Press Release
April 16, 2014
2 minute read


Trenton, NJ (April 16, 2014)  – Continuing the Christie Administration’s commitment to the recovery of small businesses and communities in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) announced today the award of a $50,000 Stronger NJ Business Grant to Havana Tropical Café, a Cuban Restaurant located in Highlands. This grant follows the EDA’s recommendation in February that Highlands receive approval for a $1.5 million “Streetscape” grant from the Stronger NJ Neighborhood and Community Revitalization (NCR) program for improvements to the borough’s downtown area, including Bay and Washington Avenues.

“Businesses like Havana Tropical Café embody all of the wonderful qualities we have seen time and again within the small business community as the state recovers from Sandy,” said EDA Chief Executive Officer Michele Brown. ”We have provided support to many small companies, but perseverance, a positive attitude and love for their communities is really what drives business owners to rebuild.  We look forward to supporting many more businesses in Highlands and other impacted areas across New Jersey.”

To date, Stronger NJ grant and loan support totaling more than $42 million has been approved by the EDA for more than 390 businesses.  This includes 11 grants in Highlands and 60 in all of Monmouth County. In addition to Highlands, other Monmouth County communities recommended for “Streetscape” grants include Asbury Park, Keansburg, Long Branch, Neptune and Belmar, totaling over $6 million. 

According to Havana Tropical Café owner and Cuban-native Ralphy Amado, his entire restaurant was destroyed by flooding, including walls, floors, furniture, and appliances.  Amado reopened in August 2013, after months of rebuilding, most of which he did himself, with the help of friends.  Amado depleted his savings, even selling his truck to help fund the rebuilding. 

“This has been a very challenging time, but we love the beautiful Highlands community and were determined to stay here,” said Amado.  “I am very grateful for our landlord, our many friends, and so many Highlands residents who have been so supportive and have expected nothing in return. The Stronger NJ grant will help us get back on our feet as we approach the summer season.”

The Stronger NJ Business Grant program is funded through New Jersey’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) allocation from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  Similar to other Sandy relief grant programs, there are strict federal eligibility requirements to which the EDA and applicants must comply. To date, 374 grants have been approved totaling $18.1 million. 

The Streetscape grant recommended for approval under the NCR, also funded through the State’s CDBG-DR allocation from HUD,  would help Highlands improve its downtown area, including the construction of new crosswalks, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant intersections, new street trees, streetlights and furniture, and wayfinding signage. Following EDA action, all Streetscape projects must undergo federally required environmental and historic preservation reviews by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection.

For more information on the Stronger NJ Business programs, visit or call the EDA’s Sandy hotline at 1-855-SANDY-BZ (1-855-726-3929).