We are having a conversation between Mark Baratto and Keith St. Peter
INTRO ~ Welcome to the Backyards of Key West Podcast with your host Mark Baratto.
MARK: Hi, this is the Backyards of Key West Podcast, my name is Mark Baratto. I am sitting with Keith St. Peter, is that how you say it?
KEITH Yup. You said it perfect.
MARK: Well, I figured it would be like something French like, “St. Pierre.”
KEITH I mean, it is St. Pierre technically when they came over here, it was Anglicized to say St. Peter.
MARK: Exactly, cool. You are one of the owners of GlitchCraft, is that how we say it? Because some people are like, “I say GlitchCraft and they are like, I don’t know is that Glitch?” Yes, that’s it. But the technical name…
KEITH Well, the technical name is GlitchCraft and that was because when we were doing this project to open it, about two weeks before we opened, we were informed that there was a Glitch in Ft. Lauderdale.
MARK: There is, yes.
KEITH Which, we didn’t know about. And we reached out to them because we used to own The Porch, before that closed. There had been times where we would just reach out to another bar and like, “Yo, you’re cool, we’re cool, let’s all be cool!”
MARK: Yeah, let’s collaborate!
KEITH And I tried that with the Glitch in Ft. Lauderdale and they were not having it. And, the guy was right, he was like, “Look we are trying to expand and all that.” They had first use, and I was like absolutely cool man, you know what I mean? And our fallback name was GlitchCraft which would actually like craft beers, witch craft, it plays a lot of fun terms on the words. So, we went with that and they are still fighting us about that right now, so…
MARK: Really? Wow, okay, so if you’re listening, please be friendly. We all want to drink beer and enjoy ourselves here. I mean, we are in this cool, hidden office, game room, I’m like setting up and I’m looking around and there’s Aqua Man #1 in the corner, I see figures everywhere, because I’m a kid of the 1990s. I’m 45 years old so it’s like, this is speaking all my language, all this stuff here.
KEITH Well, it’s funny that you say that because I mean, we, well I’m the same age as you, I’m 42 years old tomorrow.
MARK: Ah, happy birthday.
KEITH Thanks. What we tried to do here, and my partners are the same age that we are, so we were trying to recreate the stuff from our childhood. Almost like a museum of childhood memories as the ambiance to a backdrop to what we’re trying to do. That just happens to be the 1980s. Because that’s our age, we didn’t try and make an 80’s bar, that was just from that, because that is our age group.
MARK: The cool thing about branding, because I’m in marketing and branding, is that this is like, my kid is 11 and he loves all this shit now. When it’s got a strong brand, there is sticking powers forever. I mean look at Marvel.
KEITH Look at Marvel, Transformers, they are all still around.
MARK: All of them! Like Wonder Woman and all that shit is coming back with a vengeance and my kid is just lovin’ it up. He’s loving every minute of it. I’m going to bring him in here and he’s going to be like, “Oh my God, look at this, and look at this, and all this stuff.” Star Wars on the wall and pictures of Bubba Fete and all this cool stuff. So that’s cool, you took the stuff that you guys enjoyed, all you guys, and said let’s incorporate all that. Now is this a collection of some of your garages? And now you have a place to put it?
KEITH Yes. Some of it was personal collection and then we purchased and sought out a bunch of pieces for the project. My very, very patient wife, because my apartment looked like a fuckin’ Toys R Us for like six months. You know what I mean? In fact, it was funny, I was doing so much eBay’ing and stuff for this project that at one point they shut down my PayPal. I was like, what? So, I had to call them and I was talking to this lady, a manager at PayPal, and half-way through it, I’m like, “Oh shit, I get it. You think it’s a kid who stole his parents credit card, and went to town!”
MARK: Oh my God and buying all that…
KEITH I had to prove that I was actually, I had to prove it and I had to prove it was my credit card and I’m fuckin’ 40+, you know what I mean? It was funny.
MARK: Well, I’m glad they are doing that, just in case you had my credit card and there’s $20,000 in old toys being bought and my kid’s got the card, they would shut it down. But Apple I’m sure would do that because if my kid bought about 5,000 Skids on Fortnite, I’m sure I’d be in big trouble and they’d be like, “I’m sorry, you need to take care of him yourself, we can’t handle that.” Why this location? I know you’ve been in the business before, why don’t you tell me a little bit about some of the things you’ve done before?
KEITH Sure. I’m a chef by profession, that’s my background. I came at this whole, and Key West in general, from a food aspect. Me and my girlfriend at the time, we owned The Café, the vegetarian place. Then, one of my best friends Chris Schultz, we opened The Porch. That was our first bar endeavor.
MARK: Ever? Or in Key West?
KEITH Ever. Which was, coming from the Northeast from Vermont, like craft beer, you can’t throw a rock without hitting someone who’s brewing. When I move down here, the biggest craft beer was like, Yuengling. I was like, “are you kidding me?” But just about the time we were talking about doing the project, the craft beer distribution lines started opening up down here. It magically fell hand-in-hand, so we found the place at the old Porter mansion, and we did The Porch.
MARK: And how long ago was that?
KEITH Eight years ago. The Porch was awesome and super fun, definitely a place in time, and beloved by thousands of people. Our lease came up and then there was a lease issue with our landlord, which is an issue in this town.
MARK: There’s only so much real estate down here.
KEITH Right. So my partner at that time, business partner Chris (Schultz) had opened General Horseplay across the street and we were looking at what to do and kinda from The Porch, you know it got so crazy busy at the end. Which you could argue great financially, but for me, it was almost anxiety ridden at the end. Our fun, cool, clubhouse, now had 5,000 people at it on a Friday night and there was two door guys, and a bouncer, and it got… you know, place and time was fine and cool. But the lesson personally that I learned, and my business partner here Adam, who was my manager there at the time, when we did this project, we wanted to trade number of people through the door for time spent here. Which is why we went after having all the board games, some of the video games, the tables where people can sit down and play Uno, or whatever. That was important to us.
