Meet the Humans of the Keys

Meet the Humans of the Keys

Friday, February 27, 2015

Kandi Foster, Marathon

Kandios Ice Cream & Deli
5187 Overseas Hwy, Ocean Side
"I am born and raised in Florida, learned to swim in Key West when I was 6, but haven't been back to the Keys since I was 12; I was living in North Florida.
I had been working for a bank for 20 years when they laid me off.
I bought a house boat and was going to vacation here, but after being laid off I came over the summer, permanently. I noticed there wasn't an ice cream shop in Marathon, so I opened one. I opened my first shop down across from the airport and 2 years later I moved here to this strip center. I love the boss, it is all about me, it is a fun business and everyone leaves with a smile.
I had always wanted to own my own business and I thought I wanted to do donuts, but I am not a morning person. This is my first time in business and I did it when I was 50! It is never too late; don't ever give up on your dreams!
The bank did me a favor and fired me; now I get to live in Paradise and sell ice cream. I don't think it gets any better!"

Monday, February 23, 2015

Monica Woll, Florida Bay Outfitters; Paddle Sports Center

"I have lived in the Keys for 24 years. I am one of those that came down after Hurricane Andrew from Homestead; our house wasn't destroyed but needed repairs and we figured if we fixed it up we could sell it to someone that needed to stay in Homestead and we could move to the Keys. We found out how much nicer it was if we moved just 30 minutes south!
When I got divorced, I came here to this kayak shop because my ex-husband had bought my kayak at this shop and I thought I might be able to find people to paddle with. I had just moved to Key Largo from Islamorada. I found a guy that I had met on the water, but every time I tried to arrange a paddle outing he had an excuse why he couldn't go. Frank, the owner, was listening to all of this and after 3 trys to get this guy to go paddling with me (just for fun, not a date!), Frank said he would go with me. He closed the shop that afternoon and we went paddling.
Frank and I had a great time out paddling. We started in daylight and took it into the evening. We paddled through Garden Cove, into Largo Sound, and around by the Marriott and stopped and got a burger and beer. We just chatted all evening, all of a sudden, I had a boyfriend. I wasn't looking for that! We started dating.
At one point I didn't like my job, so I decided to hike the Appalachian Trail; it had always been kind of a dream of mine. Frank and I sort of broke up and I moved back home to Washington DC and spent a year researching the trail and saving money living at home. We stayed in touch, we tried to break up, but we obviously still loved each other.
I planned my hike and left in the Spring of '99, a 6 month hike, me and my dog. Frank flew up and did the first week with me, but had to return home to mind the shop. The Appalachian Trail is a totally doable adventure, it isn't extreme; you don't need any special equipment or skills. There is some uneven trail and rock scrambling, but it is totally doable; it is a path, really, through the woods. People are concerned when a women wants to hike by themselves, but I wasn't by myself, I had my dog, a Golden Retriever, and was probably more safe with him than a person!
I finished the trail and was trying to figure out what to do with my life. I had been park ranger, I had been a teacher, and I had worked with Frank at his shop a little. Frank assumed I would come back to the Keys but I wasn't sure I wanted to come back to the Keys and live with Frank and his son. He flew up to me and asked me to marry him. Wow! I said OK! I came back, we planned our wedding, and we were married in May of 2000.
I couldn't find a dress I thought was appropriate. Frank and I were in Key West walking down Duval Street and he pointed at French Kiss (a xxx store) and suggested we go in and look for a dress. I said 'No way, I'm not going to find a wedding dress in there!', but he said they had dresses too, so we went in. I couldn't believe it, but I found the perfect dress; in a sex store!! I have had 5 friends borrow it and wear it for their weddings!
We had a kayak wedding. I think it was the first kayak wedding in the Keys, unless someone can tell me different. We wanted it to be a party on the beach. We were married at American Outdoors where Frank first worked when he came to the Keys. We arrived at the beach in kayaks, we had friends who paddled with us and friends who met us there on land. We had a paddle arch we walked through, beer in a canoe, flowers in a kayak, a hammock for gifts. It was a complete theme and it was fun!
My mother in law had left my dog at home. When we got out of the kayaks I asked where my dog was and she said he looked unhappy so she left him at home. I said he was unhappy because he isn't with me! A couple of friends went and got him and he attended our wedding!"

