Manager Miguel Solano has worked at Emilio's Restaurant and Pizza since it opened 17 years ago. In all that time, business has never been this bad.
"We're down about 85 percent," he said from behind the counter of the restaurant located on Route 571 and 10th Avenue in Manchester. "Nothing like this has ever happened."
The trouble began after Hurricane Irene passed through. Flooding from the northern branch of the Toms River collapsed two portions of a bridge on Route 571, a highway which serves as a major artery for drivers travelling between Manchester and Toms River, near the roadway's intersection with Route 527. Since early Monday, the section of Route 571 from Route 527 in Toms River to Commonwealth Boulevard in Manchester has been shut down.
A steady stream of cars normally passes in each direction. Now, that traffic is gone and the occasional bicyclist can be seen riding in the center of the empty county highway.
Emilio's is about half a mile north from the closed section of road on Manchester's side. Even though motorists are permitted to drive through the cones at Commonwealth to park at the restaurant, Solano said many are unaware.
"They can come through the detour," he said. "People don't realize that they can come in like normal."
Solano said that he hopes the two signs hanging near the detour will help to bring in customers. By about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, about six cars were parked out front. When Solano opened at 11 a.m., he said it took more than 90 minutes for the first customer to arrive. That never happens, he said.
John Frank stopped in at about 5 p.m. to pick up his pasta order. Driving there wasn't difficult, he said.
"It's no problem as long as someone tells you how to get here," he said. He, like the manager, worried that business will suffer if roadway repairs aren't completed quickly.
"They're going to take a big hit," Frank said.
Minutes later, Manchester Police Officer Arthur Cronk stopped by to order some pizza. He said that he was happy to support the business, especially since he's seen the impact of the road closure.
A press release from the Ocean County Public Affairs Office said that crews could have Route 571 open by this weekend.
"We are working expeditiously to complete repairs and return these roads to service," said Freeholder John P. Kelly, director of law and public safety, in a statement.
Solano said that he hasn't heard a repair time-frame from officials. Though the restaurant serves locals, such as those living in the nearby Pine Lake section of town, take-out business has been affected, Solano said, as no drivers pass by on their way home from work.
Even though the restaurant is accessible to vehicle traffic, the detour is causing substantial delays depending from where a driver is coming. Someone who wanted to travel from Oak Ridge in Toms River to Emilio's, for example, normally would have about a 3-mile trip each way.
With the detour in place, that same driver would have to drive through Toms River via Route 527 north to Route 70 — an intersection now crippled at times by diverted traffic — travel Route 70 west into Manchester and finally take Route 571 south to the restaurant. What should be a 3-mile trip is now tripled to about 9 miles each way.
Those affected by the detour, Solano suspected, are staying away. On Monday, six orders were prepared for customers who never showed up.
"Maybe they couldn't find a way to get here," he said, adding that normally short trips for patrons could take 25 minutes because of the detours and traffic.
It may take until the highway reopens for things to return to normal, not only for Emilio's, but for the countless drivers who rely daily on Route 571 to get around town. The convoluted detours and traffic delays can't cut it for long.
"We've got to be patient," Solano said.