MARK: You didn’t want a revolving door of thousands of people coming through for an hour.
KEITH Correct. I’d rather have 100 people.
MARK: Stay all night.
KEITH Exactly, and enjoy themselves.
MARK: Yeah, you get to know your customer, your client, which is like your raving fans. That’s how you really have a long-lasting business.
KEITH And also, we are technically a café here with a beer and wine and Saké and all that. It was important to us, because we find a lot of times we go out to a bar, and most bars and I’ll say, about 95% of bars, you’re there to drink. Which is great.
MARK: Especially here.
KEITH Especially in Key West, absolutely. This whole town is built on that, which is great, if that’s your thing at that time. When we were younger, it was our thing. Now, being in our 40s, that’s less appealing with the actual going out to drink just to drink. Where here, we find that it’s awesome that you’ll see sixty people playing a board game, or there’ll be a big Uno game going on outside, so people are interacting with each other, too. That’s neat, just not just shot, phone, you know what I mean?
MARK: And then onto the next one. It’s very much like a house party feel here. From what I’m getting right away, without even seeing the crowd, you’re like coming into a cool house party, and what do you do when you go to a house party? Especially when we were growing up, you packed everybody in the car, you went and you were there until they told you to leave. You weren’t going to another place, because there was no other place.
MARK: And that’s kinda what the feel is, it’s got a cool vibe in here.
KEITH And you’ll see people interacting, and whether it’s playing Guitar Hero against each other, or a cool board game, that’s more fun to us now to see than just, a beer and a shot for the sake of a beer and a shot.
MARK: Do the beer and a shot because you’ve lost at Pacman down there, it’s part of the game you’re playing.
KEITH And, also with that, because we try to be fairly family friendly, and one of my business partners here doesn’t drink alcohol at all, so that’s why we did it as a café because we have awesome coffees, a ton of non-alcoholic choices, and root beer on draft, you know what I mean?
MARK: Wow, that’s so cool.
KEITH There isn’t that pressure that if you’re not drinking a glass of wine while you’re here.
MARK: It reminds me, one of the things that I do with my kid when I was living in Miami, is that it was so smart, which is like what you have going on here, well it was a wine bar and they had a couch in the front with a TV and all this Playstation and all these games. So, I’d be like honey, “We’re going out for a guys night.” Me and the kid would go and I’d get him some apple juice and I’d drink wine, and I’d sit there and he’d play Fortnite, or whatever the game we played, and we played games together. But now, it’s like root beer float on draft is like, definitely more like he’s going to feel like the experience, like give me two – one for me and one for me. And then throw it at the end of the bar and he feels like he’s part of the experience, which is cool.
KEITH Then along that vein, too, the snacks that we have are kind of reminiscent of what you or I would have gotten hanging out at our friends basement for the weekend or whatever, so it’s like Combos and Fun Dip, and Snickers.
MARK: Oh God, my wife’s gonna love all this.
KEITH You know, Cracker Jacks and that type of stuff, just for that fun, nostalgia part of it.
MARK: For sure, is that the age group of the crowd that are coming in here? Or, is it parents, is it 40s, or is it that you still get the 20-year-olds coming in?
KEITH All of the above, it is definitely two things, craft beer people are the most researching search out location people on the planet. Which is cool. They find us because we do have an amazing draft list, but then after that, its people our age and like you said, bringing in their kids to go, “This is the toy that your dad used to play with as a kid, or whatever.” And then probably the least demographic is the 20s to 30s. Now some of them.
MARK: Are they coming in because they want the beer, or do you know why yet?
KEITH The 20s and 30s?
KEITH Probably all of the above.
MARK: How long have you been open for?
KEITH We opened at the end of December 2018. So, eight months?
MARK: Right, so you’re not even a full cycle of a year with all the season and everything. You are coming into, I mean we have September around the corner, but then you’ve got prime time in October, November, and December and then holiday. I’m sure holiday here is going to be awesome!
MARK: I’m sure you’ll be setting up stuff, and we’ll do a bunch of events, and people have already started inquiring about whether they can rent it out for their holiday party. But also, I own Kojin Noodle Bar, all of the projects that we have ever done in this town, we just go after the local business. It’s the only business I care about. Now, don’t get me wrong, if a happy tourist wanders in here, then cool that’s great. But to me, that’s just extra, where the locals who are here all year around vs. some places that the tourist feast or famine business model, to me sounds horrendous. I’d rather do less and do it constantly…
MARK: It doesn’t sound like it would be fun for you? That’s really what it sounds like, and I know this from speaking from my own age, when you’re in your 40s it’s like time is your biggest asset. The joints in the morning are a little Tin Man’ish and things have like started to change since when we were in our 20s, and now time matters. I want to do shit that matters for me, more than I want to do stuff that’s going to make me money or keep the business getting accolades, or whatever. I want to have fun! Hence, the reason why you’ve got games in here, and sure, all these things you’re telling me.
KEITH I think you’re absolutely right. When you get to our age, you realize…
MARK: Not that we are that old! Like I’m talking like we are a 100. We have a whole other lifetime to live.
KEITH Right. It’s true because at that point you’ve probably made money a couple of different ways, so you’ve seen literally a bazillion ways to make money provenly. If you look in the world. When you get to the 40s threshold, not that it’s that old, but you do definitely realize that the thing that you have the least of, without argument, is time. Like for this, we jokingly say that, part of the reason why we did this whole project is so that I could have this secret gaming room up here. You know what I mean? Which we do board games all the time, there’s a ton of role-playing groups that use the room, our friend Kathy Gilmour does a podcast out of here on Thursday.
MARK: Nice. And your wife probably loves it too because she’s like the man cave is not in the house, it’s in his place of business, which is great.
KEITH Absolutely. She actually works two doors down, so… she’s a florist at Love in Bloom.
MARK: Oh, okay.
KEITH So, they come over here to get coffee.
