We are having a conversation between Mark Baratto and Anna Sweet. 

MARK:           My name is Mark Baratto. This is the Backyards of key West podcast and I am sitting here with Anna Sweet. Anna, welcome to the show. 

ANNA:           Thanks for having me.          

MARK:           You’re welcome. We are in, now you have two studios, right?

ANNA:           I have a studio and a gallery, yes. 

MARK:           We are in the studio and then the gallery is on Duval Street, right? 

ANNA:           Correct. 

MARK:           I need the origin story. The how did you get into this? Where did it come from? Obviously, you’re an artist so tell me about you as a little girl.

ANNA:           I grew up an art gallery. My mom is an artist but she raised us basically buying and selling antiques for, gosh ever since I was born. We lived in Charlotte, North Carolina in the upstairs of an antique gallery. That’s where me and my nine brothers and sisters were raised and my mom did that by buying and selling and making her own work and selling that as well. So, I was constantly surrounded by that growing up.

MARK:           And did you, was this, did you want to be an artist? Or, did you want to have a gallery, or be more on the business side of it? 

ANNA:           I guess, well I saw my mom and I saw her struggle and I saw her painting away hours on end and I knew that I wanted to be creative. I knew that I was creative. But I didn’t necessarily want to follow down her path and then look where I am now. It’s funny, but I decided to go into photography. I decided to study something that was a little bit more instant gratification. I picked up a camera at 13 – 14 and I obsessed. I would video everything, I would photograph my little sister, I’d photograph all my friends at school. Then I guess, I decided hey maybe I can make a career out of this? So, I started looking at art school options and that’s how I ended up in New York.

MARK:           Tell me why the camera? Was it?  

ANNA:           I think it was because I could never draw as well as I wanted to. I wanted to capture what I was seeing. I wanted to show the beauty of the world accurately and I didn’t feel like I had the skills to do that with a paint brush. 

MARK:           You knew that you wanted to get into art. You saw your mom doing it, you saw there was struggle in there, you’re like all right, I don’t know what direction I want to go in, but art is definitely the world that I want to be in. 

ANNA:           I was always moved by powerful imagery and with these classic paintings all around my house and just magazines that I would see growing up, I would feel an emotion when looking at certain imagery and I wanted to be able to evoke that same emotion out of people with my own vision. I think that’s where the camera came into play because I could literally see something how I saw it captured exactly how I see it and then display it as such. 

MARK:           When you were doing that, when you were younger were you like, this is a career path or were you thinking hobby? 

ANNA:           Oh no, I was obsessed, and I was like…

MARK:           You were like, this is it! I have to find a way.

ANNA:           I decided the dream job would be to do what I love and support a family at the same time. And, I think I just had that in my head and I never let it go.         

MARK:           I love that. What other things were you into that were outside of the art world? 

ANNA:           Well, I fenced for a while. My brother was a great athlete and he succeeded at every sport and there was nothing that he couldn’t beat me at, so I decided to start fencing just to throw him for a loop and it went well. I kind of excelled with that and went to national tournaments and kind of, I don’t know, I wanted to be like my brother, I guess. And, so I did that for a while but then ultimately came back mostly to the arts and like, I had a one-track-mind.     

MARK:           With all the brothers and sisters, where did you fall? 

ANNA:           Seven of nine.

MARK:           Wow, okay. They had a lot more experience in working with the children before they got to you. And the brother you’re talking about was he the one he looked up to the most, or? 

ANNA:           It’s actually my little brother, so I kind of joke and say we came in litters and there was like three, six, nine. I was the youngest litter, the third litter, and I was the oldest of that litter. So, it was me, my little brother and my little sister. My little brother was mama’s boy and he was the head of every team he was ever on and so I think, and part of trying to get attention from my mom, it was like, well maybe if I play a sport? I’ll get that attention.    

MARK:           You were the head of that pack, in a way.

ANNA:           Yes, the leader of the pack. 

MARK:           And, are you still competitive with your brother now? 

ANNA:           Oh my god.    

MARK:           Is he an artist? What does he do?

ANNA:           Well, he’s actually in life insurance and he also just opened a gym, but he helps me all the time. He’s my right hand when it comes to art shows. I just got back from Sausalito, the Art Festival in California and every time I do a show like that, I make sure he’s by my side. He gave me all the confidence I needed to be a business person in the art world, I think? My first show I sat in the corner and I didn’t talk to anybody and he just was my advocate and my pioneer and after seeing him talk about it so easily and answer questions, I just realized one thing, you just have to talk to people. You just have to engage, you have to ask questions, if you’re shy and you’re quiet and you let’s say you let someone walk by and decide that oh maybe I like that, maybe I’ll buy it or maybe I won’t, then you’re not going to get very far in this industry. So, he taught me a big lesson and it’s like, what do you have to be scared of? What are you worried about? People love your work, otherwise they’re not coming up to look at it. They are not coming in here to give you insults, they are coming in here to praise you, so he’s just like accept that and listen to what people have to say and it’s as easy as that. 

MARK:           Great advice. What about when you guys were competing against one another? Did he go easy on you? Or, did he not let you win purposely on a lot of things?

