Restaurant has yet to close in 36 years
The round table in the back corner of Cracked Conch Café has seen its share of hurricanes, and at some points, with inches of water underneath it, has even had diners sitting by the light of a candle eating hot dinners and drinking cold beverages.
“This place is packed during hurricanes,” said 14-year employee Rose Bertiaux. “Once they were cooking in the back with flashlights in their mouth because there were so many people in here.”
Owner Joe DeConda opened the restaurant in January of 1980 and hasn’t closed the doors since. He can’t even remember how many tropical storms and hurricanes he’s ridden out at the restaurant. “Most of them hit during the night, and the next day is beautiful,” he said. “No one wants to sit at home with the shutters up. They need a cold beer, and want to survey the damage.”
DeConda has spent 40 years in the Keys, and has never left for a storm. “People need to eat,” he said, “and I want to be here to help start the cleanup process.”
While most people are clearing out the coolers before a storm, Cracked Conch does the exact opposite, consolidating to a few coolers and stocking up before the storm. “We pack ice blocks in the coolers,” he said, “and cook with gas.”
Cracked Conch becomes the hub of all local news after the storm. Local firefighter Rick Turner spent some quality time there after hurricanes Georges and Irene. “It was the only place open,” he recalled.
Good things have come from hurricanes over the years, too. The back entrance, which is a lot like the main entrance, was actually knocked out by a hurricane. “We liked the way it looked, so we never replaced it,” said DeConda.
Each year when hurricane season ends, a couple locals come to celebrate a lean season with a pitcher of margaritas and hopes of another sparce season next year. And, if a hurricane does hit, the Conch is where the news networks set up base and film because, you know, since it’s where are the local are hanging out.