Sign on ground, reading "The Key Lime Tree – Gifts – Baskets – Food Products– Lotions – Skin Care"

The End of an Era? Key Lime Tree Pie Shop Fire

a pile of rubble by a palm tree
The sad end of a delicious era?
Cathy Salustri

The best things aren’t things, but experiences. What if, though, one of those amazing experiences involves a thing?

One of my favorite Florida Keys traditions has ended, possibly for good. The Key Lime Tree key lime products shop has burned down, and I don’t know if it will reopen.

I first stopped there on the way home from a trip to the former Bay View Inn on Conch Key (it’s now the Conch Key Fishing Lodge and Marina), and after a far-too-long absence from the Keys– (I wrote about that in this post), I wanted extend the saltwater, salt-air vibe for as long as I could. Since moving there wasn’t an option, I went for the next best thing: bringing home a key lime pie.

Knowing nothing about which roadside shop had good key lime pie, I stopped at this one.

It was the best part of the trip.

Every year since (except for 2017 – thanks a lot, Irma), I’ve stopped here to get a pie. When I learned I had celiac, I floundered, but – alas – the shop had gluten-free key lime pies (it’s all about the filling for me, not the crust, anyway.)

a store with a chain link fence around it and rubble on the ground

Cathy Salustri

The first time the man who would become my husband and I traveled to the Keys, I made him stop on the way home to get a pie. He thanked me when he tasted it.

In 2015, Quebec’s TV5 brought me to Islamorada to tape a segment about the human fascination with dolphin. I stopped at the shop on my way home and met the owner. When I told him how long I’d been stopping, he thanked me with a shell necklace that hung around my rearview mirror for years.

For year now, we bring home one, maybe three pies. When we first bought The Gabber Newspaper, we brought home a half pie for every non-vegan member of our staff. (Journalism may not pay much, but we do have pie.)

For a while, we knew where the shop was because of the Don Bailey billboard of an almost-naked carpet salesman. (Uh, if you’re not from South Florida, you may want to read this to understand that.) When the billboard changed – much to my dismay – had to learn the mile marker (95.2)

I’ve been to the Keys twice this year (so far). The first trip, in February, was a group trip I led. My co-leader and I left the Keys late in the evening, and after 10 days of leading a group, neither of us thought about stopping for pie. It was dark, and my mind was on the drive home.

When I returned for a far more leisurely trip in May, the pie shop had a fence around it – and a black charred shell of a building.

A sign for Key Lime Products

Cathy Salustri

I did a little research and found two articles in Keys Weekly, and they painted a picture that overshadowed my own dismay.

First, last fall, the shop had a series of burglaries. Police finally arrested the alleged thief on November 2, 2022, after the shop owner, Violet Wahba, had lost several thousand dollars in merchandise and store fixtures.

Next, on December 15 – not even six weeks after the arrest – a Key Largo resident who lived by the shop called Wahba to tell her the shop was on fire.

These two things, of course, came on the heels of the pandemic, which came less than a year after Wahba bought the shop in March 2019.

Despite all that, it seems Wahba still tries to operate as she can on the property, because there was an A-frame sign outside the fenced-off business suggesting  some operating hours. I’m not sure that’s still the case, but I hope so.

Wahba’s daughter created a Go Fund Me for her mother to help rebuild the shop; in it, she says the fire destroyed not only the building, but $150,000 worth of merchandise (they sell a lot more than pies).

I was shocked to see no one had donated. I sent them $25. It’s not a lot, but I hate to see the end of this iconic stop along US 1 in the Florida Keys.

Until we meet again, Key Lime Tree. I hope it’s soon.

Sign on ground, reading "The Key Lime Tree – Gifts – Baskets – Food Products– Lotions – Skin Care"
I was sorely tempted to take the sign as a moment, but left it in hopes the owners would rebuild.
Cathy Salustri