ANNA:           No, he’s good at heart you know? As competitive as we both are, I think at the end of the day we want to see each other succeed and be happy. I don’t think it ever got to be vicious or anything like that, but we definitely butt heads a lot because we are both very strong and we have our own way of seeing and doing things. It’s my business and it’s close to my heart, but he sees the business side of it and how it could be better. We are constantly playing that battle. 

MARK:           The reason I asked is because, having somebody that won’t sugar coat things and won’t let you win, to let you win, builds fortitude for real world. 

ANNA:           I agree.           

MARK:           Because that’s how it is. So, him battling you like that, and not going too easy on you, helps shape you. Just like, I have an 11-year old and I try to do the same things with him. I’m not letting him win everything, I’m making him have to work for certain things, because when he gets older and he goes out there, it’s how the world’s going to be. 

ANNA:           100%. Sometimes and I have a 2-year old and just for fun, she’ll ask for gummy bears, or a pouch the little fruit pouches, and she’ll ask for one every day. And I’m like, well I could easily say yes, but you don’t always get a yes in life. So, sometimes just, and not to be mean, but for the Hell of it, I say, “you know what? Not right now.” We are not going to have one of those just because you want it, doesn’t mean that you can have it, so I try to do the same thing. 

MARK:           It’s important to instill that because not so much my generation, but the generations below me a lot of things that are happening, and I guess even in my generation a lot of parenting is like, protective parenting. Like, oh no I don’t want my kid to get hurt at all. I don’t want them to lose at anything. You know, you failed at this but it’s okay! You did the best you did and it’s like, well you may have but you still failed and it’s important to understand that. 

ANNA:           I, 1,000% attribute where I’ve gotten so far in the world from growing up in a family that did not sugar coat things. With so many brothers and sisters, you were lucky to get a word in, or even a bite of food in, you had to really stand up for yourself. You had to be independent, you had to go get it, if you wanted it you had to get it. Otherwise you’d starve basically. 

MARK:           Yeah and your brothers and sisters all helped parent each other, too. So, you are parented as peers which is even harder and the lessons are stronger there because your brother is going to be like, I’m not your dad, go screw yourself, right? Whereas your dad maybe wouldn’t say that. 

ANNA:           Well, I don’t know. My dad wasn’t the nicest guy back in the day but he’s made a 180 since then, I think all the stress off of him has changed him as a person, but that’s a story for another day. But, if you ask my husband, he is the first person to say the one thing about Anna is that she doesn’t sugar coat things. So, I give it to you how it is and I just don’t see any constructive way of going about it other than that. I have learned from him as a very affluent business man that you have to go about it a certain way. You can still tell people exactly what you’re thinking, but people’s emotions are real, so you have to take that into consideration, and you always say what they are doing great before you tell them what they are doing wrong. That’s one thing that I’ve learned in owning the business and has been the hardest is managing employees and remembering to do that.             

MARK:           And these are the lessons that you learned from your husband? 

ANNA:           Yes, him a lot and then also having the business. 

MARK:           From doing. 

ANNA:           I lean on him a lot because he’s had a business for 20 years and he’s never fired an employee. He has had the same people the entire time and it’s like, well that’s definitely and when we get into that in Key West, we’ll talk about I’m sure about how difficult and that’s one of the biggest things, one of the biggest challenges for Key West. 

MARK:           Is that because he’s really good at hiring beforehand?

ANNA:           Gosh, I think he’s a good read of people, but I think he treats his employees with such respect and just and just a great guy. He doesn’t put up with things, but at the same time, he’s very patient and nurturing and I think that makes him a good father and a good boss.

MARK:           Excellent, and I’d ask more but only if he was here today. There’s a pillow here where he should be sitting. Tell me about the first job that you had, that was not in the art world and not fencing. 

ANNA:           Wow, my neighbor, because I lived in an art gallery, my neighbors was also commercial so it was a music store. They sold woodwind instruments, so flutes, trumpets and all kinds of stuff, and my mom was friends with the owner, so she convinced him to hire me, I was 14-15 years old, my first job. I would literally sit there and sort the little pads that would go into flutes, the keys of flutes, and I would have to count them out in sets of thirty and put them in little Ziplock’s and then label them. I did that for four hours every day and that’s actually how I discovered fencing because the guy I worked with was a fencer. We would talk and we had nothing else to do and he said, you know there’s a club right by here, you could probably go check it out. That’s how I ended up doing that. 

MARK:           And you were just like, okay fencing, I might as well. I can beat my brother at this one!

ANNA:           I thought it was really cool, something Joe Joe can’t do, so sure!

MARK:           That’s great. What about anything earlier than that? You were hustling to do because I’m assuming with that many brothers and sisters your parents weren’t like, “oh you want this? Sure. You want that? Sure.” 

ANNA:           Definitely. We struggled for sure, and money was just never handed out, it was always earned and for me, I saw how hard my mom worked to pay the bills and so I did so many things from, after the fundraiser was over continuing to sell candy at school. I would throw benefit concerts for a charity and say I would give all the ticket proceeds to the charity but then I would keep the food money for myself. Like I would sell pizza at that event, and that actually almost made more than the ticket sales. So, it was always like, okay how can I pay for my gas. How can I pay for my cell phone? How can I pay for this? And so, I had to get out there and do it. 

MARK:           It was like, I want this particular thing and, well even paying the gas or paying the bill, or the film.

ANNA:           Yeah, the film for my camera, yeah.         