MARK: I just interviewed her. Her episode is going to be poppin’ in the next couple of weeks. That’s how, I guess I’m making the line through all of it. I’m working the block and then I’m going to go hit, I forgot what his name is who runs the distillery over here.
MARK: Yeah, Paul.
KEITH Paul Menta. He’s a cool guy, too.
MARK: Yeah, I’ve heard a lot of things and I met his mom actually who was working the tasting room. My wife and I went in there and we were like, okay we are going to taste all these and drink a bunch of this and buy a bunch of this stuff and she was like, “Yeah, yeah you gotta interview my son.”
KEITH He’s a cool guy. They are doing really good product out of there, which is nice.
MARK: Yeah, tastes great. We bought a bunch of bottles and I’ve been sippin’ them every night. Of course, I like the most expensive ones, but that’s just how it works. How long ago did you come to Key West?
KEITH 20 years. Actually, it will be 20 years this December.
MARK: Wow, a big 20-year party going on over here? Or, is it maybe in the game room up here, a little secret party?
KEITH Yeah, we’ll see.
MARK: Why did you come here? Did you just come for the first time and stay? Did you visit a bunch of times, can you tell me that story?
KEITH We were talking about how awful Vermont winters and full of snow, freezing cold temperatures, and I had two friends that were coming down here. I had never even heard of Key West, in all honesty. They were like, there are islands south of Florida. I was like, get the fuck outta here, really? And like I said, winter was approaching, so I said “Sure, I’ll go check it out.” Then we got here in December of 1999. Being a chef in this town is so restaurant and bar, but restaurant driven too, that it was really easy to find work. And then fast forward 20 years and here we are.
MARK: So, you came and stayed?
MARK: So, you were like, everybody send my stuff I’m not coming back.
KEITH I had already paired it down to the essentials anyway.
MARK: Wow, so did you think that possibly I would be having a one-way ticket down there? Or, it didn’t even cross your mind until you got here?
KEITH I was just literally just going to check it out and go for an adventure. Then I fell into it and was able to work at a bunch of awesome restaurants and made a list of all the places that I wanted to work, or be the chef at, and all of those I’ve done.
MARK: It’s incredible that you’re like the 5th person that I’ve interviewed and every single person I’ve interviewed so far was just like, “Yeah, I’m just gonna go and just picked up and went.” There was no testing the grounds, there’s no let me see if this is interesting first, there was just like “I went, and I stayed, or I just packed my shit and went.” It is ballsy to do something like that.
KEITH I think they say you can never really go home, but I think you always could. For me, I knew if it was awful and I hated it, then I could head back to the northeast.
MARK: Being in your line of work at the time, as a chef, you’re like okay, I’m going to go to places that I enjoy and that I can learn from and maybe cook in these different location ,and that’s like the dream. I’m not a chef, but if I put on my chef hat and it was like a dream and let me go to all these places all over the world, or all over the country, and just work as a chef and meet cool people and then if I need to bounce, I bounce. Because people want to eat. And if you’re good, then you can cook anywhere.
KEITH That’s very true. Down here I got to be the chef at night at Sunset Key, so the private island, it was a lot of fun. I met some awesome people that are still very good friends of mine from it.
MARK: How did you get into being a chef?
KEITH I don’t know. Both my parents actually love to cook, not chefs by profession or anything, but we grew up always having real made cooked meals at home. Both of my parents like to experiment with food, which thinking back now is funny, because that’s Vermont in the 1980s and that must have been, you know there was no Amazon, there was no Whole Foods, so sourcing some of that stuff they did for the adventure. Culinary was much harder at the time. I think that’s what sent me towards food. I’ve always loved it.
MARK: So, you grew up in a household of food, fell in love with it from osmosis, and then go to school for it? Or, did you start working at a restaurant, how did that blossom?
KEITH There’s actually a culinary institute up in Vermont called New England Culinary. And it’s a very good one. They operate, at least they did at the time, operate a couple of restaurants throughout Vermont and I ended up at their flagship one, which was up on Church Street which is like Burlington’s Duval Street. As a fine dining wait captain, actually, so front of the house, and I became friends with one of their founding chefs, this French master chef named Michelle Lebourge, and we became drinking buddies. So, he let me take a lot of the courses for free that weren’t full, as long as I worked there. So that was a great step towards it. Now, I never got the paper that goes with that degree, but I also didn’t get the bill.
MARK: But you got the talent and that’s like really all that matters.
KEITH I think culinary and chef wise is one of those fields where the highest levels can be reached by various ways. You don’t have to have a degree necessarily.
MARK: Yeah, 40-50 years ago maybe. But now? Are you putting out amazing food? Are your clients super happy? Is it profitable and well known? Then it’s like being a celebrity nowadays. You can be in the movies, or you can create your own movies online and be successful doing that, not to compare you to that business.
KEITH There is some comparison, I mean not with me per se, but when I started cooking it was still wasn’t cool yet. There were some cool figure heads like Julia Child, Jacques Pépin, but there were no reality stars yet, like culinary stars, and that was interesting to see along the way. It became very fashionable and now kids were like, “Yeah, I’m going to be the next superstar chef.”
MARK: You didn’t hear many 16-year-old boys going into school and saying, “I can’t wait to be a cook!” And they are like, all right, go sit at that table over there.
MARK: Whereas now, it’s totally different. It is a like it is a hassle, everybody’s like, “Oh, you’re a chef.” It is like celebrity status has it been attached to that in a lot of different ways?
KEITH And we’ve seen it and even on Sunset Key, we started an intern program dealing with a lot of the culinary schools and stuff. Some were great, some interns were awesome and became good friends, but some you could tell, any school is a business. You’re selling something too and that’s a product, and what they must have been feeding some of these kids, like come to our school, you’ll be the next superstar chef.
MARK: Right, of course.
KEITH And you have these kids who are coming in and didn’t know about a 50-hour week, didn’t know about coming to drug treatment, and they were very surprised that this was not celebrity lifestyle that they were promised in the kitchen.
