Meet the Locals
Meet some charterboat captains, artists, chefs and restaurateurs, animal rescuers, musicians and writers, historians, treasure seekers and many other locals of the Florida Keys and learn, through their stories and comments, about their lives, work, passions and reasons for loving the island chain.
The insights of these creative, quirky, independent people offer a window into the environment and culture that make the Florida Keys unique.
Each month a Keys local is featured in our e-newsletter, Keys Traveler.
Jeff Kesling Jr: Keys’ Meads - Of Honey and Horseradish
Many dream of quitting their jobs to move to the Florida Keys. Jeff Kesling Jr., the 36-year-old owner of the only meadery in the Florida Keys, was one of those dreamers. Today, the family-owned Keys’ Meads is projected to produce about 1,500 gallons of the fermented crafted-in-the-Keys alcoholic beverage made from honey, water, yeast and local flavors. Continue
Edward Shore: ‘Mother Earth’ Caretaker, Adventurer and Hotelier
Edward Shore, the owner of Largo, a boutique property for small groups that recently opened in Key Largo, discovered the Florida Keys about 30 years ago on a dive trip with friends. Now his guests at Largo can enjoy the islands he describes as having “the United States’ best weather and the best eco-system.” Continue
Doug Prew: The Fish House Owner to Celebrate 30 Years in 2017
Doug Prew, co-owner of Key Largo's Fish House and Fish House Encore, launched the Florida Keys menu trend of serving lightly breaded lionfish flavored with olive oil, his “dining in the dark” culinary experiences are wildly popular and he credits his loyal staff for his emporiums’ success. Click here to meet the savvy Upper Keys restaurateur.
Rob Mitchell: How a ‘Keys Diver’ Found His Home in Key Largo
For Key Largo resident and boat captain Rob Mitchell, like several Florida Keys "transplants," winters up north and winter sports didn't hold their appeal anymore. A Canadian native and former fashion photographer, he quite literally sailed himself into a new career as a professional dive instructor, yearning for more sunshine, sea air and saltwater. Here's his story.
Stephen Frink: Immersed in Capturing the Underwater World
Every day in the water brings a new adventure and a new photo for Stephen Frink. Click here to find out why this world-renowned underwater photographer calls the Florida Keys his home and Keys waters his "office."
Amy Slate: Diving Into Her Dream
Entering her 31st year in the scuba diving business, Amy Slate has not lost an ounce of her undeniable enthusiasm for diving, ocean preservation or the Key Largo community she has called home since the 70s. To meet this dedicated diver and resort owner, click here.
Jimmy Johnson: From Football to Fishing in the Florida Keys
Jimmy Johnson has had a home in the Keys since just after his second Super Bowl victory. These days, his focus is fishing aboard his 39-foot SeaVee "Three Rings," named for his three coaching championships. Meet the man behind Jimmy Johnson's Big Chill here.
Rick Berry: Keys Rodmaker a "Reel" Hit With Anglers
Rick Berry, a longtime Keys resident who owns Key Largo Rods, has designed more than 2,500 fishing rods and is regarded as an innovator in his field. To meet the designer with a passion for angling, click here.
Robert Stoky: Recipe for Keys Living
Robert Stoky knows good cooking. Whether it's preparing lobster fajitas at Señor Frijoles or all-you-can-eat stone crab at Ballyhoo's, the Stoky family has been a key player in the ever-growing Florida Keys restaurant scene since the 1980s. Meet Stoky and discover his recipe for success here.
Kristie Thomas: A Pioneer Chocolatier
Kristie Thomas, the culinary creator behind Key Largo Chocolates, currently is the only chocolatier in the Florida Keys. Click here to meet the woman who established Key Largo's sweetest emporium.
Old Road Gallery is ‘Made in the Keys’
Artists Dwayne and Cindy King’s Old Road Gallery in Tavernier is an outdoor sculpture garden, a working studio for artists and an art gallery brimming with works of pottery, bronze and copper. A former treasure salvor, Dwayne King pairs with Cindy to bring creative treasures to life in the unique gallery whose grounds include winding nature trails. Continue
Catching Dianne Harbaugh On the Fly
Islamorada’s Dianne Harbaugh is likely the envy of sportsmen of all ages and interests. She bucks most “feminine” trends, having learned archery, fishing, hunting, racing boats and snowmobiles before most teens her age had a driver’s license. At 17, Harbaugh was licensed to operate a single engine aircraft, but later set her sights on world records in fly fishing. Continue
Who’s that Keys Chick Paddleboarding with Her Pet Chicken?
