We are having a conversation between Mark Baratto and Tricia Coyne
INTRO ~ Welcome to the Backyards of Key West Podcast with your host Mark Baratto.
MARK: Okay, this is the Backyards of Key West Podcast, my name is Mark Baratto and I’m with Tricia Coyne. Pronounced like the silver dollar, the quarter, I like to give you the larger.
MARK: No, no pennies. Unless it’s like one of those Indian head ones. I’m driving over here, and I have a motorcycle and I’m driving here from New Town, and I did a podcast earlier so having the excitement of doing that and rushing home, and doing a couple of things for work and then coming back and I’m driving here. I’m parked at the light on White Street and smash! It wasn’t that aggressive, but some huge SUV smashes into the back of my motorcycle. Luckily, it wasn’t really a smash, it was more like a touch and there was no damage for me or the bike, except that she was rattled beyond belief, of course.
MARK: But that was my, on my way over here story. If I’m sweating a little bit it’s from the heat and the collision.
TRICIA: Well, your equipment seems to have survived.
MARK: We are fine. We are doing just great over here. We are very new to Key West, just a couple of months my family’s been here and I’ve been hearing amazing things about your restaurant.
TRICIA: Oh good, that’s what I like to hear.
MARK: Yeah, and congrats on the Bubba Awards, you just won a Bubba Award.
TRICIA: Yes, best place to cure a hangover, second year in a row.
MARK: Right, I’m sure you wanted to be for best dinner, or whatever else, rather than curing of a hangover, because when I’m looking at your menu I’m like, I get the curing of the hangover part, but I think there’s a lot more to it than that.
TRICIA: Well, I think it makes the chef want to cry a little bit that that is what we’ve become known for. But it is, it’s so different because our brunch is so gravy and biscuits and big and bad. Then we get to dinner service and it’s white table cloth and candles and it is fun to have people who come in for one and then get to come to the other because it’s such a different service. It’s a different pace, we obviously have crossover ingredients but we are really operating two separate concepts within the building. And that’s fun.
MARK: What would you consider your core menu? Is it southern cuisine? Or how would you describe it?
TRICIA: Usually we say it’s modern southern cuisine. Basically, taking a lot of traditional stuff but then Russ puts his own spin on it using more modern ingredients or different modern techniques. I guess the most obvious would be our fried chicken, we are doing it in a pressure fryer. We are frying it to order and we are not frying it all off ahead of service. We fry it to order for 8 ½ minutes so we have the technology behind it and it works like a pressure cooker, it locks down physically.
MARK: As opposed to, what would be the other way of cooking it?
TRICIA: Just dropping it like an open fryer, like a 2-basket traditional fryer. So that pressure means we can do it a lower temperature and do it faster. So that really helps keep the chicken super moist and juicy, so we are taking traditional southern things, or like the fried green tomatoes and he’s using this brussels sprout and kohlrabi slaw on top. So, it’s not just your grandmothers southern cooking its trying to create something better or different or new.
MARK: You are a chef as well?
TRICIA: No. I went to culinary school so I do have a culinary degree, my degree is in food and beverage management with a focus on wine. Technically am I certified culinarian? Yes. But, I only go in the kitchen if they are just in absolute dire straits.
MARK: You are in front of the house, most of the time? Schmoozing and working with people? What does your day to day look like?
TRICIA: My day to day, honestly?
MARK: Besides putting out fires?
TRICIA: Which is probably my favorite part. Problem solving and all that is what really gets me excited. When we have something go catastrophically wrong and obviously it is tough and it is the hardest part emotionally but, I love… for example, in January we had a big piece of equipment go down in the kitchen and chef Russ and I spent all day figuring out, what can we do? What can we borrow from our friends? And everybody was amazing. Everybody stepped up. Everyone I got in touch with was like, hey let me see what I can give you and you know, cobbling together induction burners and butane burners and using the toaster from the manager Janice’s house, it was her brave little toaster.
MARK: Was it the main oven that went out?
TRICIA: It was our range. So, we lost six burners, two ovens, a broiler and a flat top.
MARK: On a Saturday?
TRICIA: Yeah, maybe it was a Friday? But we made it through five days on this cobbled together set-up. That was so cool to see our guys really step up and be like, okay we are going to make it work. And we did. But spending that day running around with Russ figuring out, what can we do? These are the circumstances we’ve been given and how do we fix this? That’s my favorite. The interaction with people, obviously I love people because they tend to react really well to our food and what we do, which is fun. I’m a pretty shy person, myself, so that’s not always my favorite part of it. So may day to day and then- the wine program is my favorite. We’ve been working with some new cocktail programs, which has been fun. We are beer and wine, but creating spritzes and seltzers and stuff like that.
MARK: If someone has a question about wine, you would be the person they would talk to?
TRICIA: Generally, yes. I love picking out the wines. I love talking about them, I love teaching staff about the wines so I’ve moved into more of the weekday administrative stuff and then I’m here usually on Friday and Saturday nights. Some of it is the paperwork and some of it is the physical and interactive and I love having that balance.
MARK: That’s great because your chef doesn’t want to do any of that, I’m sure and is happy that he has got somebody who loves to do that.
TRICIA: He’s actually great, he doesn’t always love coming out of the kitchen to talk to customers, but when he does come out – he’s so good at it. He is so passionate and so knowledgeable. I guess it is weird to find the person who loves the spreadsheets more than anything else.
MARK: Well, you love, not running the business but the business part of the art that is happening here.
TRICIA: Exactly, that’s exactly right. I really am not a creative person but I love being able to take somebody who is creative and give them a forum to showcase that.
MARK: Yeah, you are giving them the tools and everything to produce what is best. It’s a joint effort obviously.
TRICIA: Exactly and I love that and I love being able to show off what he can do. He is so good and so talented.
MARK: How long have you been in Key West?
TRICIA: Consistently, I’ve been here the last 7 ½ years. I spent a summer down here when I was in college and I was a dive instructor for Southpoint Divers back in 2005.