MARK: That’s one of the hardest jobs to do before you even get close to the celebrity status. Once you’re at that celebrity status, you are so broken in so many ways because of all those years of that pain of doing that. As you know, the restaurant business could be gone, your restaurant could be gone after having an enormous run. Like any business. So many fail after one year, five years, then another bench mark and then ten years, it’s a regular technology company.
MARK: The food business, you could be top dog…
KEITH It has one of the highest rate of failures in any industry.
MARK: Yeah. And the hardest part, that I see right from an outsider, is that if you are an artist as a chef, you just want to do it and you’re doing it at home, you’re doing it everywhere and you don’t care if you are making any money, you just want to be a chef. Then your dream is to have this restaurant that people come to, and then now you can pay your bills doing the things that you love. And you have finally “made it” so that it is successful, typically, from a business standpoint, that’s the time to sell it. It’s at the peak and you’re not going to get any more top dollar if you try to sell it and you built an enormous business that’s doing extremely well, this is the time to unload it. But as an artist, you finally reached the dream point. And you’re like, “I’m never gonna sell this.”
KEITH And actually, because for a while and especially throughout the U.S., a lot of the big huge chefs were self-naming their restaurants. You had the Trotter’s in Chicago, and all these, and what happens is that they found down the road, so they have these gangbuster restaurants, and they slay it, and have for years and are total holdouts, bastions of culinary awesomeness and all that, and then these people would want to retire and go to sell it, and they couldn’t. Because they self-named it, so who is going to buy…
MARK: Right, Jacques, but Jacques is retired.
KEITH Yeah, Jacques gone. Right. Yeah.
MARK: I know, you have to have an Emeril Lagasse status to be able to sell something like that, where he’s not in the restaurants anyway, but still it’s the same thing with business, if you’re the owner and the operator of that business and it’s super successful because you’re the one steering the ship.
KEITH Driving it.
MARK: How do you sell it? You can’t sell you. You are the one behind it. It’s like being an athlete, you can’t sell that, you are the one scoring touchdowns, so you can’t make those adjustments.
MARK: Why do you think that you’ve continued to follow the path of this business? Because you’re not serving food here, are you?
KEITH Nope. We don’t do anything but snacks.
MARK: So, why did you make the move into this? Are you cooking more at home? It sounds like you’re passionate as a chef, why not explore restaurant type business?
KEITH We have. Like I said, we still have Kojin and that’s a Japanese noodle bar.
MARK: But you’re not there cooking, are you?
KEITH Nope. That’s no, I have a staff that does that now. We had just done Southernmost Soups and Salads and the Dahl House, which were next to each other. An Indian place and a lunch place that we actually just closed, about a month or two months ago. So, culinary is always a part of me and I’ll always love it.
KEITH The thing we found out when we did The Porch, if you take every reason why restaurants fail, all the big reasons why they fail; labor, waste, and all that, and if you throw all that shit away, you know what you’re left with?
KEITH A bar. It is the easiest thing to run in the world. I mean, with a bar I think that your job is to create the awesome ambiance. After that, everyone has access to the same products. You don’t, I mean very few places have an exclusive line on this rum, or that beer, or that wine.
MARK: Right. You’re not making your own beer here. You can buy this near anywhere.
KEITH Anyone can. So, it’s really to try to make the ambiance of the place that people want to spent time. So, for that part, it’s way easier. Also, food wise, I’m kinda burnt right now.
MARK: And I can imagine, when you mention how difficult it was to get certain foods in Vermont, like down here, it’s gotta be even harder because things are being shipped from Miami daily.
KEITH The supply lines a little longer, but again, we now live in an age where you can get anything, from anywhere, in a pretty realistic amount of time.
MARK: But think, Key West 20 years ago, Amazon isn’t shipping stuff down here. You want something organic, good luck, you’ve gotta grow it. But now, you can get anything. It’s an easier time, definitely to live in Key West because you can get everything delivered ground, immediately.
KEITH Absolutely. And also, the purveyors like Sysco, GFS and those bigger purveyors that everyone uses, when people like to poo-poo them a lot, like “Sysco the evil empire.” Which I mean you know maybe in a way, or not, but also Sysco kinda won the war in Florida and to that point, they now deal with organic orange juice growers in Florida. So, you can get all that stuff from them. It’s not just the same, well we just sell pre-packaged frozen shrimp that you’re going to refry. It’s gone way past that, which is awesome, you can get crazy… I mean you can get black truffles from Sysco, all that stuff.
MARK: Well, they see the demand of what people want, and they’re not idiots over there. They’ve got some great analysts. It’s the same thing with Publix, there’s more and more organic stuff showing up in Publix and it’s all their GreenWise stuff because they look and it’s like, cool. For the last three years it’s been this grass fed butter, so now we’ve seen what happened, we see how much of its been sold, that is not ours, there’s no cost to us because we are buying it based on who buys it, and if it sells out all the time, cool. We’ll put our own brand on it, put it out there, put it for less, then people will buy ours more.
MARK: It’s a great testing ground.
KEITH Also, the biggest trend in the culinary world in the last 10 years is organic and all that. Because people really see the rest of the world is going to shit, and the one thing they can control is what they put in their body.
MARK: This is just my assumption, not being in that world, as somebody paying for the meal and if it’s like, its an organic filet mignon, its grass fed? Oh, okay, its $40 and that makes more sense.
MARK: I’m assuming your cost isn’t that much more for them, but then on the retail side, you can put that cost to justify it more?
KEITH It depends on how you work your menu and your scale. A lot of times its just simple straight forward math.
MARK: Isn’t it the bar that is paying the bill of the restaurant, most of the time?
KEITH Depends on the restaurant.
MARK: Okay. That’s what all of us layman have always heard, the restaurant pays certain bills and then the bar makes you the profit.
KEITH In a combined aspect? Probably absolutely. Now, when they say that a lot, when they use the term bar like that, they are probably talking liquor bar.
MARK: Like wine and liquor?
KEITH Because booze more than anything. Because beer and wine like we have here, again, it’s in a mathematical range and you really can’t go that far out of it.
