Old Saybrook - Restaurateur Jon Kodama said he always knew people liked Dock & Dine restaurant at Saybrook Point, but he never understood how attached they were until Superstorm Sandy almost wiped it out last October.
Now that the restaurant has announced a Friday reopening on the first official day of summer, however, he is getting a swirl of congratulatory messages thanking him for reviving a landmark that some feared would be gone forever.
"It's an iconic place," said Kodama, who has owned the shoreline restaurant since 1987. "It's an important part of Saybrook Point."
But Sandy hit the restaurant, which sits alongside the Connecticut River not far from Long Island Sound, very hard. About 4½ feet of moving water got into the building, knocking over everything in its wake.
"This storm was a doozy," Kodama said. "Everything was destroyed - bars, partitions, furniture. It was scary."
What was worse, Sandy came little more than a year after the restaurant sustained another battering during Hurricane Irene. Irene did much less damage, but the 13,000-square-foot Dock & Dine did not return to serving customers last year until August as extensive repairs were made.
After Sandy, it became clear that the whole season at Dock & Dine was in danger. That's because the front of the building sustained structural damage, Kodama said, and federal flood regulations require structures to be rebuilt up to code if the cost of repairing them is more than 50 percent or the original market value.
After waiting for an insurance settlement, there was no way Dock & Dine would be ready this summer, Kodama figured. So he went another route, taking inspiration from business people at Misquamicut Beach in Westerly who had received permission from town authorities to erect temporary structures where they could serve food this year while they worked on a permanent solution for 2014.
To his surprise, town authorities had no problem with the idea.
"I think we can make this happen," he was told.
So, after a 63-day run at a newly renovated Dock & Dine last year, Kodama and his daughter Mari, general manager of the restaurant, are preparing for another short season. At the end of September - or perhaps as late as Columbus Day - they expect to take the old Dock & Dine down, building a new, smaller structure elevated on piles about 10½ feet higher above the water than the original.
In recognition of the changes ahead, Kodama has made T-shirts with the slogan "Last Summer at Elevation 4.5 (feet)." Another shirt reads "Rise Up to Elevation 15.0 (feet)."
"We can't rebuild right over the water, but we will be right at the water's edge," Kodama said.
Craig Hedges, a workman for Uplands Construction Group in North Stonington who was putting the finishing touches on Dock & Dine repairs late last week, explained that a new deck is being constructed where the main dining room had been.
The deck should accommodate well over 100 patrons, Kodama said, helping to make up for seating lost when the front of the building had to be taken down because of structural damage. Another 180 to 200 seats should be available inside the renovated restaurant, he added, still leaving the facility with only about two-thirds the capacity it had before Sandy hit.
A new bar has been built in an area that had been previously used as a banquet room, as Dock & Dine is downplaying that side of the business.
The reopened business, expected to employ as many as 90 people during the height of the season, will feature all of its most popular items from the past and an extensive menu. The restaurant is on schedule to reopen Friday, but final approval will depend on a town inspection early this week.
Kodama, who also owns Steak Loft, Go Fish and Ten Clams restaurants in Mystic, said he expects a lot of people will come down to Saybrook Point to check out Dock & Dine this summer. Some, he said, will show up out of curiosity, others out of sympathy and support, and still others because they have done so all their lives, for special family occasions.
"A lot of people will come because it will be the last time they will see it as they remember it," Kodama said.
What: Dock & Dine restaurant
Where: 145 College St., Old Saybrook
Opening: Friday, June 21 (pending town inspection)
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to midnight (estimate), seven days a week
Phone: (860) 388-4665