September 12, 2018

THERESA JAVA/Free Press
The rebuild of Snappers main dining room will offer more ocean views.

THERESA JAVA/Free Press The rebuild of Snappers main dining room will offer more ocean views.

KEY LARGO — A year later, Snappers Key Largo is still mending wounds delivered by Hurricane Irma, but with owner Peter Althuis’ commitment to rebuild, progress ambles on.

Althuis and brother Robert have owned the oceanfront restaurant for three years. He wasn’t surprised, nor devastated, when he stepped foot back on site after last September’s storm. He already knew it lay in shambles.

“I saw it on TV, everybody saw it,” he said of CNN veteran reporter Bill Weir’s post-storm coverage at Snappers. He reported that it had shaken him unlike anything he had seen in 25 years of reporting and covering eight other hurricanes.

The outback Turtle Club bar was obliterated. Docks were smashed and restaurant windows blown out. Rubble was everywhere. The ocean swelled and waves flooded the restaurant with 4.5 feet of water, but Althuis began the long-term cleanup to his 30-year old restaurant.

“I was surprised because my first reaction was to think how to start rebuilding, where to begin,” he said. “The Turtle bar was across the street. Well, pieces of it were.”

He said he has 40 years of experience in the hospitality industry and as a developer, perhaps both a source of his stoicism.

In the days following the hurricane, Snappers offered drinks from ice chests and meals from its food truck to staff, workers and the locals who came to help. Althuis said the help that poured in was humbling.

“Somehow the truck survived. It was sandwiched, but when we got to it, it wasn’t damaged,” Althuis said. “It was about the only thing that wasn’t.”

When power was restored about two-and-a-half weeks later, Althuis started offering an “Irmageddon” menu served from the food truck, which still serves as the kitchen. The seating capacity is still down about half of what it was.

There’s no doubt that the restaurant will be better after the rebuild, Althuis said.

Althuis said the new dining room will offer more ocean views. The reception area will be larger and offer retail merchandise, and the kitchen will be clad in stainless steel.

The 12 dock slips have since been rebuilt, the outside tiki bar is operating and additional seating has been added with shade.

Althuis said that the following months after the storm brought more business than he had expected.

“It’s this time, the off-season for many of us now, that will be the moment of truth,” he said. “The tourists will hopefully come back, which I like, but it’s the locals who are the backbone to this place.”

Since recently obtaining work permits, Althuis expects the rebuild to progress quickly and anticipates reopening the dining room the beginning of November. When it does, he and his staff will once again have to adjust to things being normal, a shift from the post-Irma normal they’ve been operating since the hurricane.

As for the Turtle Club bar being rebuilt, Althuis is still seeking permits.

Snapper’s sells about 25 to 30 different T-shirts that directly fund rebuild efforts. The restaurant donates 10 percent of other merchandising profits to Coral Restoration Foundation.

Snappers Waterfront Restaurant is located at mile marker 94.5, oceanside, at 139 Seaside Ave. For more information about its rebuilding efforts or menu options, call 305-852-5956 or visit snapperskeylargo.com.

tjava@keysnews.com