Key Largo, Islamorada businesses join forces to provide lunches

Lunch meals provided from noon to 3 p.m. beginning Wednesday, April 15

From left, Carlos Hernandez, owner of Harriette’s Restaurant in Key Largo; Sam Prescher, of Harriette’s Restaurant; Mike Forster, Mangrove Mike’s Cafe owner and founder of Mangrove Mike’s Endeavors; Michala Laufle, Mangrove Mike’s Cafe employee; and Violet Wahba, owner of Key Lime Products in Key Largo. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

Three area businesses are coming together to provide hot meals for the Tavernier and Key Largo communities, as many local residents continue to stay home and go without a steady paycheck as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On April 13, the owners of Harriette’s Restaurant, Key Lime Products and Mangrove Mike’s Cafe sat down to discuss a plan to provide some 200 meals to local residents beginning Wednesday, April 15. Once dine-in was shut down in the state by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order, Harriette’s in Key Largo began to serve free daily breakfasts for residents to take to-go. In Islamorada, Mangrove Mike’s Cafe turned to providing daily lunches in the village, as well as different parts of the island chain from Key Largo to Key West. 

With food provided by Mike Forster, Mangrove Mike’s Cafe owner and Mangrove Mike’s Endeavors founder, Harriette’s Restaurant and owner Carlos Hernandez will cook the lunch meals for distribution at Key Lime Products at MM 95, oceanside, by owner Violet Wahba. Lunch will be provided to go Monday through Friday from noon to 2 p.m. 

People in the Tavernier and Key Largo areas can pickup hot lunch meals Monday through Friday from noon to 3 p.m. at Key Lime Products, located at MM 95, oceanside. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

Wahba said she wanted to assist the community during this time of need. That’s when she met with Forster and Harriette’s owner, Carlos Hernandez, to discuss a plan forward. 

“I’ve loved this community from the beginning. This is my community and I really want to help out as much as I can,” she said. “We’re all in this together and it’s a little thing we can do to help the community at this time.” 

Hernandez said Harriette’s surpassed the 500-breakfast mark last week. What started out as a few people has slowly grown to 40 to 50 a day. The free breakfasts continue daily from 9 to 11 a.m. at Harriette’s, located at MM 95.7, bayside.

“You can tell now they’re hurting,” Hernandez said. “It’s hard. We plan to be here for a long time when we’re back to normal. We are part of the community. … This is a spot they can come for a safe harbor. That’s what this has become.”

Forster, who recently received a donated shipment of 10,000 pounds of protein, said the partnership will allow more mouths to be fed in Tavernier and Key Largo. 

“We need to take care of each other,” Forster said. “We have a lot of employees who are out of work and don’t have a paycheck coming this week or next week. This is what we need to do to be a united, compassionate community.”

Wahba says she’s hoping eventually to provide lunch to the community seven days a week. Those seeking to volunteer to hand out meals or deliver to homes Monday through Friday can contact Wahba at 305-849-5642.

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Jim McCarthy is a Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, mixed martial arts and golf. He loves to hit the links and play some softball with his Make A Play team. He also enjoys time with family (he's expecting a little boy in October).