MARK: And was that the first time coming here? Or you came before that?
TRICIA: Well, my parents had a house. I was 21-years old living in my parents’ house and teaching scuba diving, it was awesome.
MARK: That’s the best, in Key West.
TRICIA: So, we were coming down consistently. And then, I spent that summer and then we were still coming down on vacation and stuff. My parents had sold the house, but I was still coming down and everybody in Atlanta was doing this modern southern food, it was in every other restaurant in Atlanta, in that style. We realized that nobody was doing anything like that down here and it seemed like it was a period of time when Key West food scene, because I feel like it fluctuates, it goes through periods where there’s new stuff happening and then periods when it stagnates. Eight years ago, that was the part where it was kinda coming back up and so it just seemed like a concept that would really resonate down here. So, I moved down here and I worked for Latitudes for a while as a manager out there and then we did this.
MARK: You knew when you were in school that you wanted to be in the restaurant business? That was a passion of yours from the beginning?
TRICIA: I had a weird path. My first degree was at UCLA and I got a degree in marine biology. After I moved down to Australia and I was working as a dive instructor down there and moved back to Los Angeles and I was working for a wastewater treatment plant. I had an opportunity to go and do an internship in South Africa tagging and tracking great white sharks down there.
TRICIA: Right. My boss at the treatment plant made it clear to me that if I left, and of course, they weren’t going to hold my job, but he made it very clear that I would not be welcome back if I left. So, I had to think about why did I get into this? Why did I get a degree in this in the first place? I don’t want to be doing bio-essays on treated wastewater for the rest of my career, so I went to South Africa.
MARK: You are like, dude I’m outta here and I’m tracking great whites.
TRICIA: Yeah, I’m going to go play with the sharks.
MARK: Which sounds so awesome, but my biggest fear in the world. I’ll paint the picture, its being in the airplane and it crashes into the water and I’m the only one alive and I’m floating with a mask – because of course I have a mask wherever that came from – and I look down and I see an abyss with this little dock that is slowly coming closer and closer.
TRICIA: And getting bigger and bigger.
MARK: I’m trying to figure out how to break my own neck before I get gobbled up. But that’s the difference, I’m a diver as well, and I’ve been diving in the Caymans and a lot of little places, but I’m super afraid of sharks but when you see one under water your instinct is to go after it. It’s amazing to see, so I’m swimming after them and I’m like what are you doing? What are you gonna do when you catch it?
TRICIA: The great whites were a lot of fun. Weird coincidence that there’s a bartender who works here named Holly who did the exact same internship that I did but eight years after I did it. So, she and I both did the same thing down in Mossel Bay, South Africa.
MARK: And you just missed each other? Two Key West’ers.
TRICIA: Yeah, well she’s a lot younger than I am. But she is in Mozambique right now. She’s coming back next week.
MARK: So, you are tagging the sharks…
TRICIA: So, I’m tagging the sharks and I get back to Los Angeles and I don’t have a job.
MARK: And you don’t want to do waste anyway.
TRICIA: The jobs that you can get in marine biology with a bachelors’ degree, you are not going to be doing the big, well some people do but it’s rare to be doing the big fun stuff.
MARK: You are like a scientist in a room, basically.
TRICIA: Yeah and my coworkers were great. It wasn’t a bad job, but it wasn’t what I really wanted to do and so I realized that I needed at least a masters, if not a PhD. At least to do cooler stuff. I applied to programs and it was at the end of 2008, beginning of 2009 and the economy tanked and everybody’s funding got slashed. Because you know, if the universities are picking and choosing who is getting the funding, the cancer research keeps their funding but the shark research – maybe not. Professors didn’t take any students and so I had to figure it out. If there’s not going to be any money in marine biology for a while, but not that there wasn’t any money, but you know, it was going to be hard for a long time.
MARK: The picture they were painting at that time was that we are going to be in a recession for a long time, not that we are going to get bailed out a week later.
TRICIA: Yeah, so there’s that. I tried working a desk job and I hated that at the end of the day all I had to show for it was a document. I was doing research and I had been a dive instructor and I wanted so badly to be that laid-back boat girl, ya’ know? Just like cool, chill, boat girl, that’s just not my speed. I tried, I really wanted to be chill.
MARK: It sounds like you had a love for the ocean and you loved diving but that doesn’t mean you wanted to do that for your career you just wanted to do it because you loved it.
TRICIA: Right. I enjoyed teaching diving and everything but it’s just not my speed. I wanted to be that speed, but I’m not, so I started trying out some other stuff.
MARK: How did you get to Atlanta?
TRICIA: I’m from Atlanta originally. I grew up in Atlanta and went out to Los Angeles for school and then back to Atlanta. I ended up really liking the balance of, well I sat here all day and made spreadsheets, and then Friday night I’m going to be talking to customers and running food and making cocktails. It has both of those elements. It has the hands on, which I liked about the diving, but it has the intellectual side. I like that about marine biology that you are doing physical work and then you are doing intellectual computer work as well. So, even though they seem like very disparate industries, it has that same kind of balance of the two.
MARK: The certainty and the uncertainty.
TRICIA: And the chaos!
MARK: You get to make that decision on, I could do the books tomorrow morning, I’m diving into the chaos tonight, because I want to.
TRICIA: Oh yeah.
MARK: And there’s a beauty of you running your own business and being in your own business that you get to choose that and then there’s the pain of running your own business that falls on your shoulders because it is your business.
TRICIA: There are some days that I just don’t have the customer service face on, but I need to, and of course you do what you have to do. But exactly, I get to live both sides of it which is fun and which I actually really enjoy and has worked for me.
MARK: You’re in Atlanta and you’re like, cool I want to be involved in this southern cuisine and it’s not going to work for me here in this hugely crowded space, so let me try it in Key West? Or, you just said I’m going to Key West? Or just dabble a little?