Karly Venezia, director of sales and marketing at Islamorada’s iconic 22-acre Islander Resort, has spent more than half her life working for resorts in Key West and Islamorada. She’s also one of the most knowledgeable long-time residents who travels — on the road and in the air — promoting the Florida Keys & Key West. Continue
Captain Samantha Zeher Champions Free-Spirited Island Living
Captain Samantha Zeher, owner of KeyZ Charters, is the only woman charterboat operator at Islamorada’s popular Robbie’s Marina. Her offerings include snorkeling and sunset cruises; paddleboard, eco-tour and Everglades excursions; and island trips exploring Indian Key, Lignumvitae Key and Alligator Lighthouse. Continue
For ‘Avatar’ Movie Producer Jon Landau, the Keys Are Home
Filmmaker Jon Landau — famed for his films “Avatar” and “Titanic,” and sometimes called movie history’s most successful producer — could live anywhere in the world. Yet home is the Florida Keys, which first captivated the down-to-earth Landau in 1986, when he and wife Julie worked on “Making Mr. Right” in Miami. Continue
Marine Life Artist BJ Royster: Painting Peace
Islamorada resident Barbara Joyce "BJ" Royster lives by the credo, "It's never too late." After raising two boys, she left Miami to pursue a dream of opening an art gallery in the Florida Keys. Her passion is the ocean, but being able to view her undersea "subjects" meant facing some overwhelming fears. Continue
Hops and Hibiscus: A Florida Keys Brewer’s Passion
Craig and Cheryl McBay, founders of Florida Keys Brewing Co., are not only "Livin' the Island Life, Drinkin' the Local Beer," their company's motto, but this husband and wife have brewed together their passion for making beer and babies, raising twin toddlers in paradise. Pull up a stool and discover their ingredients for crafting the ideal island life here.
McClung Promotes Bluegrass Music and Creative Vibe in the Keys
Co-producer of Islamorada’s Baygrass Bluegrass Festival, guitarist Robby McClung is eager to promote the musical genre — and bring performers from all over the world to continue "growing" the Keys' arts and cultural district. Get to know the Upper Keys musician here.
Tim Borski: 'Angling' for Artistic Satisfaction
Tim Borski came to the Florida Keys in 1986, when he was in his early twenties, with two passions: fishing and art. What began as a simple vacation for some much-needed sun subsequently turned into a career and lifestyle in the Upper Keys. Meet the wildlife artist and outdoorsman here.
Spencer Slate: Underwater With Psycho And Friends
Spencer Slate has been cultivating marine relationships for 30 year, and has developed a passion for extraordinary "friends." Click here to learn more about his Creature Feature dives.
Skip Bradeen Marking 50 Years as a Keys Charter Captain
One of the top charter captains on America's East Coast, Skip Bradeen has spent 50 years sharing his unparalleled knowledge and showing anglers why Islamorada is called the Sport Fishing Capital of the World. Meet the legendary captain here.
David Wirth Makes Living an Art Form
David Wirth has traveled the world fishing, hunting and exploring the great outdoors. But a near-death experience eventually changed his focus — and led him to turn his passion for sculpting into a successful career. Meet the acclaimed artist here.
Sally Bauer: Diving into Underwater History
Sally Bauer, co-founder of the Florida Keys History of Diving Museum, was recently inducted into the Women Divers Hall of Fame and is dedicated to telling the story of man's quest to explore the undersea world. Click here to meet this passionate diving historian.
The 'Otherside' of Mike and Shana Walsh
The average family might spend an afternoon flying a Charlie Brown-style kite, but Islamorada's Walsh family is anything but average. Their family "kiting" afternoons are filled with extreme jumps, twists, flips and other acrobatics on the open water of the Florida Keys. Click here to meet kiteboarding entrepreneurs Mike and Shana Walsh.
David Feder: Engineering Arts & Culture in the Upper Keys
David Feder, a trained engineer turned musician, has become a leader of Islamorada's cultural community — and works to enrich the lives of children through exposure to the arts. Click here to discover the musician "in tune" with the Upper Keys.
