This is about Keith
I sat around at one of my favorite watering holes in Key West, wondering what to share with those of you who read the Foodreference web site, when I received news of the passing of a special acquaintance of mine named Keith just before Christmas. It needs to be understood that most of us who live in Key West don’t really know another person’s last name and that’s just fine because we can relate to each other better that way with less formality, much like a family. His death took me by surprise because he was so young and just beginning a new phase in his life with his fiancée Gretchen, whom I actually knew before Keith. We hung out at sunny spots together as Keith was known for his superb tan and at one time all 3 of us worked at the same resort property, albeit in different capacities. I was the Front Desk Guest Services Manager, Gretchen was the beachfront bartender and Keith was a primary server at Shula’s restaurant that shared the resort property.
Why did this particular news give me the “spark” to write this piece? You would never know this if you were a visitor to the island, but like any town that thrives on tourism we are a community of service workers whose mission it is to ensure that you as a guest, patron or customer get the best experience possible when dining, shopping, doing water sports, perusing the museums and visiting historic areas. This work often involves long hours at minimal pay and no benefits, though some employers provide more then others. To most visitors vacationing in Key West the people in these positions are background noise allowing the sunset, island life and general ambience to take center stage. Keith opitimised what was best about the service industry on this island and I couldn’t let time go by without acknowledging this fact.
First and foremost Keith was a professional. I not only worked on the same property as he did, but I took several dinners at Shula’s steakhouse where I was fortunate to have him as my server. It should be known that being the primary is no easy task at this premiere restaurant as you are required to have an intimate knowledge of wines, familiarity with serving etiquette, to know your menu and to anticipate the needs of the guest. The management of this facility demands very high standards for their workers and with so much expected of you it would certainly demand consistently excellent quality from each worker both up front and behind the scenes. I’ve seen this place in action and they know their business and enjoy doing it well. I believe Keith worked there since it opened and to have that kind of longevity and loyalty to a job is a rare thing these days having served at another fine establishment (Café des Artiste; now Pisces) prior. Keith was one of those rare people in this line of work who made the job an art form on the high end of the restaurant food chain. We could have a few laughs off campus, but though he was very friendly to his guests he was all about making sure it was done right when he donned his black Shula’s tee shirt.
I want every visitor to Key West to have a great time staying here, eating here and vacationing here, but I would ask you to do me and yourself a favor. When you enter the hotel honor the person behind the desk. When you arrive at the restaurant respect the host at the front door, the person behind the apron and your bartender. Appreciate the one who helps you on board the catamaran or schooner for your sunset sail and the ticket taker at the museum. I understand that all those who are part of this particular community will not always have “hospitality” as their middle name, but if you come across a Keith in your meanderings then you will notice a difference and your dignified response to their hard work will make as much if not more of a difference to their lives as a good tip.
Thank you Keith for making this island a special experience for the visitors and for those of us who live here. You just made it all that much better!
Doug Heyman in Key West for the Food Reference Website