TRICIA: So, Firefly was my capstone project in culinary school. Through each of our classes you take management by menu, you work on your menu, you take food service technology and you pick what POS (point of sale) system you are going to use. All of that culminates into your senior portfolio and I won my portfolio show.
MARK: It’s like a thesis, right?
TRICIA: Yeah, and then we go and present it to industry professionals and I won the portfolio show with Firefly a southern restaurant in Key West.
MARK: And you’re like, I guess I better do it?
TRICIA: Yeah, I just kept going with it. It continued to seem like a good idea and then moved down here and it kept making sense, and here we are.
MARK: For you to dive right into this, you said you started working in management.
TRICIA: Yes, I was at Latitudes and I had been managing restaurants in Atlanta before I moved down, but I wanted to get a little bit of a feel for it. The joke at one of the restaurants that I was working at in Atlanta was “Oh, we are going to take Key West by storm!” Yeah, nobody wants to do that and I knew Key West well enough from having been down here before that the locals, and if you’re some asshole from up north and you’re like, “oh hey I’m going to open a restaurant.” You don’t know anybody, you don’t know how things work, and of course I’ve learned way more now than I knew after I had been here a year and a half.
MARK: Yeah and running a business is different than visiting, or working for somebody else.
TRICIA: Absolutely. I’ve learned a lot but I wanted to take some time to get the lay of the land a little bit. Get some level of credibility.
MARK: Now being here for this period of time, what would you tell yourself if you were just starting out again? Like you are shopping and you see this location and you are like, all right you get the lease and you’re starting here and then, you appear. A little older and say, okay here is what you need to do.
TRICIA: Honestly, I would tell myself to never hire my ex-boyfriend. He was a creative guy but…
MARK: It just wasn’t the best for business.
TRICIA: It was just not a good fit. I will never work with a significant other ever again. But thankfully we had Russ with us from the beginning as well. Oh God, my ex is never going to hear this right? No, he’s not here.
MARK: No, it’s not that popular. And if you are, we are sorry.
TRICIA: Yeah, sorry. Well Russ was really the standout. He was so professional and experienced.
MARK: How did you meet him?
TRICIA: Actually, it was through my ex. They were working together are Louie’s Backyard and Russ was the chef du cuisine upstairs and Louie’s and left there to come here and do this with us. So he took the reigns and he has just been killin’ it. He’s so good and awesome.
MARK: You lucked out that you weren’t chewing through chefs and you had one that you’ve now stuck with. He’s like a partner.
TRICIA: Absolutely, he has done great things and he’s been here from the beginning and knows everything.
MARK: Tell me a couple of stories from opening night. Were you expecting something and didn’t? Or expecting worse and got better? Tell me about that.
TRICIA: Our opening, so you are new in town, have you been to the Goombay Festival? Are you aware of it?
TRICIA: Obviously, that’s on Petronia Street and we have to be a part of Goombay. As we were getting ready to open and we closed on the building August 1st and we were shooting for October 1st and opened October 16th and then Goombay was two days later.
MARK: You are kicking it off with a bang right into Fantasy Fest and Goombay.
TRICIA: Right and so, our poor contractor, I said “I don’t care what it takes, we have to be open for Goombay.” Whether people come in the doors or not, just the perception of walking down Petronia Street and seeing, “Oh hey, there’s this new place open.” So we pushed really really hard get open for Goombay. I will never open a restaurant on that kind of deadline, it has to happen like this. Ever again.
MARK: Well, you’ve already got your certificate of occupancy and you got all that. So it was a working restaurant while you were working with the contractor.
TRICIA: But certain things like, we get an inspection and somebody wants us to move something or whatever, and you get to that point and you’re like, how much money do I have to pay to whom to fix this? That’s not a place to put yourself in. So, we had our opening night next day and then all of a sudden, it’s Goombay. That’s a totally different world and this will be our seventh year doing it and it’s still, well it’s all these street vendors and the streets are closed and it is a completely different set-up. So, I barely remember it, it is such a blur that we were trying to sell alcohol on the street and the spaces that we rented and we were not allowed to sell alcohol on the streets, so we were like, “Okay.” Pull all the tables back and put them on our property and so now we are on our property, so now we can. And we have a good relationship with the Goombay organizers and stuff like that.
MARK: So, you weren’t during that festival, you weren’t trying to drive traffic into the restaurant, it’s more like outdoor things because people are walking by? Or, do people just happen to come in anyway?
TRICIA: We do both. We are actually almost dead-even between what we sell outside and what we sell inside during Goombay. Because people want air conditioning or people want to sit on the balcony and watch everything go by.
MARK: It must be sold out up here for sure during that time. When people are like, “I gotta get up there!”
TRICIA: We do have people coming in to get drinks, air conditioning, get some food or whatever. Then we always sold food out on the street as well. Our friend Joe Tripp let us borrow his, he had a huge smoker that he made out of a propane tank. So, we smoke different meats and we change it up every year but we will always have food, alcohol, games, whatever we can do to keep ourselves entertained.
MARK: You do an off menu for outside?
TRICIA: Oh yeah.
MARK: I like having that big smoker out there because you’re like, “let’s just go wild” and we can do whatever we want for that.
TRICIA: Exactly. We did frog legs one year and how we were talking about your kid, well my boyfriends’ kid – loved that, I think he was six years old? We did fried frog legs for Goombay and he just loved them. All about it, and he is not a kid’s menu kinda kid, he was all about the frog legs. And that was super cool.
MARK: He’s like chewing on those frog legs.
TRICIA: Oh yeah, down to the bone, for sure. It was awesome.
MARK: What business would your friends say that you’re in? Like if I was interviewing them right now and I was like, “what does she do?”
TRICIA: Like, what do I do all day?
MARK: Yeah. Would they say you own a restaurant? Would they say you’re a sommelier? Would they say you’re schmoozing? What would they say?
TRICIA: I think they would say I own a restaurant. I own and run, the day to day, writing the checks.
