Robbie’s of Islamorada is a traveler’s icon. Six months after Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys, the granddaughter of the founder talks to us about rebuilding, landscaping and what the islands need most.
I instantly like Cailin Reckwerdt because she’s wearing a sweater dress in 80º weather. There’s no doubt in my mind she’s a Florida girl, so when I learn her grandfather built Robbie’s of Islamorada, I’m not shocked.
Not much looks changed to me, and Reckwerdt explains that her family isn’t one to the metaphorical seagrass grow under their feet.
“We just rebuilt pretty quick,” she tells me. “The storm was still at 10 MPH and we started cleaning.”
Two weeks after Irma flooded the marina, Robbie’s reopened. (“The shortest amount of time of any business in the Keys,” she tells me, the pride evident in her voice.)
“The deck we’re eating on is new,” she adds, explaining how the family made the decision to raise the level of the dock five feet.
“We had this chance to think about our future, [to decide],” she says, “’What do we do now?’”
The storm stripped the deck bare, so before they rebuilt, they fired more concrete and bolted down the deck a certain way so that, she says, “it’s not going anywhere.”
Remember when some of us didn’t have power for a week and we patted ourselves on the back for getting through that horrible, dark time? Yeah, well, consider the Keys:
“It took two days for people to start clearing the roads,” Reckwerdt says. The water wasn’t potable for quite some time (it’s fine now, no worries). And, if you worked somewhere that couldn’t reopen?
“Some companies were not paying people [right away],” she says, explaining the businesses would offer to pay several months down the road, once the business was reopen and generating revenue. She doesn’t sound as though she judges them, but add, “we were paying people immediately. That really resonated with a lot of locals.”
Imagine this version of Paradise:
“It was almost apocalyptic. The food is limited, they’re not bringing supplies in regularly. It was insane, having to live like that for two-three weeks. I didn’t have power for two weeks. I didn’t have internet for two months. The Red Cross was big thing. They came here every day see our workers and give them water,” she says, but adds, “We were really fortunate. A lot of people lost a lot. We’re here. We didn’t lay anyone off.”
Reckwerdt has high praise for her community, especially the locals who came to work for Robbie’s right after the storm.
“They helped us; they worked really, really hard,” she says. “It was a good thing for us to come together. Obviously it was a big negative impact for the Keys, but we came out strong.”
“We were very fortunate compared to most right now,” she says. “What I see for us is we have our same staff, but a lot of the people who lived in trailers their homes are gone.”
In rebuilding, she says, Robbie’s “didn’t take any insurance money.”
They also didn’t take any FEMA money.
“Other people need it more than us. We have a hurricane fund. We plan for the future.”
Of course, that fund’s pretty dry right now, but if the next few years are benevolent to the Keys, they can build it back up.
I’ve always limited my Robbie’s experience to getting on a snorkel boat, but sitting at the Hungry Tarpon chatting with her about the after-effects of Irma, I realize I’ve been missing a whole bunch of stuff. Namely, the plants. Reckwerdt can tell you the provenance of every tree or shrub on the property, which ones didn’t make it, which ones did and which ones won’t.
The only long-term casualty, she explains, is the landscaping.
“That for me was my heartbeat,” she says. “My dad planted these trees when he was 14. I planted trees.”
So what does the keys need now?
“Come spend your money here,” she says — and she doesn’t mean Robbie’s, specifically, but in the Keys. “We are open. Islamorada is open. There’s really not a lot closed anymore.”
The season “has been good,” but, she adds, “last year was substantially higher. We’re down about 30-40% people flow — on this property.”
“It’s the people. We need them to come,” she says.
Six months after Hurricane Irma ravaged the Florida Keys in 2017, Cathy Salustri explored the chain of islands to see what damage remained. This piece originally appeared at Creative Loafing. Read the next in the series here, or, if you haven’t yet, go back and start at the beginning.