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Coconut Jack’s Waterfront Grille in Bonita Springs opened Feb. 3 for the first time since Hurricane Ian.

The restaurant off Bonita Beach Road experienced 7 feet of storm surge on Sept. 28. After more than four months of work to reopen, owner Melissa Wasno was thrilled to be back serving the Southwest Florida community.

“We are so excited. I mean, everyone coming in the door, we’re crying, we’re laughing, we’re hugging each other. The team, the staff, everyone here is so excited to be back,” Wasno said.

When customers return to the popular waterfront spot specializing in fresh local seafood, perhaps to order the restaurant’s renowned stuffed grouper, they’ll notice a new paint job and new furniture.

Wasno worked multiple jobs to save enough to purchase the property in 2010, and opened the restaurant shortly after. Coconut Jack’s became a spot for many major moments in her life, including where she was engaged and married. Coconut Jack's in Bonita SpringsShe is grateful for the overwhelming local support for the place that means so much to her. Following the storm, she recalls passersby who offered to help clean up or donate to help fix damages to the restaurant.

Not only did Coconut Jack’s receive overflowing encouragement from locals, but also from figures at the state level. Gov. Ron DeSantis held a press conference at Coconut Jack’s in January to show support for local businesses on waterways that suffered extensive storm damage.

Wasno appreciates the hard work her team put forth since right after the storm and retained 90% of her staff. “They were all here the day after the hurricane. They were here helping clean up. I mean, it was crazy,” she said. “My managers, my front of the house and back of the house stayed with me the whole time.”

Even through a time of tragedy and destruction, Wasno chose to focus on the positive outcomes for the Coconut Jack’s team.

“It was the best team building for my front of the house and back of the house managers who stuck with me,” she said. “They’re so close now. They had really learned to work together to build this place back up to what it was. And they had music on, we had fun, we laughed, we joked. So for me it was a positive thing. It gives you strength.”

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