MARK: So, you’re like slicing margins when it comes to beer and wine? Compared to liquor?
KEITH The universal truth always has been, and probably always will be, the margins that can be made on booze and I’m talking liquor, not beer and wine like what we have here, but liquor – nothing touches it. It’s amazing. I mean, it is a huge…
MARK: Yeah, and if you think about, like let’s use a Grey Goose for an example, and then you’re putting two shots let’s say in a cocktail and you’re serving that with orange juice, which is nothing, and you’re serving that for $10- 12.00, think about how many shots are in a bottle.
KEITH That, and then you go further down that rabbit hole, and that’s the bottle price as most normal people know. Now you are buying case deals and stuff like that, and that thing is dramatically getting lower, so that the math is dramatically getting better on the ratio aspect.
MARK: Wow, so the booze… are you planning on adding that to here?
MARK: No liquor license?
KEITH Nope, not at all.
MARK: We are 40 something smart dudes now, we want to have fun, we want to have fun with our people here, we want to have fun with our clients, and we want to have fun ourselves. That other headache of all that other shit is not what we want to deal with?
KEITH Part of that is exactly true. The headache part of it, I wouldn’t even want liquor in here if I was offered a liquor license. There’s just other headaches that come with it, which is the scene we are not trying to deal in.
MARK: Yeah, the crowd, you don’t want that crowd.
KEITH Right. And also, it’s Key West. There are literally 200 fucking places within half a mile that have that, so go do it. Have at it.
MARK: Exactly, you have your edge of what you’re doing here. And you are staying in that lane, but what I love the most, what you said is the most important for any business when they have longevity, you are catering toward the locals. Which is catering toward your fan base. That core group of people and not going, “How can we make as much money as possible?” Let’s do deals with the cruise ships, or let’s do the deals with all the local hotels. You’re like, look, let’s get the locals, let’s have them love this place and then if tourists want to come in, they come in.
KEITH It happens naturally, too. Because and any place you’re at, if the locals are your fans and love you, that’s the person who’s going to be asked when they are bringing in someone’s luggage at a hotel, “Hey, where should I go?” And they will tell ya’. So, it goes hand in hand.
MARK: Of course, of course, that’s what I mean. You market to the locals, the locals market to everybody else. If I’m visiting some place and I ask a local, “Hey, where should I go that the locals go?” I want to go there. Because you know it’s not going to be a tourist trap and have more substance to it.
KEITH I think, in todays day and age too, you have a more informed traveler.
KEITH I mean, you still get people who are just going to pile off the cruise ship and go to Sloppy Joe’s, get their plastic cup and go back on the cruise ship. That’s cool. Nothing’s wrong with that, that’s cool.
MARK: That’s why Duval has its place.
KEITH Exactly. But in todays age, getting to a place and asking the local where do I go? Is much more prevalent.
MARK: And then social media.
MARK: I see you starting to crush social out there. I saw seven posts go out in a couple of days, I’m like all right, I see it, the engines are starting to run. Because showing people via social is one of the best ways. You have fun, too. Because you could do more of documentation than having to have perfect creativity, you could be like cool, I’m going to do live chats here, putting stuff on stories, we’re having a meeting down here. Let’s put that on there. I mean, you can do that now, and the customer, the people want to see behind the scenes. We don’t want to see perfect all the time anymore.
KEITH Also, social media is the biggest, freest, craziest, coolest advertising platform that we’ve ever had to deal with. Back in the day, like most of the places that we’ve done, we never did advertising; (a) we didn’t need to, again we were targeting the locals and all that, and (b) with that because normal old school advertising – how do you quantify it? I’m paying someone to get my name out there. Now people have to bring in a stub.
MARK: It was all branding.
KEITH Yeah, it was all branding and it was very hard to quantify that you got back in return for the money you put out. Whereas now, if you look at Facebook, Instagram and it’s all free. If you have an event, you post a thing that’s going to go to 5,000 people that you would target anyway for it, and there you go.
MARK: What’s cool, and what I do with clients, you can put stuff out organically and see what the people like, not what you think that people like, and then those things that perform the best, you can then do paid advertising on social media against that and it is so under priced right now, that you can spend $25 to get a massive amount of people to notice what you’re doing. It’s so cheap.
KEITH You can spend an $8 Facebook boost. It is crazy.
MARK: It is definitely the way to go. Once people wrap around the fact that people are not watching TV commercials anymore. Billboards, I mean the drivers are looking at their phones, let alone people in the cars, they are not looking out there. Now granted, Key West is a little different. The newspaper and flyers and that stuff, still works down here in this market, to those tourists.
MARK: But to the generalized people, all that really expensive vanilla advertising is in the toilet now. It’s so expensive that you can put free stuff on social and you can get people to tell you what they like and then you can pay to advertise against that to then get more people to then talk about your place. It’s huge branding.
KEITH And specialized metrics and stuff where you can actually find the clientele you’re going after, too. Versus whether it is a billboard or something, that’s just hope advertising.
MARK: Yeah, spray, pray, whereas you could target this age group that have graduated, and have this degree, with this much money, this sex, that like these things, and don’t like that. And target that. Where else can you do that? Back in the day if somebody said, “Oh I can do that on TV.” You’re like that is $10 million dollars and now this is like nothing to do something like that, which is great.
KEITH Agreed. Absolutely.
MARK: How has business changed since when you first started? We can just say the bar business or even running your business? How has it changed since you first started?
KEITH On the bar side of things?
MARK: Just in general.
KEITH I find that on the bar side of things that the stuff we have noticed is the late night crowd is not as prevalent as it was when we were, you know 15 years ago, partying at night. Key West used to be very much a midnight until 4 in the morning plus. That was the norm. I think that has dropped back a little bit. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there’s still bars that are busy at night, but I think that when you get close to the 2 o’clock A.M.
MARK: And, are people starting earlier?