MARK:           How can I do something to get that? It’s an important people need to realize that because the place where you’re at now sometimes think the overnight success and stuff like that.

ANNA:           Or, it was given to you in any way. People tell me every day they come in here and they say, man you’re young! I say, “I feel like I’ve worked the same amount of time as the person that is in their 50’s has worked because I just never stopped.” I don’t take days off, I don’t you know, when you have a baby that you are trying to nurture, literally two babies – a business and a child – you are just never off. I work constantly.    

MARK:           That’s the reason why I’m hung up and asking these origin story questions because it’s important for people to realize when it comes to running your business and when it comes to doing a business, things aren’t handed to you. It doesn’t matter how old you are, it matters when you started doing the thing you did that lead up to where you’re at (now). And you, at a 12-13-year-old, are hustling to pay for a cell phone bill. I mean, I didn’t have to do that. I did little things on the side like, when it would snow, I would shovel people’s driveway and I’d make money doing that. But it’s like, up until I was 18 and even went to college, my parents helped. That was in my eyes, a little bit of a detriment because I had to struggle more after college when my parents were like, well now it stops. And I was like, oh there was a little bit of a ride going on there for four years. 

ANNA:           Yeah, and how do you all of a sudden as an adult say, “Shit, now I gotta be an adult!” like overnight.      

MARK:           Luckily, I understood the situation and wanted to gear up especially having that 80’s – 90’s man mentality, I gotta work, I gotta take care of these things, right? So, that was my drive to be like cool, I don’t need anything from anybody else. But having that, I don’t get it unless I work for it mentality, that’s what I’m trying to instill in my kid now. Oh yeah, he’s got a couple of hundred dollars saved up and he wants to buy something for Fortnite or something like that, and he’s just like, “I’m going to use my money!” And I’m like, I can’t wait until you burn through all this money. 

ANNA:           Or, you can say, “what can we put that money into?”    

MARK:           That’s what I, trust me, being from that. 

ANNA:           Then you can afford all the Fortnite things. 

MARK:           He doesn’t get it and I tried to explain it. 

ANNA:           Let’s turn one Fortnite into many!

MARK:           I’m like well, if you just put it all in Facebook stock, just that or Amazon. 

ANNA:           They just got really bad press, now’s the time.    

MARK:           Yeah, I told you dude when it was at 80, we should have went in and now it’s 180. But yeah, I’m trying to teach him that, too. Especially coming from the background that I have with being in a market and stuff like that, make it multiply, or you want this? You have to earn it. Instead of earn it for a piggy bank, earn it for something that you can tangibly see. 

ANNA:           I think passion is so coupled with what we are talking about. You can understand the responsibility of something but if you don’t have passion and if you’re not passionate about it, it’s not sustainable. It’s not going to last. So, I think a huge influence or beneficial side of it is that you have to remember that, to be passionate.       

MARK:           Agreed, the thing that people struggle with, some people will say, “I don’t know what my passion is?” 

ANNA:           Oh, that’s so annoying. 

MARK:           How do I find that? A couple of things I tell people is, first you’re never too old. You could be 40 years old and you don’t know what your passion may be so you need to try things. What’s your favorite food? Oh, it’s this, well how did you know? Well you tried all these things. Have you ate oysters? No. Well, maybe that’s your favorite food. Time to taste. Taste a lot of things and it’s easier to do that when you’re younger. You have zero responsibility or less that you can taste a bunch of things. It’s almost like, what do you enjoy doing that if you “had all the money in the world” you would do. Why don’t you do that? So, sometimes it is judgment of others that’s keeping you from really doing what your real passion is. 

ANNA:           And a lack of self-confidence, unfortunately for a lot of people. They might enjoy something but they don’t think they are good at it. Or, not good enough at it. They need someone to tell them that you should do that. You’re good at that. Why don’t you? Maybe they didn’t have parents that said, “you know, man that’s good.” Maybe you should try that out so I’m all about inspiring people as much as I can. A lot of my employees are young and up and coming artists and I find myself spending half my time trying to nurture their career rather than having them help nurture mine.      

MARK:           That’s the thing, they can and never will work as hard as you. The reason why is because this is your business. 

ANNA:           That’s a lesson I’ve had to learn, yes.        

MARK:           That’s a lesson that for the people out there listening, if you own a business and you complain that, “why aren’t my employees working as hard as I am for the same dream?” It’s like, well give them as much equity as you have and then you’ll see a difference. It doesn’t work that way. They are never going to work as hard as you. It’s important to realize that you’re the one in charge, meaning anything that breaks, any employee that steals, any problem they have, you hired them so you have to take responsibility for that and learn about them. How many times have you taken your employees out to dinner? How many times have you seen where they are at, at that particular time in their life? Maybe right now they are single, maybe in five years they are married. Maybe in five more they have kids. Maybe at the beginning they wanted more money, maybe now they want more Work/Life balance. Who knows? You have to understand your employees in order to direct them in the right way. Then you’ll have long lasting employees which obviously your husband knows how to do really well if he still has all his employees. 

ANNA:           I think it’s building those relationships and gaining that respect from your employees and I think a big way in doing that is showing that you care. I think that’s the #1 complaint for a lot of employees is that they feel underappreciated. The more you can show your employees that you appreciate them, the more they know that they are doing a good job, you have to show people constantly that they’re being appreciated and they will continue to be inspired.  

