Launched in February 2008 in the old Jaycee Building that has since been demolished, the Best of Marathon has grown from a intimate party featuring one microphone and a banner into a production with pre-recorded videos that employs lighting and sound technicians. 

While the beginnings were humble, the criteria for being named “Best of…” adheres to the same standards as today. 

The Vet

Often referred to as “Doogie,” “Landslide” or “Dr. Kibbles-n-Bits,” Marathon veterinarian Mike Dunn has captured “Best Vet” every single year, by a lot of votes – a LOT. Back in ’08, the good doctor and his wife Catherine only had one kid and two dogs. Today they have four kids, a pig, two dogs, 162 chickens, an Alpaca, a miniature horse and a crocodile who sometimes vacations on their dock. When asked, he often attributes the notoriety of the award with his professional and personal success. 

“Since winning our first award our staff, services and the clinic itself have all expanded,” Dunn told the Weekly. “And if it weren’t for the Best of Marathon I don’t think Catherine would still be with me.”

PHOTO: Vet.jpg: Dunn, pictured before his vasectomy, accepting the 2008 plaque from then-Jaycee president Maria Luther.  KEYS WEEKLY FILE PHOTO.

The Happy Hour

Like the Best of Marathon, Sparky’s Landing has evolved over the years into a nationally recognized brand. Their iconic stickers can be found at nearly every corner of the globe and the establishment was recently featured on the nationally-syndicated food show “Triple D Nation.” 

Sparky’s Landing chairwoman Carolyn Anthony says she and her husband owe much of their success to their wall of plaques. 

“People just like to touch the award,” Anthony said. “I guess that makes them feel like they are touching a piece of history, or maybe they feel like some of the magic will rub off?’

She admitted that most of the plaques were lost in 2017 when Hurricane Irma destroyed the site of the original Sparky’s Landing.  

“Losing those plaques was like losing my grandmother’s photo album,” she added. 

PHOTO: Sparky’s.pdf: Sparky’s proprietors Matt and Carolyn Anthony photographed with one of their first awards in 2010. In spite of Hurricane Irma, they should have more than 20 plaques on their walls including consecutive awards for ‘Best Happy Hour’ (since 2008) and numerous others like ‘Best Bar’ (’13 and ’14), ‘Live Music’ (’18), ‘Best Bartender’ (MJ and Holly, 2015-2017), and ‘Best Margarita’ (’19 and ’22). 

The Event

“People love drinking draft beer from plastic cups,” said Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce CEO Daniel Samess. Since ’08 the Original Marathon Seafood Festival (2023 marks the 47th anniversary) has won “Best Local Festival” as voted on by the general public. 

“The event also features smoothies, vendors, live music, seafood and a play area for kids, but I really do think people come for the draft beer,” he said.

Founded by a group of local commercial fishermen in the mid-’70s, the community event now attracts some 20,000 guests to the Marathon Community Park on the second weekend of March. 

Back in ’08 the Chamber of Commerce and Organized Fishermen of Florida (Marathon Chapter) would average about 100 kegs of beer over the two-day event. Today festival attendees consume upwards of 160 kegs. 

“I would like to thank the people of Earth for recognizing the Original Marathon Seafood Festival as the ‘Best Local Festival’ in the entire galaxy,” added Samess. 

PHOTO: seafood fest.jpg: Samess pictured with the ‘Best Local Event’ award in 2008. 

Other multi-year winners include: 

Best Bar: Overseas Pub & Grill (2016 – present)
Best Gift Shop: Marooned in Marathon (2013 – 2014, 2016 – present)
Best Healthcare Professional: Dr. John O’Connor (2013 – present)
Best Marina: Faro Blanco (2015 – present)
Best Jewelry Store: Midas Touch (2013 – present)

Jason Koler, born in Florida and raised in Ohio, is the “better looking and way smarter” Keys Weekly publisher. When not chasing his children or rubbing his wife’s feet, he enjoys folding laundry and performing experimental live publishing.