Amid a pink flamingo, where silverware, plates and mugs don’t match, scents of fresh, homemade food fill the open air, with a roof made naturally of only wisteria and olive trees, and an eclectic atmosphere makes you truly feel the vacation consume you, you will find a little piece of paradise in The Sandbox Café.
“It’s just like Key West here on LBI,” Dana DiSalvio, co-owner of The Sandbox Café said of the restaurant.
“Something you would never put in your yard, but it just fits in our place!” Vinny DiSalvio co-owner and Dana’s husband said, “Nothing makes sense but everything makes sense.”
The Sandbox Café started in 2003 and the restaurant is now entering their 11th season. Dana has been in the restaurant business for 40 years, while Vinny is learning and growing with The Sandbox Café.
Throughout this restaurant experience, Vinny said, “Most of our customers are our friends now. We have made so many friends from this restaurant.”
However, Hurricane Sandy really turned this island paradise upside-down. “We’re starting over,” Dana said.
Without insurance, the couple has had to restore The Sandbox Café on their own financially. According to Dana, there was mud everywhere and all of their equipment had to be replaced.
Since Dana is also a teacher, Vinny has been the one restoring The Sandbox Café. It has taken Vinny since January to get ready to reopen on Mother’s Day weekend.
“We did lose everything,” Dana said, but, then, to follow, Dana said, “We’re lucky we have four concrete walls, so you just wash it up!”
However, although The Sandbox Café did not receive any financial aid by way of insurance, the couple has received overwhelming support, from friends and customers as far away as Canada, who were willing to do whatever they could to help restore The Sandbox Café in time for summer.
Although, the couple is managing and will be ready for their set opening date of May 11th, their only request is, “We just want people to come back to the island,” Dana said, “The restaurant is fine as long as people come back.”
The Sandbox Café has a very interesting history. The restaurant is an original bathhouse from 1960. There are showers and changing rooms there. When the bathhouse opened up it was run by two women who rented out chairs and umbrellas and in what is now the kitchen, the pair would sell hot dogs and snacks.
There are only three of these bathhouses left in New Jersey. There is one in Ocean City, one in Cape May and The Sandbox Café on Long Beach Island. Now, the bathhouse is just a place to shower and change. However, originally, they were aiming to model their bathhouse after the Ocean City Bathhouse, which has lockers and offers more of the traditional bathhouse experience. According to Dana, the restaurant got so big, so fast that their original vision for the bathhouse was no longer possible, due to the availability of space.
Currently, their small kitchen houses 3 cooks a dishwasher and 4 waitresses at a time. “So, it’s really something that we’ve mastered over the years. We had to really work the space that we were allotted,” Dana said.
This year, Vinny has had to put the whole kitchen back together after Hurricane Sandy and now, with Dana having to continue working as a teacher throughout the summer; Vinny has to run the restaurant.
The couple would like to thank all of their fans and, “I would also like to thank my husband. He is wonderful and supportive. I am very lucky!” Dana said.
The Sandbox Café encompasses the whole package. Besides the Key West atmosphere, the food is also island fresh! Everything is homemade and carefully crafted.
According to Dana, the pancakes are 10 to12 inches around and 1 ½ to 2 inches thick! A stack of The Sandbox Café’s pancakes is as Dana said, “like a birthday cake.”
The Sandbox Café prides itself on quality from every inch of the atmosphere that makes up the restaurant. “It’s not just our food, it’s not just our atmosphere, it’s not just the people who work here, it’s the whole experience!” Dana said.
The Sandbox Café is opening May 11th, just in time for Mother’s Day. For more information about the Sandbox Café, check out their Facebook or give them a call at (609) 361-2425.