Nick Stanczyk: A Fish and Smile Away From Childhood
As the son of fishing legend Richard Stanczyk, who has owned Islamorada's iconic Bud N' Mary's Marina since 1978, Nick Stanczyk has been a fisherman for as long as he can remember. "Catch" a glimpse of the new generation of outstanding fishing captains here.
Sandy Moret: On The Fly
Sandy Moret has been fly fishing almost all his life, and the passion and drive he brings to teaching and advancing the sport is unequaled. To get to know Moret, the owner of Islamorada's Florida Keys Outfitters, click here.
Gloria Teague: From Karaoke to Cakes
Proving the old adage that a song can change lives, Gloria Teague was forever changed by the James Brown tune "I Feel Good." Find out how Brown's hit led the former dive shop owner to trade in her scuba tank for cinnamon buns here.
Michelle Nicole Lowe: A Subtle Artistic Beauty
The watercolors, oils and colored pencil renderings of 28-year-old artist Michelle Nicole Lowe seemingly pop off the canvas. Click here to meet the Florida Keys woman whose subjects range from sea life to island birds and tropical flora.
Lighthouse Larry: Replicating Florida Keys History
"An Islamorada-based artist, known locally as "Lighthouse Larry," has fashioned his passion for lighthouses into creating exact scale replicas of six historical beacons off the Florida Keys. Click here to meet the intriguing artist.
Pasta Pantaleo: Cultivating Keys Culture
A replica sailfish helped inspire Pasta Pantaleo's creative career and journey from Coney Island to the Florida Keys. Click here to meet the renowned Islamorada game fish artist.
For John David’s Keez Beez, the Buzz is On
Keez Beez, known as “America’s southernmost professional beekeepers” is earning buzz for leading a growing trend toward Florida Keys organic foods made from locally sourced products. Get to know the guiding spirit behind the rapidly growing Marathon-based apiary that manages more than 600 organic beehives around the island chain. Continue
Family Fishing, Custom Trips Spell Success for SeaSquared Charters
Family fishing fun is a focus of impressive success for Captain Chris and Christy Johnson’s SeaSquared Charters in Marathon. Attentive service, salty days and shallow water, where toothy creatures can be wrangled, have built SeaSquared’s business. Click here to meet the captain.
Marathon’s Sheila Cook Makes Keys Life Artfully Simple
Marathon artist and founder of The Art Studio, Sheila Cook has made her Keys-based life artfully simple. She created a place to explore art, teach and share, but gives back to her community in innovative ways. Cook paints her life’s broad strokes here.
Close Encounters with Ben Daughtry
For Marathon resident Ben Daughtry, life on the water and underwater is second nature. Born in the Keys, this entrepreneurial conch has developed a marine life experience with reef fish, invertebrates, stingrays and even sharks — and participants don't even need to enter the ocean. Get the immersive details here.
Dancing with a Star: Ganine Derleth
Ganine Derleth is a professional singer and dancer, artist and co-owner with her husband of a popular dance studio in Marathon. Click here to meet the multitalented woman who is also deeply involved in her Middle Keys community.
John Schaefer: One Funny Character
Marathon Community Theatre actor John Schaefer dedicates himself to characters, morphs his physical appearance for roles and memorizes lines while walking his dog and delivering mail. Why does the 25-year postal worker love the laughter, challenge and oneness of the Middle Keys theater troupe? Read along here.
Captain Evan Doumis: Marathon's Eye in the Sky
Former Continental Airlines pilot Captain Evan Doumis now flies a vintage WWII biplane for Marathon's Overseas Aero Tours, providing his passengers a memorable history-and-nature sightseeing experience. Meet the man whose dreams took flight in the Middle Keys here.
Bette Zirkelbach: A Positive Force to Reckon With
Bette Zirkelbach, among the guiding spirits behind Marathon's world-renowned Turtle Hospital, has helped rehabilitate scores of sea turtles — and even accompanied one on a recent journey to Las Vegas. Click here to meet the savvy woman devoted to saving turtles.