MARK: I don’t know if it’s because I’m in that age group because I’m not staying out late anymore, but I remember in the 1990s in South Beach or up in New York, the growth of the hotel bar started to happen and that was like cool, because nothing opened until 11 or 12 o’clock in South Beach. You go out to dinner at 11 and I’m like, what am I in Spain over here? I am in bed at 11, I’m not eating dinner. Then the hotel bar thing started where people were like listen, I’m done at work at 5 or 6, what am I gonna do from now until 11, there’s gotta be some other thing. I think that evolved and it seemed to move its way down here.
KEITH Yup. I think that the time spent at night is spent differently. I think that bars have almost fractured into specializing a little more now. Again, 15 years ago, a bar – was a bar – was a bar. You can get a shot, you can get a rum and Coke, you can get a Miller Lite. But I think now, there’s more and it’s a craft beer place.
MARK: Right, it’s not just Bud Light or Miller Lite.
KEITH Or, it is a wine bar. Or it is a craft cocktail bar. You know, you want the $18 drink and the smoke and that type of stuff, so I think that bars have started to specialize out a little more.
MARK: They are giving what their core customer wants, instead of saying “Here’s everything.”
KEITH Or, what they want to provide. Sometimes I think it’s a dangerous game to play the “we are going to give the people what they want.” To a point, I think that’s correct but I think with that, sometimes you can end up chasing your tail a little bit. Like now, do they want this? Or what do they want now?
MARK: Right. Chasing the fad.
KEITH Right. Then you’re going after it retroactively and after it has happened.
MARK: That makes sense. If that were the case, you may be like, “Okay they want shots, so we gotta get a liquor license.”
MARK: They don’t want these games, they want other things, but you are sticking to what you love.
KEITH In that way, it comes across organically and real, too. We did this because this is what we wanted to do. This was our vision. This was the landscape we wanted to make. If that’s cool for you and you like that, cool. If not, that’s cool too, no harm – no foul. There’s 1,000 specialized bars out there to find the exact little niche of what you want for your nightlife. Whatever that is.
MARK: That is awesome. I love that mentality of not just doing it for the customer, having them in mind and having care for them, but be like, “look man, I’ve done this enough and I want to have fun while I’m doing this and people seem to like the things that I like, I’m attracting cool people that are similar to me, let’s just keep doing it and having fun during this period of time.” The Porch was doing so well, why did you think about, we have a brand and let us try to sell this as opposed to just closing it?
KEITH Like I said, because it was a lease issue, that got weird with the landlord. My business partner at the time, Chris Schultz and I had kinda parted ways, it had been a long run. A long and successful run, but people change along the way, and people end up wanting different stuff over a long enough time. And that’s cool. I think that’s a lot of what prompted it. The Porch was so specific to the building that it was really what made a lot of it very cool. The staff was great, the customers were great, the building made a lot of it, and the same type of things sometimes is smarter to let something go or fade away at its correct time, than trying to keep something alive. Again, that’s not where I wanted to spend my time in that type of arrangement anymore. So, it was just the correct ending point.
MARK: That makes a lot of sense because now that’s, well you having owned that in the business you’re in now, it seems like an asset. Whereas if it was still going on with a different owner and it was crap, you’d be like, “Oh you were associated with that?” Maybe they just see the new version.
KEITH Sure. Absolutely.
MARK: Which is great. What piece of advice would you give yourself if you were starting this whole thing over again? Like back in Key West over? Or, if some young buck was coming into Key West, or some other state, and was like, “I want to do this! What should I do?”
KEITH All right, I think a hard lesson in Key West is… I don’t know if I would do a lot of these projects again… well, I would go about it differently. I would go after trying to get the real estate that the project was based in.
MARK: Like purchasing?
KEITH Yup. Which is a hard one in Key West because real estate is so expensive. But without that, and we’ve seen it a couple of times now, because any business and any project you do takes a while for it to become successful. You have hopefully a great idea, hopefully you execute it well, hopefully you do the work in the time that’s needed to get it up and going. Well, just about the time it is up and going and has kinda gotten its own legs and become its own little monster, financial is awesome, is right about the time you’re going to do a lease negotiation again. And that just sucks because now you’re at the behest of some other person.
MARK: And, if they are coming in, in the last 12 months, and they are like, “Wow, this place is packed, they must be doing well.” Then they aren’t going to mind if I pillage.
KEITH Yeah, up the rent. Seriously.
MARK: Especially if the neighbors are doing it. Or if they know real estate and they are like, where are they gonna go? They can’t go anywhere else and they are going to pay the new price or more, then we are going to do it. It’s like what happened on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach where it’s crazy. It’s funny because it is a restaurant row now. If you look, and there’s no bags, no one is buying things there.
KEITH It’s not a walking/shopping mall anymore.
MARK: You just go there, eat or have a drink, or its billboards. That’s why they are paying, like Nike is there not to sell shoes but to market their business. It’s crazy.
KEITH I always found Miami a little terrifying from the culinary aspect. It seemed to me that even if a restaurant was awesome and had great product and done well, Miami has this it’s only so new for a while type of mentality.
MARK: What is the bigger better deal like to the max.
KEITH What is the newest coolest thing? And that driving some places that never should have gone out. That were good. You know what I mean? That were standards. But that’s Miami.
MARK: That’s the relationships there, too. Its like, “Okay I’m done with you, who is next?” Done with that car. Who is next? Now this house, what is next? It’s nuts.
KEITH So aside from the real estate thing, I have to happily say in talking to you right now, I wouldn’t have done much differently.
KEITH We have done some great projects. Met 1,000 amazing people along the way. Those people are a part of this community and like I said before, that’s the coolest part about Key West.
MARK: The pulse of it. For sure.
KEITH We jokingly call it the biggest small town in the world.
MARK: That’s like what I say too. It’s like, it is such a small town but not, because you have a million people coming through here every year, its nuts. But the locals have that mentality.