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Jessie Yerger, Key West

"Things fell apart. I was a steel worker in Pennsylvania and when I turned 25 the plant closed. I was in the union and said if I am not making $25.00 an hour, I am not staying in Pennsylvania. I called my best friend, Andy, and said, 'Listen, I am moving to Key West.' Bam, I just made the decision. 'My girl sucks, my job sucks, time to get out of here'. Andy said 'Ok man, give me 2 weeks'.
Andy and I packed a little Honda Civic full of stuff; you couldn't fit another shoe in it. We drove to Key West, slept on the beach (cliché) the first night. After the first night we just started looking for jobs, and of course partied too much on Duval Street! We started to run out of money and found a trailer on Stock Island for $500.00/month, which now is insanely cheap. I went from being a steel worker to a waiter at Kelly's Caribbean Grill, which is hilarious.
That is how I got there in 2000, and I have been there ever since. At the time, Key West was the most beautiful place I had ever been. And the scene; the bars and stuff, there are boats and different places to live, you have choices. There are a lot of people down there like me.
I worked Teasers, a strip club for 10 years! I have lived on boats, just for the hell of it. Recently I started driving a flatbed truck. I turned 40 and had a mid-life crises, I left the bar scene! I figured I needed to do something else.
I am on a little vaca here in Key Largo, to get away from Key West for a bit!"

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Jerry Norman, All American Towing and Tires

"I was born and raised in Marathon. I was married for a few years and had 3 boys. My wife had some drug issues so we divorced in 1990 and I got custody of my 3 sons, who were 2, 3, and 5 at the time.
I went through a really rough time; I had moved out but was still giving her money for the bills, which never got paid. The mortgage wasn't paid, the house burnt down (and there was no insurance because the bill didn't get paid), we almost lost it all. The boys lived with my mom for a bit until I got everything back together for us, then they were back with me. We were down to nothing, but I worked and built it all back up; I got it all together and got my boys home. My biggest challenge however, was cooking!" LOL!!
"My boys are great, they are good boys and they are doing good. They went through a lot of crap, but they didn't get in trouble, they work and they make their own money. All 3 of them work for me now.
I worked for someone for a while in Marathon and when he sold that business I started my own towing company. My ex-boss in Marathon helped me with a couple of trucks and getting started. It was hard, I almost lost my trucks a few times, and I was starving. It don't look like I am starving now, but I was then!
In 2005 I sold that business in Marathon and bought this business up here in Key Largo. It was the best decision I ever made, coming north. I love Marathon and all my friends, but we are busy up here and we stay busy. I also got re-married right before we moved up here and now I have 3 younger boys for a total of 6!
I have always been in the towing business, it is a good business. People are pretty nice and it is great when you can show up and help them and make their day a little better.
My biggest accomplishment is my oldest 3 boys (so far), keeping them out of trouble and raising them to be good boys, productive. The business isn't the big deal, my boys are. We still live really close to each other."

Monday, February 16, 2015

Pauli Dameron

"We were 4 little old ladies going to Miccosukee. I was driving and we were pulled over by a cop on top of the bridge getting onto the 18 mile stretch. He said he clocked me at 62mph. I said 'Oh my gosh, my husband would be so surprised because he says I drive way too slow'!
Just then as I was chatting with the policeman and all the ladies were chatting with him, we noticed a pod of dolphin over the side of the bridge. I said 'Oh, look at that'. We all went over to the side to look at the dolphins.
Next thing you know the officer told us to have a nice day and off we went to Miccosukee to feed some Indians! We didn't win that night, but we did last Monday!
The best decision I ever made was marrying my husband 61 years ago. We got married in Alaska. He just turned 91 and we are still having a good time!"