MARK:           Tell me, when did you first come to Key West? 

ANNA:           Oh man, that’s a fun story. I was engaged once upon a time, we all had tickets to go on the bachelorette party and it was in the Caribbean and I for many reasons had to call the wedding off. And, we decided to have an unbachelorette. Now that we all had the tickets to Miami connecting through, I decided why don’t we just drive to Key West. So, we all came here on an unbachelorette party, which was way more fun than a bachelorette party! 

MARK:           Oh, I bet. Was this your first time here? 

ANNA:           Yes.     

MARK:           And, you didn’t just stay? You came and partied and had fun and then went home and then? Then when did you come back? 

ANNA:           Correct. Then I realized, oh my gosh it’s such a cute town. My parents were living in Miami at the time. My mom was doing her art and we both decided, “hey maybe we’ll go down and find a gallery to represent us in Key West.” I did, and ended up being represented at the James Coleman Gallery and this must have been like 6-7 years ago, when I first came out with my first line of work. I literally went door-to-door at every gallery and I had it in my hand, my work, and…

MARK:           You had a brochure of it? 

ANNA:           A brochure, my book, but then I also had my pieces in the car. As soon as I showed them my book and my brother actually helped me put together a little sales pitch as you could say for galleries which showed my numbers. I had one gallery in Ft. Lauderdale at the time and they were doing pretty well with my work, so he said, “hey just take these numbers into… and everyone’s a business person, and show them what you’re doing and show them the work.” That’s what I did. I said here’s my book, here’s my sales over the last year, and then immediately he said “sure, bring it in let’s look at it.” It fit the bill and his name is Bill – no pun intended – but yeah, he decided to carry it right there on the spot. So, I was in there for about five years and when I was in Hawaii two years ago, right before we moved here…      

MARK:           You were living in Hawaii? 

ANNA:           I was living in Hawaii and I, well I know we are backtracking a little bit and hopping around…  

MARK:           Well, we’re going to go all over the place. 

ANNA:           Okay good, so basically five years there and then decided to make a transition and do my own thing. They were my best-selling gallery so I thought, well we know Key West, let’s do it there. Let’s open a gallery in Key West.    

MARK:           I’ve got a lot of questions. Let’s go back to when you were a photographer and thinking, okay this is the business I’m going to get into. When did you start believing in yourself and picking up the paint brush and going in that direction? 

ANNA:           Gosh, it’s funny I was just thinking the other day as I was painting one of my pieces and I’m like, I never thought in a million years that I’d be painting. I wanted to be a fashion photographer and I wanted to shoot for Vogue, I wanted to shoot for Vanity Fair, I interned for one of the world’s biggest fashion photographers in London, Rankin. I was there for three weeks and realized, man I don’t know if this is for me. I mean, the guy barely did anything. He’d walk in and wouldn’t even hold his camera and I probably shouldn’t say this on the air but…

MARK:           I don’t think he’s going to be listening. 

ANNA:           Okay good. 

MARK:           We’re not that big yet.

ANNA:           All of his interns did every single and last thing for him. 

MARK:           What did he, just push the button? 

ANNA:           He literally, his intern held the camera over his head, and followed him around set and he would push the button. So, I just got turned off at that point and decided, well maybe I need to go more into the art world. My mom you know being an artist my whole life, I was familiar with that, so and I saw it as more instant way to pay the bills. It’s really hard to fight your way through the industry in New York, as you know, to get any kind of paid job you’re going to be working for free for ten years before you get any kind of job. So, I needed to pay the bills then and there, so I decided to approach an art gallery for the first time with my photography. They said, “wow that’s beautiful, but we don’t sell photography.” 

MARK:           You approached a gallery for the photography work. 

ANNA:           Correct. 

MARK:           I see, yeah because I’m like, trying to make it as a photographer in New York City is you know, being a painter in New York City is just as hard or even worse. 

ANNA:           So yeah, I started with photography, I studied photography as the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and that’s how I ended up in New York and then working for several photographers in New York, eventually moving to London to work for Rankin, and then I didn’t start painting until two years ago. My whole, well my photography actually encompasses a lot of abstract painting, merged with it and this is one of my underwater photographs over here. But that work evolved because that first gallery told me, “no, we don’t sell photographs.” So, I said “cool, let me make something you can sell.” I decided to, and I had been to so many different art shows and museums that I saw work with mixed media and texture and I decided maybe I’ll add that into my photography and that’s exactly what I did. I thought this is kinda crazy and this is not what I’d ever thought I’d be doing, I thought I’d be shooting fashion and so I just went crazy on the canvas, you could say. Through materials and paint, and just tried to make it something truly one of a kind and unique, so that the gallery could say, we’ve never seen this before. Let’s, sure, and that’s how I got my first gallery. I went back six months later with these five pieces that I had added paintings and texture and …

MARK:           Were these photos that you printed on canvas and then painted? 

ANNA:           They were all underwater photographs, but then I wanted them to be very sleek and at the time metal was just kind of, well metal printing was just coming about, so I actually the first line I printed myself at Costco because it was the cheapest place to print. I glued it to plexiglass that I got from a guy in Ft. Lauderdale, and I put wood from Home Depot and I cut it up and used wood glue on the back, it was totally botched together. I took it to the gallery, they loved it and wanted to give it a shot, they had a show for me and all the pieces sold out in the show and then I quickly realized that I had to replace them all because…

MARK:           Well, tell me that moment, did you see them all sell out? Or, did you get a phone call? I want to know that moment. 

