A legendary Middle Keys institution, the Hurricane Grille has opened its doors to a myriad of locals, weary fishermen, and wandering souls for more than five decades. This weekend, the current (and arguably most successful) proprietors are celebrating their 5th Anniversary in true ‘Cane fashion.
An unexpected original restaurant, floor-stomping juke joint, and friendly locals bar, the Hurricane is hosting the Fabulous Fleetwoods and Joe Mama this Saturday with an outdoor barbeque. On Monday, they roll out their $5 lunch menu – relief for the working class residents of Marathon.
The ‘Cane serves as a family restaurant with reasonable prices in the evening and is the glorious middle stop along the “Marathon Gauntlet” – a nightcap at the Brass Monkey is nearly always prefaced with beverages at the Hurricane.
Residents of Marathon know the ‘Cane as the best place to go in town for a cold beer, tasty wings, and a bar tab locals can actually afford.
What most don’t know is the story behind the revitalized establishment under its newest ownership—the team of Kai Thomas, Mike “Sav” Savinelli, and Mari St. Pierre.
On a dreary Connecticut day in August 1992, Kai Thomas was staring out the window when he answered a call from his younger brother, Dirk.
“Guess where I am at, man,” the baby brother boasted. “The Keys!”
“Where are the Keys?”
“They are a bunch of little islands south of Miami.”
In an exclusive interview with the Weekly, Kai admits he didn’t even know where “The Keys” were, but “wanted to get the hell out Connecticut.” As a semi-responsible, 24 year-old, he prepared for the voyage with a complete tune-up for his car – which was promptly stolen from the repair shop that very night.
So after piling his dog, belongings, and a long-forgotten girlfriend in her Ford Escort, he aimed the car south to the tropics, and promptly pulled into Virginia Beach as Hurricane Andrew blew over Homestead.
“The drive through Florida was nice, but when we hit Homestead there were military personnel everywhere,” he said. “And they were ready to shoot looters but there was nothing left to loot!”
Like most expatriates living in the Keys, Kai also has a vivid memory of his many “firsts” in the Keys. A notable example was his first pass over the 18-mile stretch and the liberating sensation of crossing the bridges on his way to paradise.
“I spent the next day on a sailboat and thought, ‘Why did this take me so long?’”
Within two years, his boyhood chum and teenage rabble-rouser, Mike “Sav” Savinelli, joined him in Marathon. As childhood friends, they played Little League together in Northford, CT, and then paired up again after high school as 18 year-old “magical busboys” at the 95 Steakhouse in New Haven.
“He had the beer, and I had the…other,” Sav says. “He wasn’t much of a smoker and I wasn’t much of a drinker, but together we were a deadly combo.”
Reunited in the Keys, the pair moved through the ranks of the Marathon restaurant community that is nearly as hard to gain respect as the Costa Nostra. Continuing their heterosexual restaurant affair at the Key Colony Inn, they became lifelong friends with other fresh-water Marathonites like Cornelia, Mia, Randy, Krusty, and sarcastic brunette destined for Marathon celebrity status, Mari St. Piere.
Mari makes three
Mari St. Piere’s is a typical Midwestern chick. She spent her formidable years dousing her hair with AquaNet and outsmarting boys — trends that remain dear to her heart this very day. While Sav and Kai studied under Key Colony Inn proprietor Harry Kirschner, Mari was turned into a front-of-the-house maestro from the tutelage of established restaurateurs, Gregg & Cindy Chapman.
On July 2, 2003, the lease on the Hurricane passed to Sav & Dirk – who would eventually bring in Kai to help run the surging establishment. A couple years ago Dirk signed his share over to Mari and Sav and Kai wholeheartedly agree that Mari’s arrival was “a godsend.”
I caught alone in their kitchen, the threesome showers biting insults and sincere appreciation for each other and are quick to revel in the generosity of their mentors – both the Chapman’s and Kirschner ran a family-style operation – a trend the Mari, Sav, and Kai practice at the ‘Cane.
“We really are a family here,” Kai says. “A long time ago we started an ‘Orphan Thanksgiving’ for those of us with no family in the Keys.”
The parties are legendary – just like the mystique of the Hurricane. The stories are hard to remember, but damn, they sure are fun.