scene, the walls tell Sandy’s story, showing the town before and after the storm, and sharing inspirational quotes to keep the community’s spirits up. But the real life of the restaurant comes from the people within, a mixture of residents and volunteers from all over the country who have come to Union Beach to help with rebuilding, and all congregate together at JakeaBob’s.
The Rabbi and the Pastor are collaborating to help Gigi. As Williamson notes, “Gigi continues to give even though she herself is in need.” In collaboration with Williamson’s non-profit, Rabbi Mason is trying to raise a $10,000 rebuilding grant for JakeaBob’s reconstruction through his website CabinetHardware.org, which is turning the traditional business model on its head by merging crowdfunding with ecommerce. Anyone who shops on its site can designate 10 percent of their total purchase to a featured project. The project must receive 100 or more votes to qualify for assistance. “We are a home improvement site, so it’s only natural for us to give back by helping those struggling to improve their homes and businesses. By shopping on our site, you can renovate your own home and at the same time help others with no additional cost to you,” says Mason.
“For anyone who wants to understand the impact of Hurricane Sandy and help with the rebuilding, the number one thing I’d tell them to do is go to JakeaBob’s,” Mason continued. “Gigi even asked me what she would have to do to make it kosher so I could eat there as well—and got a good laugh when I told her.” The second thing to do is to vote to rebuild JakeaBob’s at CabinetHardware.org.
Even without the help of these two men of God, one thing is obvious: The force of Sandy may have vanished, but Gigi’s force of nature is here to stay. “Boston has Cheers; Union Beach has JakeaBob’s!” To learn more and to vote for the rebuilding of JakeaBob’s Bay, visit http://www.cabinethardware.org/relief-efforts/rebuild-jakeabobs.