ANNA:           I was at the show when they started to sell and as soon as one piece sold – at the time I think was $3,600 – I mean…

MARK:           How did you price them? Did they price them for you? 

ANNA:           This is funny, too because they asked me, “well what do you think you want for them?” So, I just took my cost and I tripled it as my mom has always said, “you triple your costs.” I said, that’s what I want. I want, I don’t know, I want $1,200 or the price should be $1,200, and in my mind, I wasn’t thinking the gallery’s going to add 40, 50, 60% on top of that. 

MARK:           Right, you’re thinking the customer would pay $1,200.

ANNA:           Yes. Okay, so if the customer pays $1,200 and it’s like a 50/50 split, then I get my cost plus a little blah blah blah, so I’m like oh okay. Then great, they’re like $3,800. And I’m like, oh, you really think people are going to pay $3,800? 

MARK:           You tell them $1,200 and they are thinking cool, that’s what we’ll pay for them meaning the gallery.

ANNA:           Yes. 

MARK:           And then, you get anything from, like you get the $1,200 and they get everything above that? 

ANNA:           How they work and every gallery has its own way of doing it, but they are a 60/40 split. So, they take 60% and the artist gets 40%.  Okay, so if we price it at $3,800, you’re getting and I can’t remember what, it’s like 1,500 something. And I’m like, holy crap! I just didn’t realize, oh my God my work could actually sell for that much and when it did at that show. 

MARK:           Yeah, you should have told them $5,000!

ANNA:           I still just didn’t believe them. Like, no one is going to pay that. That’s crazy and no one is going to pay that. 

MARK:           But when you painted and I’m sorry I keep interrupting, but it’s so juicy, when you went crazy the first time and it’s your first time doing this and you’re looking at all these pieces, are you like, wow they are awesome? Or, did you have confidence in what you did? 

ANNA:           Both, it was like, oh my God that’s so different. But who’s going to buy that? I don’t know, I didn’t … it had never been done before, I guess? It didn’t look like anything I had ever seen before so I just didn’t know how people were going to react?

MARK:           Did you call some friends and be like, hey do you like this?

ANNA:           Oh, all the time. I would send pictures and I still have a panel. Every piece that I produced to this day, I send to about five people and say, what’s your honest feedback on this piece and every one of them comes back at me with a different opinion and it’s great. That’s how I really just like hone in. 

MARK:           Do any of them come back and say, “no, I don’t like this.” 

ANNA:           Yeah. 

MARK:           Good. So, then you have the right panel. Because if they were all like this is great! You’re like…

ANNA:           But you know what? It’s great but you have a lot of stuff already like that, or I don’t really like the expression in that one, and 

MARK:           That’s fine, we had to take a pause because there was this massive – was it art coming in? 

ANNA:           It was actually a commissioned piece that just came in on a giant freight crate so…

MARK:           Yeah, it was this enormous piece. 

ANNA:           And you can hear the truck leaving now. 

MARK:           If they were not careful it could have been catastrophic in here. I don’t want to take responsibility for that. But it was good, because I was able to get a little bit of a tour on everything that you’re doing. Well, not everything, but a couple of pieces like that and we are going to keep that beeping in the background, I love that. I looked on your website and I saw some of the stuff you’re doing, but I don’t like to do any research. I don’t like to know anything about you, or anything, I didn’t know if you were married, I don’t know where you were from. I knew nothing because, why am I asking the questions then? If I already know everything. 

ANNA:           It needs to be natural. Organic. 

MARK:           It’s nice to know all those different things, so when it comes to your art and when it comes to designing and when it comes to pricing it out, you were mentioning that you were in the studio and they are like, oh we are going to put it at this price and then you’re like, oh my God, is anybody going to buy it at this price? And then you’re at, so it was like a gallery showing where it was just you they were showing? 

ANNA:           It was new and emerging artists that the gallery was promoting at that month and so I think it was me and three or four other artists all coming together to do a show for the first time. 

MARK:           Right and so you saw people gravitating to your work and then, did they buy it on the spot? How did that go? 

ANNA:           Yeah, they are really good at that gallery. They have great salespeople and me being there and my first show, being something new and exciting, I think that really spoke to people and it was I guess the right kind of magic to happen for them to write that big of a check. 

MARK:           Was mom there for this? 

ANNA:           Oh yes. 

MARK:           She was like, was she beaming too seeing this stuff getting sold. And you’re like, okay you gotta tell me, it’s the end of the night and you’re looking around and it’s sold on all your pieces, are you like holy shit. Was there a pinch me moment? Tell me about that. 

ANNA:           When I took that first check to the bank and I was sitting at the ATM and I had never even seen a check for that much in my whole life, I was just like, okay now I’m going to go make more art. That’s all I wanted to do. 

MARK:           Was it believable until you saw it like in the bank account. 

ANNA:           Correct, I never count on anything until it’s in the bank. 

MARK:           You’re like, they could say no and not pay. 