John Mirabella: Spearing Marathon Diners' Fresh Catch
Brooklyn born but raised in Florida, John Mirabella has a formula for island living that involves a large dose of diving, spearfishing and offering his fresh catch at his Marathon eatery. What began as a journey to the Keys aboard a 36-foot Trimaran evolved into a new life as a successful restaurateur. "Catch" more of this giant personality's Castaway tale here.
Kelly Grinter: Maintaining a Safe Haven for Wild Birds
Kelly Grinter has spent 18 years at the helm of the Marathon Wild Bird Center and is now one of the Florida Keys' most prominent wildlife rehabilitators. Click here to meet the woman whose passion is "for the birds."
Kelly McKinnon: Bringing Youthful Appeal to a Century-Old Island
Kelly McKinnon's love of fishing attracted him to the Florida Keys, yet he never dreamed his back door would be three feet from the Atlantic Ocean. Meet the executive director of historic Pigeon Key, who mixes youth with a century-old yesteryear, by clicking here.
Mandy Rodriguez: A Mellow Fellow
The guiding spirit behind Marathon's Dolphin Research Center, Armando "Mandy" Rodriguez, calls his work with dolphins a blessing and a gift. To meet this dedicated dolphin advocate, click here.
Making A Dolphin Connection With Cheryl Messenger
Cheryl Messenger's work at Dolphin Connection at Hawks Cay Resort includes nurturing and caring for pregnant dolphin, monitoring the growth of their calves via monthly ultrasounds, celebrating as they give birth and watching the calves thrive and grow. Click here to discover her "dolphin connection".
Richie Moretti: Sea Turtle Champion
From working on Volkswagens to rehabilitating and releasing injured sea turtles, Richie Moretti has led a diverse and challenging life. To meet the Keys' turtle champion, click here.
Mary Stella: Dedicated to Dolphins
Given her lifelong love of dolphins and familiarity with the Florida Keys, Mary Stella is a natural to serve as media relations coordinator at Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key in the middle Florida Keys. To meet this outgoing woman who delights in dolphins, click here.
Gary Graves: Stone Crab King
Few people are aware that the stone crabs served at the famous Joe's Stone Crab restaurant in Miami are provided by a commercial fishing operation in the Florida Keys — Keys Fisheries in Marathon. And Gary Graves, owner of Keys Fisheries restaurant and manager of the fishing operation, has been with the business since it began 40 years ago. Click here to meet the Keys' king of crab.
The Lower Keys
Austin Klein Showcases Culinary Talents in Lower Keys
Austin Klein, the 27-year-old executive chef at Fish, celebrating its one-year anniversary as a popular "locals' favorite" dining spot in the Lower Keys, was born to work in the kitchen. Continue
COASTing Along with Billy Kearins
Billy Kearins is the founder of COAST — a rustic, funky space made up of a retail store showroom, studio workshops, an event venue and more — all located on Stock Island’s Front Street, where a hand-painted sign reads “Mellow Folk Welcome.” Click here to see what inspires the entrepreneurial craftsman.
D'Antonio's Design for Multidimensional Living
Susann D'Antonio's artistic offerings range from embellished gourds to mixed-media encaustic pieces to huge "living art" ensembles for Key West's Fantasy Fest celebration. Meet the multitalented D'Antonio, and find out how a yellow submarine influenced her creativity, by clicking here.
Sarah Sullivan: Living a Serene Dream in the Lower Keys
With a passion for paddleboarding and degrees in psychology and environmental studies, Sarah Sullivan helps provide mental balance through nature to Lower Keys visitors seeking health, longevity and enlightenment. Meet the founder of Serenity Eco Therapy here.
Chris Robinson: Bartending to Bonefishing
Before Chris Robinson became a Lower Keys fishing guide, he co-owned the All-Breeds Hot Dog Pound, tended bar for 18 years at the renowned Louie's Backyard and shared adventures with Jimmy Buffett and "gonzo journalist" Hunter Thompson. For a glimpse of his world, click here.
Love of Nature Inspired A Thriving Career For Bill Keogh
Bill Keogh took a childhood love of the outdoors and turned it into a career. Today, he's the owner of Big Pine Kayak Adventure in the Lower Keys — as well as a respected photographer and author. Click here to discover the natural world of Bill Keogh.
