PUNGO — Wind tide flooding forced Blue Pete’s Restaurant owners Nicholas and Aristotle Cleanthes to close their doors to business for several days in mid-September for the second time in less than two months.
High waters from wind tides swamped the Muddy Creek Road restaurant on Monday, Sept. 17, and it remained closed for cleanup after the water receded and the road reopened midweek. The restaurant, after a cleanup, soon reopened.
This marked the twentieth flooding incident since 2011, when the brothers bought the longtime local favorite, Nicholas Cleanthes said during a visit to the restaurant shortly after the flooding.
Now replacing the existing building with an elevated one may be the only solution to the overall challenge of recurrent flooding along the Pungo road.
Blue Pete’s closed for 16 days in late July and early August, but water levels in September were the highest that he’d ever seen them, Nicholas Cleanthes said.
“We just keep breaking records here,” he added with wry humor.
The twin brothers were still cleaning during the visit, and puddles remained in places around the building even after cool north winds and bright sunshine had dried most of the parking area.
The building’s interior had to be completely scrubbed and dehumidified, and the equipment put back in place before they could reopen, the brothers said.
Still, they love their business, Nicholas Cleanthes said, and they plan to replace the existing building with a three-story structure that will include an elevated dining room and a third floor that will be used as a wedding venue.
Trying to hang onto the old building, which first opened as a restaurant in 1972, just doesn’t seem like the best plan, the brothers said.
“It’s like burning a pot of soup,” Aristotle Cleanthes said. “There’s no way to fix it, so you just have to start over.”
While the restaurant has always been prone to high waters because of its location on Tabernacle Creek, this year has been wetter than most, and Aristotle Cleanthes thinks that heavy rains have contributed to the wind tide flooding.
Still, the wind tides have worsened over the years. “It used to take four days of south wind to cause flooding, and now it floods after one day,” Aristotle Cleanthes said.
Hurricane Florence first brought stiff northeast winds and little rain to southern Virginia Beach, and it appeared that the area had escaped unharmed.
Then, the wind came from the south, and waters from eastern North Carolina – which experienced over 30 inches of rain in places – began to enter Albemarle Sound, pushing northward into Back Bay.
The brothers expected the flooding, but they were surprised at how fast the water rose in the parking lot and seeped into the building. Their equipment escaped undamaged because they moved it above floor level, but they had to throw away food while the restaurant was closed.
Nicholas Cleanthes said that he hasn’t calculated the lost revenue from the closure and ruined food, but that it was “lots.”
Still, the brothers have persevered with the support of the community. After last summer’s flooding, community members donated $24,000 during a Facebook fundraiser begun by Virginia Beach resident Patti Jenkins Newton.
The employees are also supportive in helping with the flood preparation and cleanup, even though the closures put them out of work for several days, Nicholas Cleanthes said.
“We just love this community,” he said. “And we love being able to be part of a family with our community, and the staff who are working together here.”
Again, the restaurant is open for business.
And the brothers even had new shirts coming to commemorate their resilience. The shirts show a jar floating above rough waters and offer a simple message: FLOOD PROOF.
Learn more about the restaurant and its history at bluepetespungo.com, and follow it on Facebook via @BluePetes.
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