ANNA:           Or, decide it was literally and I had put those together with wood, glue and plastic so I was like, maybe they are going to return this and it’s going to fall apart but luckily those checks allowed me to remake them properly for all those clients I literally just put together what I could afford to put together. It wasn’t archival, it wasn’t something to sustain time, so luckily, they did sell and I could use that money to make them how I make them now which is on aluminum and proper resin. 

MARK:           So, they bought them and then you’re like, hey give me a month before I deliver them to you kind of a thing?            

ANNA:           They took them, and then I just slowly replaced them for each client. Yeah, I’m like you know, you …

MARK:           Wow, and how did that phone call go where you’re like uh? 

ANNA:           Well, they were like you know, and I mean they get it, it was my first show, my first producing anything like that and they were just happy to have it and happy for me to remake it properly. 

MARK:           I would have been ecstatic. You could have been like, hey you buy what you get, it’s a first timer, you bought it and if the thing falls apart, there’s wood glue coming out, but that was wonderful that you actually did that. 

ANNA:           I think that’s something that I’ve had to take with me through owning this business is that there’s always going to be that client whether it’s your fault or not, that you have to appease. You have to swallow your pride and say I’m a businessperson and this is part of the price of doing business that you have to make people happy. So, even if it’s a crazy request, like I get crazy requests. 

MARK:           Craziest request, tell me. 

ANNA:           Gosh, well…

MARK:           You don’t have to name names, and it could be someone not in Key West. 

ANNA:           Well, one thing popped into my mind the other week. I’m selling these little coasters now and they have my sticker on the bottom and this woman, and it was so sweet of her, but she emailed me a self-addressed envelope, requesting one sticker because one of the coasters didn’t have a sticker. And, so I just had to put a sticker in the envelope and put it in the mail for her, but she had to have stickers on all of the pieces. That’s what I did. 

MARK:           Is it like the barcode scanning sticker? Or what sticker? 

ANNA:           No, just like, it just has my name on it. 

MARK:           Well, she wanted, I guess…. the authenticity of you. 

ANNA:           Well, it’s like a $10 coaster and she wanted the sticker on the bottom. I don’t know, it was sweet and she was really nice. 

MARK:           She sells it for $15, it was a day in her life. 

ANNA:           Exactly. Maybe she’s like, this is not a complete set and I cannot sell this on eBay. That and then people asking for certificates of authenticity on things that are like $100. I know that sounds like, I don’t know, if you don’t know art, it’s something they want to prove it too. Well, my signatures on there. Like, what else, what other proof do you need? People get hung up on these certificates sometimes and I don’t understand it, but I’ll do it. 

MARK:           Yeah, I bought a couple of original pieces in Miami that reminded me of stuff when I left and I didn’t ask for it, but they obviously gave and that was the whole thing like, all right, I’m going to tell you this story. My wife bought me this piece of art that she hates that she bought it, but she loves it and I love it, is it when I was and I went to University of Miami and when I was in Miami all the time and South Beach and stuff like that, on one of those side roads Española, there was this artist that always and I remember in college always seeing this, it was Miss Piggy with like her boob hanging out. 

ANNA:           Nice. It was a painting? 

MARK:           And it was, yeah, a painting. Different Miss Piggy’s portraying different famous people but always a boob, like always her dress strap popped off and it was like, all original stuff that this guy did. It was like, I want one of these Miss Piggy’s because it will always remind me of Miami and then right before we left for my birthday my wife had one commissioned for me. And we have it in the house and she’s like, all right listen, we cannot have this in the living room, Miss Piggy with her tit out, we have to put it in a more obscure spot. Now it’s like every time I come out of the bathroom, there’s Miss Piggy right there. She doesn’t have full glory, but she’s got enough.

ANNA:           That’s nice. 

MARK:           Yeah, I understand what the certificate is and people want that because if you’re going to be a collector, you want to have that for in the future if you sell it? Is that a necessity?

ANNA:           No, it’s good. If it’s an original work of art and it’s a $5,000 thing that you need to have on your insurance policy and all this stuff, I get it. But sometimes when it’s just a print of mine, you know and it’s like…

MARK:           Not an original. 

ANNA:           Yeah, like it’s a $200 print and you know, it’s digitally signed and numbered and it’s something that I guess, and I’m always happy to make clients happy I’ll put it that way. 

MARK:           Yeah, of course. 

ANNA:           I’ll do anything to make a client happy. Just reading my emails today, I have a client that ordered a print and it’s a canvas print and one of the artist’s that I represent and it’s just wrapped around, on the canvas. But she doesn’t want it wrapped around on the canvas. So, now we’ve got to reprint the print to just be on the front. That’s how she wants it, so we are gonna do it. 

MARK:           That’s the reason why we may be harping and talking about these things and it’s important if you’re running a business, starting a business, is that you value your client your customer. 

ANNA:           Absolutely. 

MARK:           If you don’t.

ANNA:           They are your lifeline. 

MARK:           Then that’s it and that’s like when I talk to people about social media and stuff like that, it’s like listen, if you’re posting stuff and this is trivial compared to all of this but if you’re posting stuff and people are commenting and they are writing about the things that you posted that you like, you you’re complaining about why you don’t have more followers or all these different things, then why don’t you nurture the ones you have. Why don’t you be in communication with them. Why don’t you do the things with them that will show you that you appreciate them as a fan of whatever you’re doing.