Managing Paradise: Kevin Geanides
At only 35 years old, Kevin Geanides has accomplished more in the hospitality industry than many people do throughout their entire careers. Meet the manager of luxurious Little Palm Island here.
Howard Livingston: Keys Tropical Troubador
When Howard Livingston and Mile Marker 24 step onstage to perform their trademark tropical rock, they bring along an unusual "instrument": a 1952 Johnson 5.5-horsepower outboard motor used to blend margaritas for the audience. Click here to learn what inspires Livingston's musical mindset.
Andrea Paulson: Exploring the Unspoiled Lower Keys
Many people seek to explore the Florida Keys by kayak, but none explore like Captain Andrea Paulson. Click here to learn how this eco-adventurer is bringing visitors face-to-face with the unspoiled Florida Keys.
Loren Rea: 'Hooked' on the Florida Keys
An accomplished graphic designer and website programmer, director of two fishing tournaments and proud mother and wife, Sugarloaf Key resident Loren Rea has made a name for herself in the Florida Keys during the last 17 years. Meet the multitalented Rea here.
Kim Workman: The Art of Fish Rubbing
Lower Keys artist Kim Workman, skilled in the traditional Oriental art form of gyotaku or fish printing, memorializes finned Keys denizens by inking or painting actual fish and pressing paper on them to create exact replicas. Meet the unique artist here.
Alan Maltz: Capturing the Keys' Essence in Passionate Photography
Since 1977, Alan Maltz has indulged his passion for photographing the natural wonders and beautiful eccentricities of the Florida Keys — wandering far off the beaten path with his camera to capture faces, places, lavish or tumbledown houses and hidden haunts of birds and wildlife. To meet this master photographer, click here.
Valerie Fecher: Viewing the Keys Through a Camera Lens
Nature and the water play a large role in the work of Lower Keys photographer Valerie Fecher, so she often takes off in a kayak right from her property on Big Pine to seek compelling images. To meet the island-inspired shutterbug and longtime Keys resident, click here.
Bill Becker: Voice of the Keys
For 30-some years Bill Becker, news director at Lower Keys-based U.S. 1 Radio 104.1 FM, has provided a soothing, authoritative presence that appeals to Florida Keys listeners. To meet the "voice of the Keys," click here.
Captain Finbar Gittelman: Embodiment of the Seafaring Spirit
Captain Finbar Gittelman is the epitome of an old salt, a longtime Florida Keys denizen who bears a slightly unnerving resemblance to the fierce Barbossa from “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Owner and master of the majestic Schooner Wolf, he’s also the venerable First Sea Lord and Supreme Commander of the Keys’ picturesque Conch Republic Navy. Continue
Arlo Haskell: Explorer of Literature and Jewish History in Key West
Arlo Haskell, executive director of the Key West Literary Seminar, grew up in the Lower Keys and, as a youngster, was surrounded by famous writers visiting and living in Key West. Today Haskell is an author himself, recently debuting the historical nonfiction book “The Jews of Key West, Smugglers, Cigar Makers, and Revolutionaries (1823-1969).” Continue
Cori Convertito Curates Key West
Cori Convertito, today the Key West Art & Historical Society's curator and historian, left the island city for London nearly a decade ago to earn a master's degree in maritime history from the University of Greenwich. She stayed in the U.K. to earn her doctorate, but couldn't get Key West out of her mind. Continue
Michael Marrero: A True Key West Creative
Michael Marrero, executive director of the popular Key West Theater, is an award-winning photographer, filmmaker and playwright whose drama “Locura” is part of a historic Cuban-American theatrical exchange. Get to know the multitalented Key Wester and find out what inspires his creativity. Continue
JT Thompson: The Human Behind ‘One Human Family’
For decades, Key West has been renowned for its residents' welcoming and accepting attitude toward people of all kinds. It took local artist JT Thompson, however, to initiate formal recognition of that philosophy of acceptance and inclusiveness. Continue
Kim Stamps Makes Memories ‘Up The Keys’
Kim Stamps got her first job in Key West as a pedicab driver nearly a decade ago. Now she leads tours at her own company, Up The Keys Eco-Tours, showcasing off-the-beaten-path Lower Keys attractions to visitors and groups. Continue
Mandy Miles: Sand in Her Veins
At age 40, Mandy Miles is still working on her tan lines. Later this year, she plans to release a third volume of her popular book, “Tan Lines.” Her newest book, “Key West Do’s and Don’ts: 100 Ways to Look Like A Local,” rings as true blue as the aquamarine waters that surround the Florida Keys. Click here to meet the island girl who’s lived and written in Key West all of her post-college life.