MARK: Or, she’s our bar hook-up? That’s what they would say? Like I come in here and go to the bar and I get some free wine?
TRICIA: No. I’m not sure I would categorize myself as that necessarily. We try to take care of our friends, but I think the people that know me well would agree that it’s the numbers, logistics, all that. I’m not the one that is wandering around the restaurant, I mean I do have a glass of wine with me right now, but I’m not wandering around the restaurant with a glass of wine introducing myself as the owner. That’s just not, it actually took me a long time to become comfortable with being the face of Firefly at all. That kind of putting yourself out there like that and I was 29 when we opened.
TRICIA: I think that I was very afraid of people seeing me as being too young, too naïve, and I probably was, but… you know.
MARK: Well, the thing is you said you’re a little bit of an introvert, so being like that, having to wander around in front of strangers, putting on a smiley face and talking to them is draining, right?
MARK: I’m a little bit of an introvert, too. When I go to a party and I’m there all night, I go home and I’m done for the rest of the weekend. I need to hibernate. I’m exhausted. I’m drained. Whereas other people they get all hyped up from that.
TRICIA: Oh yeah. I don’t know, people who are full-time bartenders, I can’t imagine having that level of interaction all the time. For me at least, I’m seating people at their table, I’m checking on them, we might have a little bit of a conversation, but that constant chat …. no.
MARK: Yeah, you are in control of it. Okay cool, that was nice talking to you. Now I’m going to go in the back and relax for a little bit.
MARK: Or, do some numbers or whatever else I need to do.
TRICIA: Right, if you’re behind the bar, you’re stuck. You are there.
MARK: I would feel like I’m pinned in the corner and I would be like, I have to attack to get outta here.
TRICIA: Although, behind the bar, I do feel more like, and I don’t bartend very often, but when I do, I do feel more comfortable because it gives you a reason to be there. Whereas, as a manager, you are approaching a table interrupting their conversation like, “hey guys, how’s everything?” I find that harder from a social stand point.
MARK: There’s finesse to doing that too. I hate being at a restaurant and whether it’s the waiter or whoever, and I’m in mid-sentence and they are like, “How’s everything going?” And I’m like, I don’t know, wait and give me a breath to pause before you come and talk to me. I don’t know how it’s going yet! So, you have to know when is the appropriate time to jump in there and go, “hey guys!”
TRICIA: Right. And I’m terrible at waiting tables, that is, well actually we were just working on the schedule and we’ve got a bunch of people out of town next weekend just coincidentally and I’m like, “Oh, I think I’m waiting tables on Sunday brunch. Oh God.” That flow, that timing, how long do I leave you to look at the menu before I go check on you. Luckily, we have awesome servers here, who are great at that. I am not.
MARK: Yeah, me either. It’s a little bit of an art to be able to do that. You know, to know people and when is the appropriate time. I’ve had some great servers before, and I couldn’t tell you why they were so great. I just know that they appeared when I wanted them to appear and disappeared when I wanted them to go. And I didn’t have to say anything. It was perfect.
TRICIA: Well, and for us it’s always, and I don’t know if it’s just Key West or whatever, but if I’m in the mood to chat with my server, then I’m going to sit at the bar.
MARK: Yes, exactly.
TRICIA: You know, because if you want to chat then, like my boyfriend and I went to Prime the other night, because we were celebrating and walk up to the bar and we usually sit at the bar there, and there were three other couples that we knew that all happened to be at the bar as well. We were having a celebratory evening and I wanted to sit at a table. I didn’t want to chat and socialize, which 80% of the time we are at the bar chatting and socializing.
MARK: Me too. My wife and I are always at the bar because I like having the control of sitting in the bar, and then we are together. We are not being bothered as much and then when we want to go, we just get up and go. It’s easy.
TRICIA: Yeah. But sometimes you want that table. But if I’m sitting at the bar I want to chat, but if I’m at a table then like yeah, check on me, but maybe we are looking to have a little more of an intimate evening. So, try to make sure. I talked to our servers about that a lot, especially some of our more gregarious servers, read your table. Do they want to chat with you? Or, are they having a romantic evening? Making sure that you’re aware of that and what kind of level of interaction they are looking for.
MARK: You need some serious EQ or its not going to work for you.
MARK: And you’re like, “hey!” And they are like, “get outta here.” How would you say that the business has changed since you started?
TRICIA: The industry in general? Or Firefly specifically?
MARK: Firefly specifically and then, Key West.
TRICIA: Firefly, we’ve definitely gotten systems in place. It’s a much more organized place. We were a little wild back in the day. I remember in our first year, somebody would be like, “Chef Russ needs to see you in the kitchen.” And I’d be like shoot, what’s wrong? Something’s wrong. We’ve run out of something. Whatever. I get in the kitchen and its like, “Woo! Shots of Fireball!” And then the next time, they’ll be like, “Oh Russ needs to see you in the kitchen.” And I’m like, “Yes! I’m getting Fireballs.” And something has gone horribly wrong.
MARK: The oven’s broken! You’re like, “where’s the Fireball?” Yeah, get the Fireball.
TRICIA: Now we need the Fireball. So, I think we were younger and the restaurant was a little crazier, our staff was a little crazier and even the neighborhood. Bahama Village, the house next door was Mr. Chapman’s house. It was falling apart and now this couple has really made it beautiful, and all of Bahama Village has become – and Petronia Street…
MARK: It’s grown for sure.