ANNA:           Absolutely. That’s one of the things that I’ve had to learn being the scatter brain that I am, I always want to go to more, next, what else and then I realize… wait a minute, I need to focus on what’s right here and I need to develop what I’ve already started and I need to finish what I’ve started in a way. I’ve got so much traction already, and like you said, I’ve already got people engaging, why don’t I just engage with those people? Then more will follow, so I totally agree. 

MARK:           And the people that have purchased from you, are you getting reorders and buying more pieces? 

ANNA:           Yeah, surprisingly I mean, I guess there’s a lot of fans out there that have houses full of women. Today, it still blows my mind that people, and I shouldn’t be so insecure about my work, but it’s I don’t know, it’s something that to this day that people don’t really have it really decorated with photography of women. Literally it’s like, for centuries yes, paintings of women no problem. But when it’s something so literal, I still think it’s something so new and maybe that’s what makes the work successful is that it’s different and exciting and new. 

MARK:           I don’t find it surprising that they are rebuying because of the way that treat them. All of the things that you’ve said, those little things matter. You just never know and you want to do right just for doing right with no intention.

ANNA:           Every Christmas I try to think of something different and unique to send out to my clients to make them feel special and thought of, and all year long they’ll come back to me and say, “oh you know Anna, I got that coaster or that tree ornament in the mail, and it just made me feel so special thank you so much for thinking of me.” It’s just this little thing that I want to do to let them know how much I appreciate them because without them I wouldn’t be here. I’m always thinking of ways to let them know, thank you. You know? 

MARK:           And in a non-creepy way. You can get their social media and you can stalk them and see some other things that they like and they are like, I like this Merlot and you can send them a bottle of that with your signature on it or whatever. 

ANNA:           All the time. It was a woman’s birthday the other week and she really wanted this wave and I’m not bragging about this; I’m just saying because we are talking about it and she couldn’t afford it and so I said, you know what mom? My mom directs the gallery for me, she head of sales and so, I said “mom just let her have it for her budget.” And she was just over the moon, “oh my God you made my birthday, thank you so much.” When I was packing her wave up, I went ahead and threw like all these extra little things in there for her, like little surprises. I was just and I couldn’t wait to like hear her expression when she opens that package and finds something more than she was expecting already, you know? So, I do like to just, life is short and the more smiles I can put on people’s faces, the better. 

MARK:           Also, I can tell just from talking to you that you’re not high on your own supply at all. Which is important, right? You’re still pinching yourself. You are selling stuff for $4-5,000 or maybe more, and I see you still pinching yourself.

ANNA:           I think owning the business has really knocked me on my ….

MARK:           Ass, you can say that. 

ANNA:           It’s been such a wake-up call and very humbling, super humbling. I thought when I was 21 in New York City that I could anything and I love that I thought that because it’s made me do those things and it’s gotten me to where I am, but over the last year with my business on Duval Street and opening the studio and providing to the 20 galleries that I provide to and hiring multiple employees and having to worry about paying my rent. It’s made me see how hard and it’s a lot harder than I could ever have imagined. 

MARK:           Why did you go from artist to artist owner? Of a studio and stuff.

ANNA:           I think it was just one of those bucket list things that I wanted to prove that I could do. I’m always looking for a new challenge and I’m like, oh a gallery sounds like a great idea and if so-and-so is selling my work and taking 60%, I’ll open my own gallery and I’ll take 100%. But what I didn’t realize is it really comes down to being ultra-involved in your business. You could not put that business in anybody else’s hands and I just didn’t really at the beginning have the time to do everything. I couldn’t produce for my galleries and sell every day at my gallery, it’s a 12-hour shift on Duval Street. 

MARK:           And create the art.

ANNA:           Exactly, so producing and then selling and I couldn’t do both. Luckily my mom stepped in and took over the gallery director position and she’s been doing it her whole life. She went back to selling art and she’s great at it and she has really helped the gallery sustain over the last two years and thank god I have her. 

MARK:           You sell out this first run, and you’re like I gotta make more art and then are you now looking for different studios to place your art in? How did that go? 

ANNA:           I’ve been with my line of women, I’ve been carried in galleries for the last six or seven years since Key West and Ft. Lauderdale, Hawaii, New Orleans. I’ve had shows kinda all over in London, New York and different pop-up things here and there but over the past 2-3 years I started to want to expand my portfolio and have things as a business owner that has to pay rent on Duval Street you quickly realize if you only appeal to one person or one type of person, why limit yourself? So, it forced me to go outside my comfort zone and develop something that would appeal to Key West. 

MARK:           That’s before you opened the gallery, or as…

ANNA:           This is after. Once I opened, and sorry I’m jumping all around. Once I opened the gallery, I quickly realized that I couldn’t pay rent off of just my women, it was such a nice market. 

MARK:           The gallery had all women in here and you’re just like, ok. 

ANNA:           Yes, and everyone is telling me how to, and I had a salesperson that was helping me in the beginning had worked here in Key West for a long time, and she was like “Anna, you’ve gotta appeal to every single person that walks in the door.” And I’m like, I just don’t know, this is my name, this is my brand, this is my identity, I was so stubborn. Then my brother calls me one day and he’s very persistent and he’s a great salesperson because of it, but he said “you’ve got to carry this artist. I went to school with him, he paints with his fingers, he’s incredible and you won’t believe it.”

MARK:           Not to interrupt, but did you think that you were going to carry other people’s art? 