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Jorge Cabrera, Islamorada

The Beginning: (The first in a series we will publish over the next few weeks)
Jorge: " In the 50's and early 60's I grew up in the parking lot of what is now today" Islamorada Fish House" then it was "Green Turtle Cannery, with JB and Uncle Sid. Mom and Dad came over from Cuba when I was six months old.
My Dad's family was wealthy in Cuba and they 'sent' my Dad over here as sort of punishment. Back then the Keys were nothing much but swamps and mosquitos. Cubans would be sent over here to build the tile floors and all the fancy things in the millionaire's houses here that were starting to go up like on Millionaire's Row. Mosquitos don't bite my Mom and I to this day. I guess we built up an immunity.
My parents would also deliver new cars from up here to Key West, get on the Ferry and ride free and deliver the cars to Cuba. This was before Castro days. You could take a ferry from Key West to Cuba back in those days.
Dad built a camper in the parking lot and we lived in it. I grew up in the Turtle Corral. Uncle Sid eventually built an apartment upstairs over the Fish House and then he gave us his Airstream Camper and we lived in that.
When you sit in the Green Turtle now if you look over the door you will see a picture of Uncle Sid and JB and the Turtle Corral behind it and the boat behind them is an old Chris Craft that belonged to my Dad. There was a board across the turtle corral and I'd walk across that and fall in all the time.
That was the beginning of the Cabrera's in the Keys. If you get all this then you understand where the hell I came from. I'm a parking lot kid.
We were used to butchering turtle and selling the meat. I also rode the turtles when the tourist came. Turtle was the steak of our time. My mom reminded me the other day that thank God we liked to fish and catch turtles because lots of time we didn't even have money for food. I'd catch little old grunts off the dock and we ate them all the time.
The Island was a free, wild place back in those days. The rich people would come down and my Dad would give them 10-12 lobsters or a bucket of stone crab. We really did think back then that lobster were the roaches of the sea and nobody cared about eating stone crab. Now, of course, some of the most expensive eating you can do. How the hell did that happen?
That was our life, doors unlocked, the Keys Life. Ted Williams used to go to my Mom's grocery store right across from Jerry's Sunset Inn and he'd get a steak sandwich, some Cuban coffee and a Cuban cigar. Mr. Pope and Carl "Mr. Coca Cola" (of Cheeca Lodge) lived right next to Ted. I grew up watching how these rich people lived while my mom cleaned houses, my dad cleaned fish, and we were really poor in my early years. I learned from both the rich and the poor. I got the best of both worlds.
There weren't any fences, not a lot of laws here back then. It was different, it was nice. We could play baseball in the street (Overseas Highway) and not see a car for hours.
We grew up here during the Mariel Boatlift when Cuba emptied the prisons and sent them all here in 1980. It was both a bad and good situation for some. It was just too much at one shot. Too many came at one time, 125,000 landed in the Keys. It ruined us for a while tourist wise. Tourists thought that Cubans were just literally all over the roads, all over everywhere. Nobody came for a long time. Not all those who came were criminals and some live here today.
They Keys have always lived up to a certain reputation. I mean really, why do you think the government built the Flagler Railroad to run all the way down here. Do you think they did that so people could come see Indians and be eat up by mosquitos or alligators? No, it was to run rum, and other alcohol, and cigarettes and cigars and all that stuff during prohibition. The Keys have always been a conduit between Cuba, Columbia, other Islands and the mainland of the United States.
Matecumbe, as it was called then, became a family community under the Russells, Pinders and Parkers, but the railroad changed the character of another Keys community. The large homesteads split into smaller units during the Flagler era from 1905 to 1935. The islands became two halves separated lengthwise by the railroad. The Russells, Pinders and Parkers sold portions of land to newcomers like the Churchs, LaBranchs, Luckenbacks, Howells, Peacocks, Cothrons, Careys, etc.
In 1972 the government said we couldn't eat turtle anymore. Did that stop us? No. We kept on getting them, selling them, and eating them. You were looking at 10 years in jail and a $5,000 fine. Hell, that's like telling a Texas boy, you can't eat beef no more or butcher a cow. Now, people look at your like you're a murderer if you talk about eating turtles.
Hunting and butchering turtles was a lot of our own food and the way we made money. We ate it all the time, it was our life. We didn't have real meat down here then, turtle steaks were a big deal. The government didn't care about us down here back then. And, now they are going to tell us we can't eat turtle?
I was 16 by this time and for the first time I asked myself who this government was. Who says we can't eat turtle that come out of the sea right in front of us? We kept on eating turtle.
Around this time my Dad bought his first dump truck. This was the birth of Cabrera Trucking. Eventually I got a dump truck. We got the contract for the bridges going up to haul all the sand and fill for the bridges.
I got my first dump truck from my grandfather in Cuba. He asked me if I wanted a dump truck or a new cadillac. I took the dump truck. My older brother, the playboy, took the cadillac.
I remember going into TIB bank and wanting to borrow $12,000 to buy another dump truck and they told me we didn't need anymore dump trucks down here. I asked them what I had to do to get a loan for another truck. They told me I had to pay off the $3,000 loan I had there already. So, I handed the money to them, got the loan and bought the truck.
In the beginning we were making about $4-5 thousand a week on the 3 dump trucks. My Dad was paying me $100 a week. I did this for a year because it's a good thing to help your family. I was living at home rent free and all. My mom and dad always said I'd have a roof, food and a some clothes as long as I needed it, everything else I'd have to buy. So, I always worked and always earned money from the time I was little.
After a year I went to my mom and told her this had to stop. I needed more money. So, she argued with my dad for about 3 weeks and I started making real money.
During the same time, all the marijuana coming into the Keys needed to be hauled out and I had the only trucks that could do that and that's how that started. I'm thinking as I sit here talking to you that wow, my life has been so fast. Did I really do all that? That's a story for another day."

