Although it made a comeback after suffering damage from Hurricane Ian last year, Hurricane Charley’s Sushi, Raw Bar & Grill was not so lucky after Hurricane Idalia brushed Punta Gorda and caused flooding from torrential rainfall Aug. 30.
Punta Gorda Fire Marshal Jennifer Molnar said she and city building official Kathleen Croteau conducted a walkthrough site inspection of the restaurant Aug. 31 and found several damages and code violations, which made it unsafe for the restaurant to reopen.
The popular downtown restaurant was named after Hurricane Charley, which slammed Punta Gorda in 2004. The restaurant weathered many storms until Ian hit.
The restaurant shares an adjoining wall with the two-story section of the Punta Gorda Waterfront Hotel & Suites, which suffered substantial damage from Hurricane Ian and has been closed ever since.
The main part of the hotel is five stories, but the two-story section has been targeted for demolition due to extensive damage.
Hurricane Charley’s General Manager and Head of Catering Bob McCurry said in August, some two weeks before Idalia arrived, that the restaurant’s owner, management and staff were worried about the fate of the restaurant should demolition to the hotel occur, as it shares a common wall.
Hurricane Charley’s is owned by Dean Stainton, who also owns Dean’s South of the Border, another popular Punta Gorda restaurant on the northbound side of U.S. 41. Hurricane Charley’s is next to the U.S. 41 southbound bridge and its address is on Retta Esplanade, across from Carmelo’s Italian Ristorante.
Hurricane Charley’s leased its restaurant space from the hotel’s owner Ron Asmar. There were slightly more than 10 years left on the lease. After the city’s inspection, the restaurant will be closed until further notice.
Posts on Hurricane Charley’s Facebook page state the restaurant is temporarily closed, and that a special menu of its popular foods is available at Dean’s South of the Border.
Molnar said damages from Hurricane Idalia were substantial. In her Punta Gorda Fire Department report, she wrote that water was dripping from the ceiling in the restaurant banquet hall and soaking the floors throughout the area, which had standing water and mud.
Several buckets were being used to catch water falling from the ceiling. In the exit egress hallway, water leaked from the ceiling, and there was a heavy smell of mold. Visible mold was present on walls and ceilings, she wrote in the report.
Also, there was no power for emergency lights or exit lights.
When she arrived, “Restaurant staff and management were actively working on-site to clean up the water inside the restaurant and prepare for opening to the public,” Molnar said in the report.
There were more hazards that she and Croteau found, such as missing and bulging ceiling tiles that were holding water. Drywall ceilings were damaged, and water dripped through the openings.
“The ceiling lid must also be maintained in order for the fire sprinkler system to work properly in accordance with [National Fire Protection Association] 13 fire code,” she stated in her report.
The roof inspection above the restaurant revealed multiple mechanical equipment problems and failures and compromised open electrical wiring.
The roof was holding water, and it was discovered the roof drainage system and equipment had not been well maintained, allowing the water buildup to come into the restaurant.
Molnar questioned Stainton and the representative for property owner Asmar, and each said it was the other’s responsibility to fix restaurant damages, she said.
The restaurant’s air conditioning and vent systems were not working, either. “Too little makeup air will cause excessive negative pressures to develop in the kitchen, thereby reducing the exhaust airflow,” Molnar said.
Her report went on to explain that a grease buildup due to reduced airflow poses a significant fire hazard. Those conditions made the kitchen inoperable, she explained.
Meanwhile, the city of Punta Gorda sent a Notice of Violation to Asmar, whose address in Southfield, Michigan, on July 16. The letter was returned July 18 marked undelivered, as the recipient refused it, according to the city’s Code Compliance department.
Molnar said the restaurant’s owner filed a lawsuit against the landlord, but she could not provide details.
The issues the hotel and restaurant already had after Ian were substantial, but “Idalia complicated those issues,” she said.
Molnar said the property could become a “money pit” as the necessary repairs needed to bring the property into compliance will be costly.
At 9 a.m. Sept. 27 at the Military Heritage Museum, 900 W. Marion Ave. in Punta Gorda, the city will hold a code enforcement hearing about the Punta Gorda Waterfront Hotel’s code violations.