KEITH But you’ll find out, you now you’re going to end up going down the street to work and you are going to stop and say hi the six people you know along the way. I think that is awesome. It benefits business, too. We all know there’s some theft inherent in the bar and restaurant business, there always is, it’s never going to be stamped out. But down here in Key West, we found with employees, whether at the bar or at a restaurant, they can’t really steal enough from you before they are caught, to make it worth being voted off the island. Which is what would happen because it is such a small, and you know, if someone found out that they are stealing, I mean, they are done. Done in Key West. No one is going to hire them. It’s too small, and the coconut telegraph, as everyone will know, so that is beneficial business wise and it takes some of that worry away.
MARK: That’s nice.
KEITH Don’t get me wrong, you can still have someone steal from you.
MARK: Of course. They steal and then they leave. It’s not going to be like…
KEITH Or, like Miami or any big city, I’m certainly not shitting on Miami. There are parts of Miami that I like a lot, you know mostly Wynwood.
MARK: Yeah for sure.
KEITH Well, Miami or any big city of that big demographic level, you could fuck someone over, move 20 blocks and no one knows. And you can do it again.
MARK: And the owner may be like, of the new place, I don’t care because I didn’t like that guy you screwed over anyway. He probably deserved it. So, it’s a totally different mentality up there.
KEITH So down here, you can’t be a shitbag for long before it is known. Which is cool.
MARK: What would your close friends say you do for a living?
KEITH A lot of them would say they don’t know. They don’t know right now.
MARK: Would they say he’s a chef? Would they say he is a bartender?
KEITH Chef, or bar owner, or well I hate a lot of those terms. You know restauranteur. Whatever. I’m putting most of my effort into here right now, which has been fun and awesome. Like I said culinary wise, I’m a little burnt out, just because its been such a long trek.
MARK: What about at home, though? Or, is it still, fork and knife down.
KEITH At home, I cook all the time.
MARK: So, you still love it, you just maybe love the private part of it now.
KEITH Well, it’s a hard thing, my dad had said to me when I was a kid, “Go master a skill.” Okay, fair enough. The thought behind it was that if you do something you like (a) it is way more enjoyable, (b) you get way better at it because you do it more vs. some tired dreary job. I went, I did it, and I love food and it will always be a part of me. But, like we talked about before, the industry is like, I love cooking – I don’t want to do it 16 hours a day anymore.
MARK: You love it for you now. Family gatherings or friends coming over, you’re like, all over it.
KEITH Exactly, dinner parties at the house, that’s still all awesome and cool and will I get back into food at some point? I think so. It is going to be a little while and with everything else we are doing now, we are going to pick the stuff we want to do.
MARK: The thing about being an artist, because being a chef is an artist for sure, art is art. So, whether you do it for your wife, or even yourself, or you do it for 1,000 customers, it doesn’t matter. You are doing it because you love to do it.
KEITH Yes, the process of it.
KEITH And remove the shitty part.
MARK: Yeah. So let’s remove the shitty part of it which is dealing with somebody sending something back 100 times or the staff or whatever you deal with and just do the fun part of the art.
KEITH Or, working every holiday.
MARK: Or, every night.
MARK: Now you can come play some games, hang out with some friends and have an awesome time. Definitely seems like an easier thing to do. That ends the drilling questions. Now we are getting into the personal questions.
KEITH All right.
MARK: This always scares people, because they are like, “Personal?” But it’s really not that personal. What is your favorite event to attend in Key West?
KEITH What is my favorite even to attend… I don’t even know. I know that I’m going to come off like the grinch on this one.
MARK: Well, people have said that the locals, some of this are like the typical answers that people will give, because they think they should say it.
KEITH Oh like the locals parade? Which, and here’s what I’m saying, Fantasy Fest and all that down here because of The Porch and the business we are in, and the mayhem of it, I mean, that week although super fun! Was also soul crushing. By the end, you were in fetal positions being like, “Make this week – end!” So, I’ve been so many of them, now they are almost not appealing to me.
MARK: That makes sense.
KEITH I forget because my wife, who has been down here now for five years, and we’ve been married for three, I have to remember that she hasn’t been 1,000 times and she’s not jaded as I am on certain events. I’ll be like, Okay honey let’s go to the whatever. It wouldn’t even, I don’t know if it would be an event, I think there’s a lot of cool private dinners and dinner clubs that go on.
MARK: Oh yeah?
KEITH We enjoy those.
MARK: Is that like a group of friends’ dinner club?
KEITH There’s some of that that happens. Our friends Rob and Maria Sharpe who own Isle Cook and their chef Martha, they do continual events and stuff.
KEITH Lost Kitchen out on Stock Island with Miguel Liz, Layla Barr, they do some cool stuff. So there’s some still cool underground culinary stuff, and we do a lot of that. Event wise I’m kinda burnt.
MARK: From the major …
KEITH The big ones always were the Tutu Party and stuff, which are still great. I just…
MARK: Yeah you just have scars.
MARK: Burn marks, that you just don’t want to revisit.
KEITH I actually think, and hopefully Fantasy Fest has kinda turned a corner and is hopefully coming back towards cool and creative.
MARK: That’s what they are trying to do.
KEITH Which needs to be done. Originally, 20 years ago, it was way cooler and creative and neat costumes and then I think in the interim part it kinda turned into old persons spring break. Grandma wants to go put on some pasties.
MARK: Yeah, you shouldn’t be seeing any of that kinda stuff.
KEITH Well, each to their own, I don’t even care, but that shouldn’t have been the main focus of Fantasy Fest.
MARK: Well, I’m working with Nadene and I had her on the podcast first episode.
KEITH I think her and Marky are doing a great job in trying to bring it back toward something creative.
MARK: They are getting more into the Burning Man type crowd mindset and less of just the Mardi Gras. So, it is a mixture of both because sometimes 60-year-olds want to go nuts and it is a safe place to do that, but not just that.
KEITH Right, and like I said, more power to them and they should still have those parties and do Kelly’s Kinky Carnival and all that, awesome. But the whole week shouldn’t be focused on that type of mentality, I think.
