After what its owner termed “the worst year we’ve ever had,” Paradise Grill in Long Neck decided to open early this year with a tribute fundraiser for a favorite customer.
Cpl. Keith Heacook, the Delmar police officer who was killed in the line of duty in April, loved going to Paradise Grill, owner Al Tortella said, so he decided to do something for Heacook’s family.
On May 15, Paradise Grill held a fundraiser for Heacook’s family, raising $40,000.
“We don’t do it for admiration; we do it because we wanted to help someone out,” Tortella said. “Cpl. Heacook, he used to come here a lot, it was one of his favorite places. We got wind of that and thought, ‘We have to step up.’”
He said Paradise Grill opened a week earlier than normal and donated proceeds from all sales, plus sales from T-shirts and $10 donations at the door.
“My goal was to raise about $25,000 and we raised $40,000,” Tortella said. “I was impressed with our staff getting everything ready, and I was impressed with the outpouring of support from the community.”
He said the success of the fundraiser was helped by loosened COVID-19 restrictions and decent weather that weekend.
The weather ended up ruining what is normally Paradise Grill’s kickoff on Memorial Day weekend, as the rain caused the restaurant to close May 25, with flooding in some parts of the beach area. Paradise Grill was able to reopen May 26, after staff worked to clean up in time for entertainment by DJ Rob Base, with $5 donations at the door for the Boys & Girls Club in Oak Orchard, which helped raise $5,000.
That was on top of the restaurant being forced to operate with limited capacity due to the pandemic, which meant Paradise Grill did not open its big stage last year. This year’s problem is that finding employees has been tough sledding.
“Last year was by far our worst year ever. This year, everything is opened back up, but normally we staff 370-380 here. We have 91 right now. But it’s the best 91 I’ve ever seen,” Tortella said.
He said as summer goes along, the restaurant should add more staff as people get vaccinated against COVID-19 and begin getting back to work. The current lack of staff has caused Paradise Grill to stop lunch service and close on Mondays and Tuesdays, Tortella said. However, he said he would like to stay open into October as long as the weather complies.
“I think we’re all relieved now that we can get back to some sort of normalcy. We have the 90-degree, 100-degree days, no one wants to be out here wearing a mask. To not have the social distancing, we can put bigger bands on stage. We’re reaching out to some national acts. We just want to put Long Neck on the map,” Tortella said.
For more information on Paradise Grill, visit paradisegrillde.com.