Hurricane Sandy? Fuhgeddaboutit. Marco has its own Hurricane Sandy.
The powerful “Superstorm” last October skirted the area, but unleashed its full fury on the Northeast including, notably, the Jersey shore. Sandy was the second costliest hurricane ever in the U.S., surpassed only by Katrina, and economic losses in New Jersey alone were estimated at up to $30 billion, with over 345,000 homes damaged or destroyed.
On Marco Island, “Hurricane Sandy” has to mean Sandy Franchino, owner of Cafe de Marco in Old Marco. A New Jersey native, she retains strong ties to her home state. When she heard N.J. Governor Chris Christie proclaim June 19 National Dine Out Day, to benefit the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund, she rose to the challenge.
Cafe de Marco hosted a dinner featuring “A Jersey Girl’s Menu” on Wednesday, bringing the taste of the shore to the island, and supporting hurricane relief with a portion of each diner’s check. The staff got into the theme with gusto, transforming themselves into Guidos and Guidettes. The only thing missing was a cameo appearance by Snooki, but no one was complaining, ya know what I mean?
Rather than “Ah, good evening, and welcome to Café de Marco,” guests were greeted with an enthusiastic “How ya doin?” by guys and gals clad in Fedoras, tuxedo T-shirts and attitudes worthy of the Sopranos, only friendlier. Out in front, Denise Juliano, a veteran of the boardwalk at Seaside Heights, cooked up peppers and sausage “with fennel in it, the real thing,” she said. Host Mike Chojnowski sported a toothpick dangling from his lip, and a necktie artfully loosened, beneath his straw snapbrim hat. When you take your fashion cues from Frank Sinatra, how can you go wrong?
Photo by LANCE SHEARER // Buy this photo
Sandy Franchino looked to be straight out of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” in a vivid, untucked hot pink shirt and killer heels. Like her namesake storm, she was everywhere, greeting customers and organizing the fund-raising games and raffles. These included a New Jersey-themed wheel of fortune, which offered token prizes to players who could answer questions such as “what is the state bird of New Jersey?” and “how many exits on the Jersey shore?” (It’s the American goldfinch and 18.)
The music was all Jersey all the time, ranging from Connie Francis to Frankie Valli and Bruce Springsteen, and for a donation, patrons could take home a mix CD of their favorites. Jersey posters showing famous natives and proclaiming “Restore the Shore” were everywhere.
The joint was jumping, with a strong response from locals.
“We’re going to have a full house, and then some,” said Franchino. “This means a lot to me.”