TRICIA: I think we have all grown up and we take it as lot more seriously than we did. The restaurant industry, like I said, it continues to go through these fluctuations where you get all sorts of new places. Then kinda, gets a little more stagnant, then you see another upswing. I think we are, and it’s summer so obviously certain things are closing or whatever, but overall, I think we are seeing another upswing, post Hurricane Irma. People are coming back and doing new stuff, exciting stuff, and we were talking about Miami and you being from Miami – and we don’t get a lot of the new trendy things down here. So, I think we are seeing another…
MARK: That’s what everybody there, especially likes, the hottest new thing. They just want to bounce on whatever is hot right there whether it is good or not. And that’s a lot of that that is there, and Miami is getting hurt a little bit right now because of the fact that it is such a beach community. People go there on vacation for the partying, the restaurants and for the beach. And the beach is getting killed with what’s going on with all this crap coming up. Whereas it is hitting us too, you know I’m driving on the ocean and I’m getting that stench, too. But people don’t come to Key West to go to the beach. It’s never been the best beach city anyway.
TRICIA: Yeah, I hadn’t thought about that.
MARK: So, I don’t think that’s hurting the city. Maybe this heat? Like how was your June? Was June any different than it was last year?
TRICIA: We have been having a killer summer, I can’t complain at all.
MARK: That’s good. It’s just been boiling hot for June, that’s about it.
TRICIA: I swear, I grew up in Atlanta and I’m used to heat, and I feel like and I don’t break a sweat very often, but this summer I’ve been complaining about the heat a little bit this summer. It’s been hot.
MARK: Are you thinking of staying with the one restaurant here? Opening another one in Atlanta, or anything like that?
TRICIA: No, we’ve actually got a lease signed here in Key West. So, we are working…
MARK: Different concept?
TRICIA: Different concept. Yeah!
MARK: That’s exciting, we can leave it at that.
TRICIA: We can leave it at that, I almost told you to interview me in a like a few weeks instead.
MARK: Well, we can do a part 2 after. And announce the newest things that are happening. You are opening that Slurpee bar down the road.
TRICIA: Yes, that, well. Hopefully in mid-October, but like I said, I’m not putting a date, not a hard date like I did for Firefly because it was just, way too much.
MARK: I don’t know how you did that because I deal with contractors and I deal with the city, because we have a new home and we are doing some things to it and it’s like, worse than Miami. Not the city’s worse, the process of getting things approved are very slow and take a very long time.
TRICIA: Oh yeah, we had to do some necessary construction here and even after we got approval from the city, just finding a contractor took me forever. In retrospect, the fact that we got the whole thing done in 2 ½ months here, was like – and we built the bar, we put in a walk-in, we did some stuff.
MARK: Shout out to Kenna Construction, they were my contractors. They are doing good stuff with us.
TRICIA: We had Kenmar Contracting here, and they got it done fast. I’ll give them that.
MARK: I see that.
TRICIA: I’ve heard good things about Kenmar actually, but he only does residential, is that right?
MARK: I believe so. Just in Key West, too. Now, Key West being a small town, but a lot of people coming here, what do you do yourself to stay relevant? Are you traveling a lot? Are you going to a lot of different restaurants? Are you reading? What are you doing?
TRICIA: I hadn’t been as much, until we started working on the new place and then it really lit a fire under me and Russ. Like okay, what’s happening and what’s new? That’s why we went to Miami last weekend to go try some stuff out.
MARK: Tasting and stuff?
TRICIA: I’ve got really talented friends in Atlanta who are all in the industry and so I’m seeing what they are doing and what they have going on that’s new and different. Then we had a manager who had been working at another place and heard she had left and that’s actually who we hung out with in Miami – Jen. I knew that she was really on top of the cocktail scene and so, she only had a couple more months in Key West, and I was like great, why don’t you come on and be a part-time manager with us and develop a new cocktail program for us. Which she did and so much of my time is taken up doing the administrative stuff that it was nice to be able to pass that off to somebody else. And she killed it with all these cool new spritzes and stuff and so, just having somebody else that I knew had her finger much more on the pulse than I did. I put this onto her and tasked her with it and she did an awesome job.
MARK: I’m sure as an owner of a restaurant, you’re like okay these are the dishes that people just love and keep coming back for but we need to keep things fresh, too. I don’t like just going to a restaurant and it’s like two years later and it’s the same exact thing with like one special.
TRICIA: You know, Key West is funny on that. When we first opened, we were changing the menu just constantly.
MARK: Yeah, that’s a little much, too.
TRICIA: And people hated the fact that you know, you come in and you get chicken and waffles and then you tell your friend about it and he comes in, and we don’t have it. And people got really mad about that so finding that balance of how many specials should we do, and how often do we do them? So like right now, we do a catch of the day and a vegetarian special every night. Then he’ll add other stuff on top of that, and we have been doing a spritz of the day and a hard seltzer of the day. So, we are doing some specials but keeping our core very …
MARK: You specialize in one particular cuisine, people come here for that kind of food. They are not coming here for a T-bone, they may be coming for something else, right? So why change that up so often. I guess it makes a lot of sense.
TRICIA: Also, I’d say that this summer we’ve been pretty surprisingly tourist heavy. We have a good local crowd, and I’d say 60/40 tourist to locals. Maybe even more than that, but so many of them find us on Yelp. We get a lot of Asian tourists in town and a lot of them come here and I don’t know if it’s because we are an American regional cuisine? Generally, we have found that they are from China and will often take out their phone and point at pictures of Yelp, asking if they can order this, or order that. It happens all the time and it’s really cool, its not a niche that I ever thought we would be serving, necessarily. But there are nights where the vast majority of customers are Chinese.
MARK: It makes so much sense when you say it because you can get a lot of other foods that are found in America there, but I don’t think there’s a lot of southern…
TRICIA: Yeah, I don’t know. Cause we do well on Yelp and they are all very much Yelpers. They are pulling it up to point at pictures to order. A lot of times its frustrating because I say, “No, that was a special. No, that’s on brunch, it’s dinner.” Trying to get that across.
MARK: Is Yelp your big tool that has been bringing you all the new business? All the tourists?
TRICIA: I think we obviously, well there’s word of mouth which is so important in Key West.
MARK: So, hotels, concierges and all.
TRICIA: Yeah, and we don’t do much with concierge programs and stuff, it’s more the people…
MARK: Right they love it and that’s why.