Friday, February 13, 2015

~ Angel~ Old Conch Harbor Caribbean Gift Shop

Old Conch Harbor Caribbean Gift Shop (Under Old Tavernier Restaurant-Tavernier
"I have lived all over the US and world. I had been living in the Caymans for 15 years when I came back here in 2011 to visit my lifelong friend Jorge Cabrera.
As most of you probably know, Jorge had been a guest of the penal system following his smuggling days. He was released in mid 2010 and returned to Islamorada. He had great business plans and I wanted to be a part of them. So, here I am.
The thing about Jorge is he has always been, would've been and will be successful at whatever he does. His worth ethic is unparalleled.
He has a great sense of humor and when he started the cardboard recycling business, he'd joke he was back into bales...albeit legal ones this time.
It's been a rousing success. We have clients in Marathon and Key West asking when we will be opening up there. We pick up the bales for free from the commercial accounts and make our money selling that recycled cardboard.
He was able to buy back this location with private financing when he returned and is now working on bringing the dreams to life for this place that he always had. We hauled 3 dumpsters full of trash from the mangroves when we returned here. One reason Jorge made the parking lot so big when he originally owned this place was so there could be car shows, art shows and community events like that here and now we can make those things happen.
We have great plans for our gift shop and marina here. Jorge has a talent for re-purposing old materials and many of the infrastructure things you see here, our decking, shelving, etc., are created from materials from the Cabrera Trucking company site and Industrial Park sites.
We plan on having a Charter Boat here soon and have 21 boat slips now for mooring and rental. We hope to utilize this beautiful back area for locals and visitors to be able to sit with a cup of coffee or a smoothie and enjoy the view and beauty back here.
You can see the green boat behind me in the picture and that is a Cuban refugee boat we salvaged that was abandoned near the Ch 5 bridge. The engine still works and we are refurbishing it. Locals will recognize the style of the boat as the way the boats were back in the 50's and 60's down here. People love to have their picture taken on it.
We have a working lobster boat and that's why you see all the tanks back here with lobsters. The Orient is paying a premium price right now so we export to them as do many lobster boat captains down here. It's why you don't see a lot of live lobsters in restaurants here. It's kind of sad, but, the market is the market.
We have a gallery in part of our building here with a lot of pictures from the 70's through early 90's here in the Keys. I think most locals would love coming to see and remember.
When I first came back after over 15 years to Islamorada I was glad to see it hadn't changed a whole lot. I'm glad the big chain stores have not moved in. It is still a cottage industry island and that's a big part of the charm.
I loved the Cayman years and it is where my girls grew up. I'm very proud of them. We all worked hard. The expectations in our family were high. They always had jobs. The laugh now about how 'mean' I was when they had their periods. They wanted to lay around and whine about feeling bad. I told them to suck it up, it's part of your life now, deal with and move on, it's no excuse to be mean and pitiful. My girls are pictured with me below this last Christmas.
One of my girls worked in an ice cream parlor from the time she was 12. By the time she was 14, the owner was leaving her alone to run it while he took care of other business. One morning she woke up sick and told her she better stay home. She told me she couldn't because John was depending on her and she had to open the store. I realized the work ethic lessons had been successful.
Like here, some of the Cayman culture was that laid back island style thing, take plenty of time off work, chill out and don't do stress. That wasn't the rule in our family then and there or here and now.
I want to brag on one of our employees here. She had been out of the work force for a while, for a number of reasons, when we hired her here. One night she had to take her daughter to the emergency room (non life threatening) and the child was still in the hospital in the morning. Our employee chose to be to work on time, discuss the challenge with me, and gave us the opportunity to work it out together. I so appreciated that and we got her back to the hospital. Most people would've just called in or not called, and not shown up. The hospital was less than 5 minutes away and she was able to come to work, arrange for someone to cover her shift and return to her daughter.
I'm here for the long haul now. Jorge and I have so many ideas and so many projects. Everyday is exciting, different and I can't wait to see what the day brings."

Craig, Craig's Restaurant

"I was born and raised in Miami and my parents bought a trailer in Key Largo Trailer Village in 1968. I was 11 or 12 years old. We started coming down as weekenders, like a lot of other people; we would put the little boat in on Friday and run it until Sunday afternoon when we put it on the trailer and went back home.

I started working in the restaurant business washing dishes in High School. Before I graduated, I had worked in a gourmet restaurant, a pizza place, (Anthony's, who also had a restaurant in Key Largo and Tavernier Towne), and IHOP. After I graduated I went to Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York and earned a 2 year associates degree. I came back to Miami for a while and ended up working at Plantation Yacht Club in the Keys. That was in about 1976.

