Fausto’s Food Palace turns 90 in April
The identity of Key West begins and ends with local businesses—even in the wake of retail chains, convenient stores and the mega-corporations that continue to invade the island. Yet for one local outfit, which has survived and flourished in the face of many corporate challengers; Fausto’s Food Palace has embodied the ideals of family, community and hard work in Southernmost City for close to a century.
Fausto’s signature motto is “Food Palace,” but for locals, the island grocery has been so much more. This year marks the 90th year the family owned and operated business has given Key West not just groceries, but a community epicenter. Operated by the same family for almost a century, Jimmy and Alton Weekley are the third generation to nurture the success of one the island’s most beloved brands.
Faustino (Fausto) Castillo came to Key West in 1910 to work in a cigar factory. By 1926, he opened his own grocery store, Fausto’s, on Virginia and Packer streets (current location of The Flaming Buoy Restaurant). Fausto would marry a local, Ana Alvarez, and have one daughter, Ana Luisa. Business began to expand and the family moved Fausto’s to 600 Fleming Street, which is now the Marquesa hotel.
Fausto’s wife Ana passed away, leaving teenage Ana to help her father with the store. She finished her high school education at The Covent of Mary Immaculate and took to running the business by age of 17 with her father.
In the 1940’s, father and daughter dreamed of a bigger store and moved to the landmark property at 522 Fleming Street. While working, Ana met a Navy sailor named Carl Weekley, who stopped by to layup supplies for the ship. During this time, it was Ana, still a young woman, who managed to secure a bank loan to purchase the Fleming Street property and marry Carl, who happened to be a trained meat cutter. But like many young men in the 1940s, Carl was shipped overseas to serve in WWII, leaving behind a pregnant Ana to run the store.
Describing his mother, Alton Weekley called her a “4 feet, 11 inch dynamo”, which explains the continued success and growth of the business during trying times.
And on an island domineered by businessmen, an undeterred Ana quickly became respected as an equal by other business owners. Early on she took charge by either fighting code compliance for their new property, or later threatening to put a lien on the Pier House when David Wolkowsky tried to put off paying his grocery bill with a Key lime pie.
“As hard as she could be, she was just as sensitive,” said Jimmy Weekley about his mother.
As a fiery guardian of the business, Ana also had a benevolent heart. When Key West’s economy suffered during WWII, Ana and Carl forgave grocery bills for families in hardship. Carl would even slip extra flour and sugar rations for families to celebrate birthdays. .
“Ana would send pies to St. Mary’s,” said the Basilica’s Father John Baker with a reminiscing smile. “What made it so personal was she figured out what kind of pies we all liked and sent her sons to deliver them. She would send food to the soup kitchen and prepare Thanksgiving baskets every year for those in need.”
In 1948, Fausto Castillo passed away leaving the business to the Weekleys. They took the reins and Ana renamed it Fausto’s Food Palace as her father’s legacy.
Ana and Carl had four sons, two of which, Alton and Jimmy, carry the family torch. Both left Key West for other adventures, but returned home by the 1970s to begin working for their parents. Jimmy followed in his parent’s footsteps and also met his wife, Susan, in the store when she took a job there in 1977.
Ana and Carl fostered the family’s civic-minded tendencies. The sons learned to give back and also became immersed in the community. Jimmy not only ran Fausto’s, but also the City — he’s a former Mayor of Key West and a current City Commissioner. Alton also served as City Commissioner, as well as president of Rotary Club and longtime member of Chamber of Commerce, along with many other organizations both brothers remain involved with today.
Carl passed away in 2002 and Ana in 2011, both actively involved in their store, their community and their family to the end.
Now the fourth generation of Weekley’s are continuing the tradition as Alton’s son, “J,” works with him at Fausto’s White Street as assistant manager. And Dakin, son of Jimmy and Susan, is assistant manager at Fleming Street. Jimmy’s grandson, Jake, 14 has asked to work at Fausto’s this coming summer, which would mark the fifth generation to embark on the family legacy.
When asked about secret to Fausto’s success, both brothers replied in unison, “It’s in our blood.” A fitting answer to a cherished business in the bloodline in a city it helped shape.