TRICIA: It is genuine, its not that we are compensating people. But Yelp seems to be a really huge and for some reason, Yelp and not TripAdvisor. I don’t know why TripAdvisor just doesn’t like us nearly as much as Yelp does.
MARK: I think Yelp is more for cuisine and restaurants and bars and stuff. I think TripAdvisor is like, “I can go stay in a hotel or go on this excursion somewhere.”
TRICIA: And TripAdvisor is more looking like deals and what’s cheap. Where Yelp is more of the foodies, which is our crowd for sure. Of course.
MARK: What about social media marketing? Anything on that front?
TRICIA: I’m trying to learn Instagram better. One of our bartenders who is significantly younger than I am is helping, or talking me through it. Well, she was teaching me earlier today what a story is and what’s different between a story vs. a post. One of the restaurants we went to in Miami, they tagged me in their story because they used the picture that I posted, and I’m too old for this. I feel like, so old.
MARK: You are not even close too old for this! I’m too old for this. You are not even close.
TRICIA: I tried to learn how to use Snapchat one time and it was embarrassing.
MARK: Well, that’s hard because the interface is totally different than everything else, but.
TRICIA: Well, I feel like Key West runs on Facebook. Because it’s small-town, I want to see who is bartending where, who is doing what, who is out. Key West Facebook is its own thing.
MARK: Its so funny because coming down here and this being my world, social media and marketing like that, its like people don’t even have websites! Its like go to my Facebook page, that’s my website. It’s crazy.
TRICIA: No, actually we were just talking about that with the new restaurant. Do you need a website? I think the answer is yes, you need a place where people can easily find your menu and know that it is your official up to date menu and not some random thing that somebody posted.
MARK: The thing is that you just do everything and you let the customer decide which medium they like to find you on. Instead of going, no it will just be Facebook. It’s like, well if some 25-year old is like, well that’s for grandpa. They want to be on Instagram, you better have some stuff on there.
TRICIA: Yeah, absolutely.
MARK: You gotta work those stories.
TRICIA: Yeah, I’ll figure out the stories.
MARK: That is where you can have fun. Think of it like it’s a fun place to showcase stuff that disappears and no one needs to worry about it.
TRICIA: Okay! See that was helpful.
MARK: Whereas a regular Instagram, you’re posting it there and you can delete it, but you posting it there and it’s more like the look and feel that you want. Stories can be like, the chef in the back, us up here, the construction, whatever you want to do can be done because it’s more tongue and cheek and no one expects anything to be perfect on that.
TRICIA: The bartender was telling me that I took a video and I had grits for lunch today and I took a video of me stirring the grits. She said, that should have been a story, not a post.
MARK: They want to see you stirring grits.
TRICIA: All right, yeah. Grits are awesome. We have them shipping down from Anson Mills in South Carolina. They mill them to order for us. We love them.
MARK: Nice, I’m definitely coming in for some of those grits.
TRICIA: Yes, you should, our grits are amazing.
MARK: Any recommendations for people wanting to get into this type of business?
TRICIA: I think with culinary school for people who want to be chefs? I know a lot of “real chefs” look down on the culinary school graduate. As far as in my role, my food and beverage management degree was actually very worthwhile. If anything, I’ve actually told one of my teachers from culinary school, that I wish they had had a maintenance class. Like one quarter of simple, air conditioning, coolers, little bit of plumbing, and all that. I think that is something that I’ve learned so much about. I grew up in the like in the time where, “Oh how do you change a tire? You call AAA.”
MARK: And now you’re over here like, fixing the toilet in the back.
TRICIA: Right. And it is so funny because my sister is, well her husband renovates their houses and so they just keep flipping houses. She knows all this stuff, too. And she’s like, “how did this happen? That the Coyne sisters ended up having a conversation about air conditioning troubleshooting?” The very least likely…
MARK: I don’t want dirt on my face, but you’re underneath the car changing the oil now.
TRICIA: Well, I don’t know cars at all, but yeah, if you want me to fix your air conditioning, I’ve gotten pretty good at it. But I’ve gotten good at it over the course of the last six years and our repair guys are all so cool about showing me, “hey you could do this yourself, let me show you how to do it.”
MARK: That’s awesome.
TRICIA: Which is great. Experience is so important, but you’re going to be making it up as you go along. Definitely having the experience, being able to talk knowledgeably about you are doing, having not just, and like I said, school was important for me because most management jobs, and I’ve worked under a couple of general managers who were really cool, who did take me into the “okay, this is the spreadsheet that I’m using for inventory and ordering and setting par levels and all that stuff.” But for the most part, you’re not learning that. That is where school came in handy but then the day to day of how do you fix this, how do you deal with this problem, that you have to learn.
MARK: One year of running the restaurant, you learned probably more than you would have learned in all of school.
TRICIA: For sure.
MARK: Digging into it, is the only way to do it. So, if you want to get in the business, I would say start working in restaurants.
TRICIA: I was lucky, in that I did both simultaneously. I was in culinary school while also working for restaurants and management and that came together.
MARK: Did you have any moments when you were taking a class and the professor has been out of the business for so long, that they are saying one thing and you’re like, that’s complete horseshit. You raise your hand and you’re like, “Nah, it really doesn’t work that way.”
TRICIA: I will say, so I went to the Art Institute of Atlanta and I had some teachers who were absolutely phenomenal and life changing. Then there were people who attend school there and then now they are certified chefs but they can’t get a job because they haven’t worked in the industry. They ended up working for the school and teaching. So, they are teaching the book when they haven’t really spent time in the industry. I would not claim that I was so experienced at the time, I was just still learning and doing internships and started getting into management as I was finishing up my program. There was a big difference between the people in those classes who were in the industry vs. people who were just….
MARK: The theorists.
MARK: You’re like, you haven’t worked a restaurant in like 10 years buddy.
