When the Paradise Bar and Grill and Paradise Inn on Pensacola Beach were damaged in Hurricane Sally, Cathy Miller's group chat of condo owners talked about how they all hoped the popular Bushwacker machine was safe.
Miller has frequented the well-loved Paradise for the past 12 years since buying her condo in Portofino, often taking her boat to its dock for cocktails or lunch. The inn has been a staple on Pensacola Beach since the 1950s, with the bar and grill following in 2003.
“It’s kind of like the first place that we feel like we fell in love with that made Pensacola so special," Miller said. "It feels like home. It’s just so welcoming and it's not pretentious and the food is excellent. … I just love the food and, obviously, the Bushwacker.”
Paradise suffered extensive roof damage last week. Hurricane winds peeled off the roof of the two-story portion of motel rooms and the office building and dropped them on the nearby villas and the general manager's truck, respectively.
Miller said she goes to Paradise for everything from bachelorette parties to the Polar Plunge to just a normal Friday evening. The casual, laid-back atmosphere makes patrons feel like "you’re in the islands," she said.
“Once you go, you’re hooked for life, which is fascinating. I think it’s such an enigma like there’s this little old cinder block hotel that they turned into a gold mine. I’m like 'What a great story,'” Miller said.
Karl Hedlund, general manager of the inn, was working to clean up the property Friday, next to his beaten up gray truck with a massive hole in the windshield. Hedlund rode out the storm in the motel because it still had a few customers who were staying there.
"Especially when that roof came off of here, it was like 110 mile-an-hour gust," Hedlund said. "It sounded like a jet. And then pretty much, we heard this (office) roof hit my truck and hit the ground. So a lot of banging, loud wind, stuff like that."
In the immediate aftermath, staff saw waist-deep water in the parking lots, which collected in the back room up to the washers and dryers.
"We definitely did not expect what was coming. I mean, I thought we were just going to get some wind and rain," Hedlund said. "We definitely didn't expect the roof to get blown off the 200s (numbered rooms)."
The bar itself saw a couple of inches of water but otherwise fared pretty well. Much of the dock was wiped out, and some mud and debris displaced some of the sand at the water's edge.
Staff began working Thursday to clean up the facility, putting in 14 or 15 hours from 10 people by Friday afternoon. Now, they're just waiting on Dumpsters to be delivered to start debris removal.
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The next step would be to get the rooms that did not take on water opened again to the public, hopefully renting to construction workers, Hedlund said.
For the bar and grill to reopen, the biggest need is power. A realistic estimate for reopening the bar and first rooms is about two to three weeks, Hedlund said.
"The Paradise is here to stay," Hedlund said.
Loyal Paradise customers have been devastated at the damage sustained during the storm, Hedlund said, and many have called and offered support to the staff.
"The people who work here, we have very great customer service, so people love that part about it and the fact that it's old Florida feel. It's one of the only mom-and-pop places left on the island," Hedlund said. "Music, community, people just love it."
And for the Bushwacker machine, once the power is back on, staff should be serving them again soon.
"As far as we know, the Bushwacker machine is A-OK," Hedlund said with a laugh.
Madison Arnold can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 850-435-8522.