When Irie Island Eats owner Chris Lordi left his business just after 6 p.m. on May 27, the last thing he expected was to receive a call just 45 minutes later to return as Marathon Fire Rescue crews knocked down a blaze that had consumed the food truck.

“I live only three miles from there, and by the time I ran out of my place into my truck, I could see black smoke all the way from where I live,” he said.

A call placed at 6:30 p.m. first reported the fire, and in less than 30 minutes crews were packing up equipment after successfully extinguishing the flames. The exact cause of the fire is still under investigation, according to Marathon Fire Rescue officials.

Though the trailer used for Lordi’s fixed location in Marathon and most of the equipment inside was a complete loss, he viewed it as “a blessing” that the blaze was contained, avoiding much of the greenery and a large tiki hut next to the restaurant.

“Luckily, (the fire department) got here fast enough to mitigate any further damage to any of our animals, any of our trees, any of the neighbors’ stuff,” he said. 

Posts on social media confirming the fire were met with an outpouring of support from the Marathon community for the popular food truck. By the next morning, plans were announced for a benefit event at Marathon’s Lighthouse Grill on Sunday, June 12. The day will see all tips collected from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. donated to help Lordi and his employees rebuild. A Venmo account for private donations has been established at @irieislandeatshelpfund. 

Noting Lordi’s work with KAIR, donations to a multitude of community events, and dedication to feeding homeless families in Marathon, Lighthouse Grill bartender Mike Lordi called his brother “the hardest working man I know.”

“He’s got a full heart. He’ll help anybody and donate anything that he possibly could to help,” said Mike. “It’s stuff that nobody hears about, because he doesn’t want anybody to hear about it.”

“I grew up extremely poor. … There were many nights when I was younger that dinner wasn’t always available,” said Lordi. “Being in an opportunity now where I have the ability to give, I always try to give first and know that God’s going to take care of me on the other side.”

Working to ensure that Irie would reopen as soon as possible, Lordi spent the holiday weekend with his staff moving his older catering trailer into the main truck’s primary location and reconnecting the electric and gas lines. On May 31, Irie Island Eats announced its reopening.

With a new trailer on order, Lordi said he plans to use the makeshift setup for now as he works to make sure his employees get paid.

“Right now the roof’s leaking, but we’re making do,” said Lordi. “I could use a vacation; I’ve worked every day since September. But my people can’t use a vacation right now. I had to put myself second at this point to make sure that I can get open to make sure that my people are ensured a paycheck.”

Lordi said he’s been blown away so far by Marathon’s support for “the Irie concept,” which began as nothing more than a portable barbecue grill that he put in the back of his 1996 GMC Jimmy to drive to events. And although it would be easy to look at the fire as a tragedy, he said his faith has given him a sense of calm and reassurance as he works to rebuild.

“I had multiple people come up to me hysterically crying and saying, ‘Everything you’ve got is in flames.’ I said, ‘I see that.’ And they’re like, ‘But you’re not worried?’ And I said, ‘No, man. I just believe that God’s gonna take care of me through all of this. He’s my insurance, how’s that?’”

If you would like to have the Weekly delivered to your mailbox or inbox along with our daily news blast, please subscribe here.

Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.