TRICIA: But it was very worthwhile and you could get out of that program without learning a whole lot, but if you were willing to put in the time, which I was, I already had a degree, I was older, I had a lot more understanding of how expensive it was. I mean, when I was at UCLA, I was sorority social chair, I was not working real hard. To be honest, sorry Dad.
MARK: But you are now.
TRICIA: As if he didn’t know that, but when I went back to school, I was like okay. I know what I want to do, I am focused, I am going to get everything I can out of this program. And I did. I loved it.
MARK: Name something that people don’t know about what you do at the business here? Yes, you run the restaurant and you do all these things, but what is one thing besides changing the toilets.
TRICIA: The air conditioning repair is what I’m proud of.
MARK: They would be shocked, your friends from back home are like, or your sisters at the sorority are like, wait a minute. She’s back there changing the coolant; I don’t believe it.
TRICIA: I think, and we have an awesome dishwasher who has been with us for years, and he’s super cool. I think I gained his respect the day that I reached down into the drain underneath the dishwasher. So under the dish machine, and it was clogged and I was wearing a dress that day, and I’m on hands-and-knees and I reached down to my shoulder and pulled out a ramekin. Like a metal ramekin had fallen down and that what was clogging it. But we didn’t have to pay the plumber to do it. Nasty dishwasher water, up to my shoulder, I think that the day that Ricardo was like, all right, she’s cool.
MARK: Gave you the wink, he’s like all right, you’re with me girl. Cool. That’s the end of the business type questions, now we have the personal ones.
MARK: Everybody always gets nervous, but they are really not that personal. They are pretty basic. What’s your favorite event to attend in Key West?
TRICIA: Now, I just interviewed somebody and he had a restaurant and he said, “I would typically say anything Fantasy Fest, but I wanted Fantasy Fest to be over so quickly because he used to own The Porch and so he was dead by the end of that.”
TRICIA: Oh yeah, was that Chris or Keith?
TRICIA: I attend both of their weddings actually. Chris’ wedding in New Orleans and Keith’s wedding in Scotland, that’s what we did for the hurricane. Keith’s wedding coincided perfectly with Hurricane Irma, so there were like 40 or 50 of us in Scotland for the hurricane. So anyway. Fantasy Fest for us here is not a big thing. Goombay is a lot of work, but after that’s over, people aren’t really coming to Bahama Village during Fantasy Fest. I do like it but honestly, what I thought you were going to say, with other restaurant owners, the trade shows. The wine trade shows are some of the most fun events because everybody is there. You’ve got all this free wine. And great wine. You wander around and see all of your industry friends.
MARK: So that’s a non-Key West event that you love going to are these….
TRICIA: But they are here.
MARK: Oh, they are? I didn’t know that.
TRICIA: They are. At least a couple of companies do trade shows in November and December.
MARK: Where do they do them?
TRICIA: The Marriott Beachside.
MARK: Cool, I’m going to have to sneak in and be like, “Yes, I’m opening a new restaurant and I must try wine.”
TRICIA: They are super fun. But I also love wine.
MARK: That’s a perfect answer. You’re like, you know what? Let me tell you what I really like, none of that touristy crap, I like drinking all that wine and socializing with my friends.
TRICIA: Drinking all that wine with a bunch of other restaurant owners. I love people who geek out about the same things that I do. The fact that we are trying to figure out the hood system for the new place and I’ve had a few other people that are just like, “I had a friend who owned a restaurant and he came in, and wasn’t even coming in for dinner, he was just like, did ya’ figure out that hood yet?” They are actively excited about what kind of dishwasher are you using?
MARK: Geeking out for sure.
TRICIA: Weird, weird people.
MARK: No, it’s your life so you’re like, I got this new dishwasher and cleans it ten seconds faster!
TRICIA: Right, exactly. I like people who are enthusiastic about that stuff.
MARK : What about your favorite local restaurant? Besides Firefly, of course.
TRICIA: I love Azur. That’s definitely one of our breakfast/brunch go-to’s. But their dinner is also amazing. That’s such a hard question.
MARK: You can stop there because you can say all the rest of them since you’re in the business and you don’t want to…
TRICIA: Yeah, that was the first one that came to mind. But we eat out several times a week. That’s my hobby. I like seeing what other people are doing. I love our restaurant scene. Everywhere, all of them, especially all of them that I’m friends with the owners, and you know who you are.
MARK: You’re welcome. What about your best place for local music?
TRICIA: Obviously the Parrot is awesome.
MARK: That’s the big go-to answer is the Parrot.
TRICIA: I’m actually getting old, so it can be a little loud for me sometimes at the Parrot. I really like the Sunset Tiki Bar at the Galleon. That’s always a good level of music and fun to go watch.
MARK: That was Keith’s answer, too.
TRICIA: Oh yeah? That’s funny.
MARK: What is the best place for happy hour?
TRICIA: My boyfriend Landon is a DJ on Pirate Radio. Their station is up above Dante’s, so we have been going to – and Dante’s – and I’ve been but it wasn’t really on my radar. But since he’s starting working up there, we have been going to Dante’s for happy hour a lot. The pricing is really good, the bartenders are all fun, it can be awesome people watching.
MARK: For sure.
TRICIA: And their food is good!
MARK : Yeah, it is good. I have a pool, but I like going out to other pools. My kid, I take him to all the pools, we go everywhere, he’s got a couple of towels. I’m not going to say from what places, but the ones that they don’t allow the locals to go to. We just walk in with a towel, like, how are you doing? Yes, I’m in room 205, Underhill. And they let us go in there. Going to Dante’s is always great because the people watching is amazing, the food is good, it’s a fun place. Sometimes it gets a little too crazy, but that’s part of the fun.
TRICIA: Exactly. You sit at the bar talking and it was funny, we brought Landon’s 8-year-old son with us, to get lunch at Dante’s, it was a Saturday or Sunday, but it was full-on and there was a line out front of them carding people. We went in, sat at the bar, didn’t say anything about the fact that we had an 8-year old with us, and he’s like, “do you think it’s 21 and up?” I said, I’m not sure. And you wonder why conchs think that they can get away with anything, because you’re like, “Oh yeah, well it’s 21 and up, but not Tybor, he’s fine, you guys are local.” He grows up here completely outside of the rules.