Randy Roberts Embraces Entertaining and Key West
Marathon Community Theatre actor Randy Roberts pays tribute to some of America’s most iconic stars, from Cher to Joan Crawford, in his popular shows at Key West’s La Te Da. But that’s not all — the outstanding entertainer has appeared in musical theater and film, off-Broadway, with symphonies and even on television’s "America’s Got Talent." To meet the renowned Roberts, click here.
Paul Menta: A Triple Threat on a 4-Mile Island
Paul Menta is a champion kiteboarder, founder of the Key West First Legal Rum Distillery, chef and author of "Native Fuel," a two-volume Florida Keys cookbook/food history book. Meet the multitalented Menta and learn about his latest Keys enterprise here.
Visitors touring the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum might find a six-toed cat sprawled in the late author's writing studio or napping on his bed. Click here to meet the unique felines that roam the museum grounds.
David Sloan: Key Lime Pie and the 'Spirit' of Success
David Sloan, prolific author and founder of attractions including Ghost Tours of Key West and the Key Lime Festival, attributes his success to his love for Key West and the never-ending support of the close-knit island community. Meet the high-spirited Sloan here.
Rick Worth: Painting the Town
Rick Worth shares his love of art through large-scale murals, "art-o-mobiles," lively painting classes and creations that capture the character of Key West. Click here to meet the low-key man who's had such a high-level impact on the island's art scene.
Corcoran's Tantalizing Tales ... And Tacos For Tennessee
He peddled tacos from a three-wheeled bicycle when he first moved to Key West — and Tom Corcoran has never forgotten the irreverent, weird, magical island he discovered from that vantage point. Find out how he became Key West's master mystery writer by clicking here.
Henry Flagler: The Railroad Visionary Who Changed the Keys Forever
Henry Morrison Flagler never lived in the Florida Keys, but he left a more lasting and valuable mark on the island chain than many lifelong residents. Click here to meet the man who built the Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad.
Bobby Nesbitt: All the World's a Stage
He has performed for audiences around Europe, starred at a famed San Francisco venue and been the first American singer/pianist to play in the American Bar of London's Savoy Hotel. Nevertheless, Key West keeps calling Bobby Nesbitt home. To meet the acclaimed pianist and entertainer, click here.
Captain Tony Murphy: The Light-Tackle Limey
As well as being a skilled fishing guide, Captain Tony Murphy has created an acclaimed guide service for virtually all types of Florida Keys fishing. He also owns a top Keys fly fishing outfitter known as the Saltwater Angler. To meet the multitalented Murphy, click here.
Charlie Wilson: 'Real Food' Restaurateur
After calling many countries home and indulging in plenty of "junk food," Charlie Wilson established roots in Key West and opened Help Yourself, offering natural and healthy foods. Click here to see how she's bringing "real food" to the Florida Keys and inspiring people to help themselves.
John Richmond: Piloting The Conch Flyer
When John Richmond stopped piloting DC3s to take the helm of a Key West bar and restaurant, his workplace didn't change — he still plies his trade at Key West International Airport. Click here to meet the man behind the Conch Flyer.
Bobby Mongelli: Envisioning Stock Island
When Bobby Mongelli looks around the Hogfish Bar and Grill, he sees far more than the funky, quintessentially casual locals' emporium he created overlooking the water in Stock Island's Safe Harbor area. Click here to learn more.
Nadene Grossman: Key West's Go-To Planner for Upscale 'I Do's'
Florida Keys weddings are conducted on beaches and boats and in historic homes, hotels, guesthouses, gardens and elsewhere. Nadene Grossman, Key West's go-to planner for upscale "I Do's," guides nervous brides and traveling guests through the nuptial gaieties with ease. Meet the personality-plus planner here.
Robert the Doll: Key West's Eerie Icon
He stands only three feet tall, but Robert the Doll is internationally renowned for his mischievous deeds, receives letters and e-mails from all over America and has more than a thousand Facebook friends. To meet the unusual icon, click here.