Paige Keil and Asher Burris are new owners of Mangrove Mike’s Restaurant in Islamorada. CONTRIBUTED

“Asher (Burris) and I had our first date here and were married here. My parents have had a house in Lower Mate (Matecumbe) since the ’70s,” said Paige Keil, niece of the late Mike Forster and the new owner of Mangrove Mike’s in Islamorada. “We would come here and go to places like Hog Heaven, and Uncle Mike would joke and say, ‘Don’t say my name.’

“I used to name-drop him, and we had a running joke not to name-drop him,” said Keil, who runs the established diner with her husband, Asher Burris. “Essentially, my uncle used to live with us in Miami before moving to the Keys. He had restaurants in Miami and Florida until the ’90s and bought this restaurant in January 1998. He loved to fish and the Everglades — being on the water and the boat was his nirvana.”

Forster, lovingly remembered and missed, passed away on Sept. 6, 2021 following a battle with COVID-19. After that, the restaurant was in probate as Forster did not have a will. But Keil knew that the restaurant meant everything to him. 

“I couldn’t even come here until March 2023. My parents came to us and asked if we would be interested in buying the restaurant. I worked all the way up in health care and realized it didn’t align with where I was at,” Keil said. 

The couple officially took ownership last November. Keil was a senior leader in the health care industry for 20 years, and Burris has a vast background and knowledge of the hospitality industry and as a business consultant. He is also very handy. Both are highly focused on customer experience and staff inclusion.

“The staff pulled the weight for two years with the uncertainty that they were going to have a job. And the locals ask us, ‘You’re not going to change anything, are you?’” Keil said.

“Part of why we wanted to buy the restaurant was the staff. They are the reason why we bought it,” Keil continued. They quickly made long-time staff members Pam Schmidt the general manager and Jackie Howe the operations manager in addition to being a server.

“We understand about passing the baton and how important it is. We know Uncle Mike sacrificed a lot, and then his staff sacrificed a lot,” Burris said. “The staff knows all that is going on. We want to honor a lot of work and then add in our experience and uptick the atmosphere.”

Mangrove Mike’s restaurant has a special energy, so much that the couple has been very cautious about making refreshing updates without significant changes to the uniqueness and history it holds. Some updates include new lighting, purse hooks, updated bathrooms and implementing systems to make the operation more efficient.

“Some things we kept that are legendary, such as the photos on the walls, the teal bar, using notepads for orders, and the clock-in punch card system,” Keil and Burris said.

“In the morning, all the captains sit at the bar and watch The Weather Channel,” Keil said. They are also updating the outside seating area and other areas of the restaurant, including the cash wrap congestion that often happens during busy times.

As for changes to the menu, they brought the menu back in color, added desserts and gluten-free options and expanded beverages. New menu items include unicorn pancakes with sprinkles, Nutella pancakes — a top new item — chicken and waffles and a shipwreck sandwich, a cinnamon roll bun with egg, bacon, sausage and cheddar cheese. Breakfast is offered all day.

Mangrove Mike’s is also known for its Key lime pie, a treasured Keys classic recipe Forster purchased years ago from Manny & Isa’s. 

“My uncle purchased the recipes before they retired. The Key lime pie is unique as it has a meringue-airy goodness,” Keil said.

The new owners are also creating a “Legends Collection” and a “Mangrovin’ Movement” apparel lines through images, like Forster’s hook and skull collection, and stories.

“It’s one thing to have really good food, one thing to have really good service, but another to have a family atmosphere and how good that feels,” Burris said. “At the end of the day, we all long for that. You want to go where it’s good and where the locals go. We are so fortunate for all the locals who dine here almost five days a week.” 

Keil and Burris said they feel responsible and fortunate to carry on what the locals feel is so valuable. 

“It’s a special place,” Keil said. 

Mangrove Mike’s is located at MM 82.2 in Islamorada and is open daily from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Follow on Instagram: @mangrovemikescafe.

Melinda Van Fleet
Melinda Van Fleet is an Intuitive Energy Business & Leadership Mentor and the owner of Good Karma Sportfishing with her husband, Ryan Van Fleet. She is a speaker, bestselling author of "Confidence Mastery for Couples" and "Life & Love Lessons," and the host of the weekly podcast "The Success Codes Podcast." You can connect with her more at