MARK: That’s the thing, anywhere else I could bring my kid into any bar here, that didn’t even serve food, and we could belly up to the bar together and he could drink apple juice, and I can have a beer, and they are fine with that. But any place else, like in Miami, they are like, “excuse me sir, you cannot have that child sitting there.” I’m like, he’s not going to drink a martini, what’s the problem? I told him to taste this beer and he threw up, so what’s he gonna do?
TRICIA: Yup, that’s Landon’s plan when Tybor does get older to just have him taste the skunkiest craziest whatever beer.
MARK: Let’s be honest, beer tastes like crap. It’s just how it is. As you get older, your tastebuds get adjusted because you’re like the anxiety from my day needs to be overridden by something and the taste of the beer is not as bad as the drama from the day. But when you’re young and you have Kool-Aid and these other things, you’re like, beer does not taste good.
TRICIA: Right, I want a pina colada.
MARK: I want that fruity thing.
TRICIA: Those virgin strawberry daiquiris were my favorite thing as a kid.
MARK: Right, Shirley Temple’s you’re all over it. Best tourist attraction that you will take people who have never been here. Besides going on the water, that’s the go-to and we all know, we gotta get on the water.
TRICIA: I am biased because one of my best friend is curator, but what they have been doing at the Aquarium is awesome. It’s not just her, but the team and all that, but they have brought in cool new organisms, they are doing some construction right now. It has developed so much and I think its something that people forget about. Or they saw how it was, and it has always been good, it had some hurricane damage and all that. They are really stepping up their game over there.
MARK: I love going there. It’s not like it’s super expensive or anything, it is great to go in and you’re not going to be there all day. You can go, pop in, see the new stuff and my kid loves it.
TRICIA: They do the local Sunday, the first Sunday of the month and all that and you get in free, so I love going down there and checking out what she’s doing.
MARK: For sure. The last and final question. It’s like Jeopardy.
TRICIA: Love Jeopardy.
MARK: Give us a tip of the day. That can be something like a new gadget, a new website, a new book you’re reading, a weighted blanket you bought.
TRICIA: Oh, I do like my weighted blanket.
MARK: My wife loves it too. My kids all over it now and I can’t even take it. I feel like I’m suffocating. It could be a new thought you’re pondering. Brexit. Anything. How you need another glass of wine?
TRICIA: Always. I’m trying to think of a good new gadget or cool thing, I’m coming up blank right now.
MARK: Or, a new food you’re into? You’re going away from sushi, you’re more into Chinese? I don’t know, anything.
TRICIA: We started watching a new show called “The Boys” about superheroes but they are not perfect.
MARK: Is this Netflix?
TRICIA: I knew you were going to ask me that.
MARK: It’s not on regular TV?
TRICIA: It’s either Netflix or Amazon Prime or one of those. We don’t have any real TV.
MARK: Me neither, it’s awful.
TRICIA: It’s one of those, but the superheroes are specially-abled. They have these different skills, but they are very flawed and have their issues. Watch the first episode and you’re like, okay it’s a superheroes show and then all of a sudden, somebody gets hurt and you are like, whoa, what did they just do? It has been cool and I’ve been enjoying that.
MARK: And the kid, the kid likes the show too? Can my son watch that? Or is it more just?
TRICIA: I think, no, no. There’s way too much sex and violence.
MARK: Okay, forget it. He’s 11 and I’m not ready for that.
TRICIA: Well, it certainly not, well Landon’s 8 years old, so I don’t think. I would say it’s R-rated.
MARK: I’ll watch a couple of episodes and make that determination. All right so this was great. Where can people find about you, your social media or if you want to just do Firefly and the restaurant, the URL.
TRICIA: My social media is very Key West Facebook like I said. Who’s working where, where am I out drinking on a Sunday Funday with Landon. If somebody friend requests me and we have 50 mutual friends, I’ll always say yes. So, I’m Tricia Coyne on Facebook and the same thing on Instagram.
Then for the restaurant, here’s how to reach us:
TRICIA: We tried to make it on Snapchat but that didn’t work out.
MARK: That is a little too young. I don’t know if they are going to be coming here and buying all the wine you want them to buy.
TRICIA: Hopefully, I’ll have a lot more information available about our new ventures. I’ve got a couple of new things in the works. Not just the restaurant, but I’ve got another super awesome creative artistic person that I’m getting together with to help her create a business that she can showcase what she does as well.
MARK: Awesome. You are giving us the sneak peeks.
TRICIA: Yeah but I gotta keep everything under wraps for the moment. We are getting real close.
MARK: I should have got you that other glass of wine and it would have gotten a little more…
TRICIA: Yeah, and that’s how it happens.
MARK: So, two new ventures.
TRICIA: Two new ventures, yes.
MARK: One in the restaurant world and one in the something-else-creative world.
TRICIA: In the something else creative, awesome, helping a very talented friend make her dreams come true.
MARK: And are we dropping in October as well? Or? Possibly? We won’t nail down a month. But sometime in the winter?
TRICIA: Like you said, the city licensing stuff is challenging and takes a while. But I think we have gotten over some hurdles. Hopefully September or October? Hopefully everything will be ready by Fantasy Fest.
MARK: Well, we will keep an eye out for all of your wonderful ventures and come and eat at this amazing restaurant. I know that I will and I won’t be coming here just to cure a hangover, I’ll tell ya’ that.
TRICIA: Brunch every day, 7 days a week, 10-3pm, dinner every night 6-10pm.
MARK: It was a pleasure talking with you and I look forward to not cleaning the toilet in the back with you, but getting the recommendations on wine for sure.
TRICIA: I wash my hands a lot. I promise.
MARK: Thanks everybody. Bye.