In 1978 I went to work at The Pilot House. It was, basically, well.... we would pull a pool table out. We turned it into one of the most successful restaurants in Key Largo inside of 3 years.

In 1981 I parted ways with The Pilot House and started Craig's here on Plantation Key. We have been open 34 years! My favorite saying is 'It is a jail sentence with no possibility of parole!'

We are famous here for our fish sandwiches which come on whole wheat bread, tomatoes, tartar sauce, and cheese, like a grilled cheese sandwich. Let me tell you how that started.

We originated the fish sandwich at The Pilot House in Key Largo in, probably, 1979. Back in the 70's people didn't eat dolphin, dolphin was a garbage fish. The predominate fish was Grouper, there was an abundance of Grouper and that is what we served. We had a fish cutter that we would pay ten cents a pound to have the fish cut. His name was Harvey. Harvey lived on a big black boat at Port Largo Marina. It looked like the arc.

Harvey was a dumpster diver. He didn't need to be, he was medically disabled so he had full benefits. He didn't need to dumpster dive, but he did. Every morning, on his way to The Pilot House to cut fish, he would stop at the Winn Dixie dumpster. He would get out of date bread and out of date eggs, whatever vegetables weren't rotten. He would come to the restaurant, put his 'finds' in the walk-in, and cut fish. He would take his 'finds' home with him in the evening. As everyone knows, back in the 70's and the 80's, the Keys were everything you heard about in a Jimmy Buffet song, so, in the evenings Harvey and his friends would sit around smoking what you smoked in the 70's and everyone would get the munchies. Harvey would take the cheat meat he had from the fish and he would cut it up and sauté it with whatever vegetables he had; onions, mushrooms, zucchini, bell peppers, whatever he had gotten from the dumpster and he would scramble eggs into the concoction and they would eat it on whatever bread he had.

People started coming to the restaurant from the boat yard asking for one of Harvey's fish sandwiches. Now remember, this was 1978, you only got fish two ways, broiled or fried. When the owner came to me and said he wanted to make these fish sandwiches for these people, I said 'if you think I am grilling fish and vegetables and scrambling eggs into it you're out of your mind'. We were way too busy to cook like that!

There was this girl, Sue, who worked behind the bar. Well, when Harvey would make this concoction at the restaurant she would have me put it on a grilled cheese sandwich with whole wheat bread. I told the owner 'We have tomatoes here for the cheeseburgers, let's take the friend Grouper, put tomatoes and tartar sauce on it and put it on a whole wheat grilled cheese like Sue liked it'. He told me to make him one. I did and he loved it. We put it on the menu. Inside of 90 days it became 60% of the business. It went through the ceiling. I have been in the restaurant business 45 years and have never seen anything like it; a single recipe that took off like that! You can't patent food, so this sandwich is served, with minor deviations, at restaurants all up and down the Keys. There is even a restaurant in West Palm Beach that serves them! To this day, here at Craig's, it is 40 - 45% of our business.

That is my take on how The Harvey's Fish Sandwich came to be, and I know it as being fact, because I was there!"

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Bob Budah, Long Island and Pigeon Key

"In 1968 I painted the buildings on Pigeon Key. I was a Marine Biology major at UM (University of Miami). I have been coming here for 5 years and now I am buying a house. I am here on a 'vacation' of sort and am volunteering while I am here for the Art Festival for Pigeon Key Foundation. I am getting involved in Marathon.
I run, probably, the only science center of its kind on Long Island for robotics and engineering for elementary kids. I am working on bringing the robotics program down here to Pigeon Key.
My father started a day camp up north and my family has been running the camp now for 56 years. I taught for 8 years, and then I walked into the family business. My brother and I took the day camp from where it was at that time to where it is today. Science was my idea so we are building a state of the art science lab for children in Long Island; Park Shore Science Academy. Robotics is huge but the United States is, kind of, last in the world to start teaching it. We have created a program where we take children and energize them, excite them and teach them about what the technical world is all about. They learn how to work together, critically think, solve problems, and other skills.
We were fortunate to have had the original Davinci Robot at our camp and all the students got to use it, let by Dr. Ben Schwartz who is the physician's instructor. He actually said the students did better than the physicians because they are so good at using the joysticks in games!
I am looking to bring my robotics and engineering program to Pigeon Key. If they say yes, I am giving them the program at no charge. My science director will come down and teach everyone what to do and how to teach it. This is my first stop, and then I am going to start in the schools. Our nitch right now is 1st -5th grade but we are going to take it to 8th grade.
I need something else to do in life. I am not done living yet! So, yes, I am the real deal. We are from Long Island but we are coming to the Keys!"