You know what happens when you stop looking? Stop looking for love, or a new job or … a restaurant to own? It finds you.
“My wife Ali and I spent years looking for a place in Marathon where we could open a restaurant. We were thinking about a small gastro pub, though,” said Andy Baker. “We had stopped looking when this opportunity fell into place.”
Instead, the couple with decades of experience — “front and back of the house” — are the new owners of Key Colony Inn, one of the biggest restaurants in the Middle Keys. They purchased the institution — yes, institution — from Lena Proudnik, who ran the restaurant proudly for years with her late husband Sergei. Andy was a former kitchen manager at other Keys restaurants, and then bartender at Key Colony Inn. Ali, a long time general manager and bartender at Sparky’s Landing, said life prepared them for just this moment. All they had to do was seize the opportunity.
And so they did. Both are fully aware of the rich tradition of dining and drinking at Key Colony Inn, a local favorite for celebrating birthdays or anniversaries. Both are aware of what a big role the restaurant plays in Key Colony Beach life. The Keys Weekly asked about that.
Red Elvises? Yes, the annual concert is tentatively scheduled for March 15.
St. Patrick’s Day Party? Yes, Key Colony Inn is going to build a float and invite EVERYBODY back to the restaurant.
Thanksgiving and Christmas buffets? Well, they’re working on that. In the COVID-19 era, buffets are verboten, but the Bakers will adjust.
“Ali takes the new pandemic rules very seriously,” said Andy, gesturing around the two dining rooms and patios with what looks like more than half the tables removed. Hand sanitizer has a prominent place at the hostess station at Key Colony Inn. Every staff member is wearing a mask. Those things, perhaps, are the first thing diners will notice on entering the establishment with new owners. The rest of the changes, if any, will take place slowly over time, with the existing staff.
“This is a family that we are joining and building,” said Ali. “And I really consider Key Colony Inn to be the town’s community center.”
“Nothing drastic,” said Andy of the coming changes. “We’re starting simple. For example, if someone wants a cheeseburger for lunch, they can have it! But we still have all the old favorites like the ravioli and lasagna.”
There will be some new cocktails on the menu, too, but the Inn’s famous espresso martini remains. (That particular drink is responsible for some bruises and many babies in the Middle Keys! Whew!)
The Bakers plan to make some infrastructure improvements eventually — a large apron around the glass-enclosed patio for more seasonal, outside seating. And, when social distancing and sports return to the new normal, lots more TVs and cable packages like the NFL Ticket.
In the meantime, it’s great to have an old familiar, with the same faces and ambiance and excellent food.