Matt and Carolyn Anthony were on their way to a quick beach vacation in Panama City Beach when a sign for the Florida Keys caught her eye.
The granddaughter of a New Yorker who spent his summers running his gas station at Rockaway Beach and winters fishing the waters of the Keys, she’d long been acquainted with the island’s turquoise waters and soothing temperatures.
“When I was a little girl, I loved to come down and go fishing with Grandpa when he was here,” Carolyn remembered.
She decided to Matt down for a visit to check it out, and the couple knew almost instantly that their roots in Atlanta, Georgia were in desperate need of transplanting.
In 1997, after earning a theater degree from Florida State University, she got a job as a flight attendant for Delta. She met the computer whiz who still maintained a bartending gig for extra cash on the side, so the couple’s experience in the service industry is long and proven.
When they married at a comfortable, Keys “resort” – the Kon Tiki – in 2002, the notion struck the pair to move to the Keys and purchase a motel.
“We started looking in Islamorada and just kept getting pushed farther west,” she explained about their purchase in Marathon.
The Sombrero Reef Inn – not to be confused with the significantly larger Sombrero Resort adjacent to the Middle Keys’ only golf course – has stood since 1971 under numerous monikers, among them “The Man-O-War Boatel” and Hopp Inn. All but one of the nine buildings on the quiet, dead-end street off Sombrero Beach Road have been purchased as private homes. Units 17 and 18 on Man O War Dr. now constitute the quaint Sombrero Reef Inn.
She was still commuting back and forth to Atlanta, and he traveled to wherever his position with Diversified Computer Consultants called him.
“We alternated days off so that one of us would be here at the motel. We’d usually pass each other around 4 am on U.S. 1!” she exclaimed. “It’s just the two of us – always has been – running this place. Cleaning rooms, minor repairs, answering phones. Everyday.”
As many motel and inn owners in the Keys can attest, there’s always a collection of stories about interesting guests or items left behind after they’ve departed. Once, while changing bed sheets, emptying the garbage and mopping the floors in preparation for another check-in, Carolyn remembered how she swept a beautiful diamond band ring out from under a dresser.
“I called everyone that stayed in the room for whom I had a number, but no one has ever claimed it!”
For the young, entrepreneurial couple owning and operating their first business while simultaneously traveling for their respective jobs, the Inn also doubled as a social outlet.
“There were many nights sitting on the dock with our guests, cooking burger and hotdogs, drinking beer and wine and staying up late,” Matt reminisced. “It seems like a stretch there when there was always someone here with a guitar.”
Sombrero Reef Inn not only helped the pair integrate into the local business community – both currently serve on a handful of boards and committees – but helped to bring many new homebuyers into the community.
“Our regular customers change,” Matt continued. “We’ll have some that visit several times a year or always in the same week every year, but many of them have opted to purchase their own home in the area. We have a good track record of that.”
In 2004, Matt was laid off from his position as a traveling consultant, but he quickly landed a position in Information Technology at Hawks Cay. All the while, he maintained his bartending skills to supplement his income. In February 2006, The Quarterdeck in the Key Colony Beach Marina changed hands and became Sparky’s Landing. The wild success of the restaurant is not surprising, again considering the couple’s history in the service industry.
For three years in a row, Middle Keys folks voted Sparky’s as having the “Best Happy Hour.”
Just this year, the Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce presented them with an award for “Best Customer Service.”
“That’s definitely something we’ve been working towards since we opened the restaurant,” Matt said.
After more than seven years of memories, the couple opted to put Sombrero Reef Inn up for sale. Both agree it was an incredible opportunity to integrate into the local business community, but with the daily demands of running a restaurant, they’ve decided to focus their energies on continuing to grow Sparky’s Landing.
Both agree that though great friends and memories have been made at Sombrero Reef Inn, it’s evident these two have set their sites for bigger things just on the horizon.
Sombrero Reef Inn’s conch-style suites are equipped with full kitchens as well as a comfortable living and dining space…the perfect home away from home.
Enjoy morning coffee or an afternoon cocktail under the breezy palms just outside your back door.
Sombrero Reef Inn offers a private ramp, parking and dockage for your boat with easy access to a great day of fishing.
The Inn’s bright and sunny motel rooms offer the perfect accommodations for a quick weekend getaway.