MARK: Agreed. Its something that I want my kid to see some parts of it, but the fun parts, but he can see the weird, too. I’m fine with that. But the costumes and the dress-up and the floats and the parades and all that is awesome. That creativity, like the Zombie Bike Ride, that’s creative shit that makes Key West what it is, those parts of it.
KEITH I think actually with Zombie Bike Ride and the Tutu Party in the beginning because, before Fantasy Fest was one long week, but because they threw in the earlier events now, it almost makes it two different weeks. It seems like a lot of the cool creative stuff is in the beginning and mid-week those people leave. All the other normal, come in on Thursday and you have the main parade and all that, but it is almost like split into two events now.
MARK: That’s also the hotel pricing. If you come Wednesday or Thursday, you get $1,000 a night. It gets a little, its like Wynwood to South Beach. Wynwood is cool and creative because you’ve got hipsters over there that are like, I can’t go over there, I don’t want to spent $20 for a beer. I want to have a little more fun and be able to show and highlight my own creativity at the time. That’s cool, I’ll probably be hittin’ a little bit more. I’m going to do the whole thing this year because I’m working with Nadene, but also because it is our… I’ve never been. Being in Miami and coming to Key West maybe 40 times, never came to Fantasy Fest. The lure behind it then was like, you’re going to see grandma with her boobs out and I didn’t want really to get into that. But now, being here, I’m going to go and browse a lot of the things with family.
KEITH Zombie Bike Ride, because we help do the first one, the end point was at The Porch.
MARK: Oh yeah, and then it ended at The Porch.
KEITH The first year, there was I think, well we expected 100 bikers and there were like 400, or something. We were like, holy shit this is out of control. And then to see it grow where now…
KEITH Yeah, last year was 9,000 or something like that they hit.
MARK: And then 10,000 spectators. So, there’s like 20,000 people that have done that whole thing. It’s awesome. And it’s the pictures I saw from last year were like, holy cow, the creativity.
KEITH Yeah, and it’s back to being a creative event which is important.
MARK: The only purpose of it is to be creative. And, its kind of its own stand-alone thing which I like from a sales standpoint, from a sponsorship, it’s more difficult to sell Fantasy Fest as a whole because nobody is buying tickets for the event.
MARK: And there’s 100 pocket parties, but from a patron stand point that is awesome because you can just get lost in so many different things to do that you could say… I’m sticking away from the big events and just going the local smaller events and have my own cool stuff there. I can stay in these four hotels and there’s always something going on there, which I love. What about favorite hidden local spot? It could be a restaurant; it could be a place to go?
KEITH Favorite hidden local spot? One of my favorite hidden local bars is called The Roost. That’s on Fleming Street. It’s a great little small hideaway place done well. Actually, right across is my favorite wine bar, that’s UVA with Mark. That’s a great spot. And you get the classics like Louie’s Backyard for the after deck and for the drink.
MARK: Right. That’s what everybody said. For the drink.
KEITH For the drink. I think it’s one of the coolest places to have a drink and watch the sunset. A place that I actually didn’t know that much about before my wife started working there was the Galleon Tiki. Also got an awesome sunset and cool staff there, kinda a little hideaway, too. Those are probably my favorites.
MARK: What about for local music? Like hey, I want to go listen to some live music, where do I go?
KEITH There’s tons of venues, but my favorite local musician is Tony Baltimore. And he’s also a good friend of ours and plays all around the town. One of the most fun events that they do is called a project called the Beatles Band. They do a night of all Beatles covers, normally at the Parrot or something. That is a really good time.
MARK: Awesome. I mean these questions are all for my selfish reasons. Since I’ve been down here and I’ll put that down as a yes. I like a have it recorded so I can go back and write it all down. It’s great to get this from the locals, like the places to go because where would you go? That’s for me, I’m not going to particularly going to go to Sloppy Joe’s, which I like going sometimes, but not all the time. But it’s like cool, once you’re in the rhythm of being in a place you have your favorites of things you want to do. What about tourist attraction that, if family or friends who have never been here are coming to town, then you’ll go do?
KEITH Umm, you have to get out on the water, I mean that’s in whatever respect that is to you. Whether its parasailing, paddle boarding, whatever. Our favorite thing to do at this point is to rent a boat or have one of our friends who has a boat to bring us out, we will all go to a sandbar and throw up some shade and sit on the sandbar and chat and drink. That’s a great time. But attraction wise, aside from the water and that could be fishing, or its huge.
MARK: Right, it’s endless here, which is awesome.
KEITH I think probably the Butterfly Observatory. That place is cool, man.
MARK: No, I love going there. My wife has just said to me, “I’m going to get that annual membership.” She grows Monarchs in our backyard and has been doing that forever and having an 11-year old, he loves seeing all that. There are butterflies that keep coming back and the whole story with them is that, its like three or four generations and then they go to Mexico.
KEITH You mean the huge migration?
MARK: Yeah, like multi-million will go. I think the butterfly lives a week or two. Then it lays eggs where it was birthed from, then the next one does it again and by the fourth one, it gets up and it flies and its there for a year. Then it comes back to New England, and California, all over the place. That whole march of the Monarch or whatever, they have a Netflix, and it’s incredible to watch. This was awesome, I had a really good time talking to you. Where could people find you. Your social media, or just the store’s social media, I’m going to put all that in the show notes as well. Do you have a website yet?
MARK: Are you planning to? Or, you’re like cool we are going to keep it social and low-key, so no website either?
KEITH No. I don’t think we’ll do a website here. We have, you know, its GlitchCraft on Facebook, or Instagram, we post a lot of stuff there.
MARK: Yeah, most people go there to find stuff anyway. Great, I’ll make sure to put that in the show notes so people can find you there and come here. We want it to stay cool. We don’t want a big line out the door. We don’t want assholery to begin forming. We want to keep it fun here, so I really appreciate the time. This is the spot my wife and I will really enjoy, so we’ll be back.
KEITH Cool, it’s been great, thanks.
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