ANNA:           No. Absolutely not. 

MARK:           It’s me and that’s it. 

ANNA:           Correct. My name, my brand, I wanted to go big or go home. And so…

MARK:           And you’ve got the name for it. I mean come on. 

ANNA:           Yeah, I’ve been told that my whole life. So, I just had to run with it and I had to try. I did that and I think I quickly realized as a businessperson without an ego, an artists’ ego, I want to pay my rent and do what I love and I want to afford to stay. 

MARK:           You were paying all the bills anyway.

ANNA:           We were making by.

MARK:           But you were focused on, all right forget about my commission work and all that other stuff, I want to focus on this studio and how I can grow this studio. Is that what you were thinking? 

ANNA:           Well, with the gallery?

MARK:           Yes, I’m sorry the gallery. 

ANNA:           Yeah, so I dropped everything else and was just bleeding into the gallery. I had to be there every day, I had to oversee everything, I had to constantly figure out new ways to market, promote parties, openings, and I was working so hard and I realized well, maybe I should just try something different. 

MARK:           Your brothers like, I got this finger-painting guy. 

ANNA:           So, I’m like all right Joe, fine, I’ll do a show for him. It’s fine and we did a show and he sold out the first night. 

MARK:           Right, and you’re full circle. 

ANNA:           I guess this is God telling me that I just need to be more open minded and evolve. I did and now I represent 5 or 6 emerging artists at my gallery on Duval Street and everyone is so different that literally almost every person who walks in the door can find something that they connect and relate to, so I think from a business side, I had to really reach deep and put my artist ego to understand if this is going to be sustainable, I’ve got to give Key West what it wants. 

MARK:           Are you, yourself painting art and doing things more for what Key West wants? Or, are you still sticking with your type of brand and bringing other artists? 

ANNA:           Key West has had a huge influence on what I produce. I interact with my customers every day because my studio is 4,000 square feet here on Southard across from the Green Parrot and people can literally walk in every day and tell me what they do and don’t like about my work. I think that’s so valuable for me being that I’m in the retail side of things and I’m trying to sell. 

MARK:           That’s so hard to hear, but so smart.

ANNA:           It’s great, I can take that feedback and say, “you know what? I’ll make that for you, no problem.” And let me try, that sounds exciting, I’ll try something new and my art has changed a lot to appeal to the local demographic, which is funny because when I take my work and I have several galleries that represent it and the galleries in California sell completely different than the galleries in Miami. I’m learning, okay this is the style there, this is the style here and this is what people want here. Luckily Key West is a huge melting pot and you get people from all over the world that come here, so I don’t really have an issue. There’s something for everyone here. 

MARK:           Is that where waves, that art…

ANNA:           Waves, yeah, I’ve been doing the women and like I said…

MARK:           It was water from the beginning. 

ANNA:           Yes, all about water and I wanted to make a surfboard with something on it. I wanted to, I just wanted to make a surfboard and I don’t know why I was obsessed with the thought and I’ve been reaching out to people for a long time and doing so much research, going on Instagram and anywhere I could to find inspiring images of what I wanted to produce. I came across paintings of waves and I thought, “wow, that ties really well into my work and it’s not figurative, so it will be easier to decorate with for people” and I decided to try to paint a wave. 

MARK:           Which is like clouds, it’s so difficult. 

ANNA:           Yes! But I had been working with resin for so long that I thought, well I can just try to use the resin because it’s already like water and I started to develop this and it just, and I’ve developed a process that is incredibly unique and one of a kind and people see it and they think it’s a photograph. Every day people say, “what camera did you shoot that with?” 

MARK:           Yeah, I did too. Because I see a lot of your work as photography work and so I thought, oh you took a picture of that. 

ANNA:           I think I hit on something and God blessed me once again with something that has paid my rent since I started selling them. 

MARK:           How many did you do right away? 

ANNA:           I had a little tiny studio across from Fausto’s, like 250 square feet and I was producing as many as I could out of that space, experimenting, and in the beginning, I was like. 

MARK:           And that was private, right? 

ANNA:           No, the public came in. I was just like, man these are hideous, but I’m getting there. But every time I made a hideous one, someone would come in and say, “god that’s beautiful.” 

MARK:           How many “hideous” (said with air quotes?) 

ANNA:           With me, I’m a perfectionist and to me, I’m not seeing it the way they might be seeing it in an abstract way, but I’d say it was 6 months of developing the process where each one got better in my mind, but every person that walked in it was a gem to them. 

MARK:           So, listen everybody, that’s 6 months of failure, her failure, not from an outsider’s perspective but for the creator, 6 months of failure before getting to where you needed to do. Not like, this stinks, I’m done, I’m going to move onto the next thing.

ANNA:           What was important during that time was understanding that just because I think it’s a failure, doesn’t mean the world does. 

MARK:           Of course. 

ANNA:           I think we talked about that earlier in the episode, it was, you have to have confidence in yourself and a lot of people don’t think that their work is good enough. That’s what I was thinking right then and there in my studio and I’m like, I’m not going to put this on the wall for sale, but someone would come in and see me making it and they would be like, “wow can I buy that?” 

MARK:           Little blips of people saying, and you’re like… this stinks, and they are like… this is beautiful. And you’re like… I’m onto something. 

ANNA:           Yeah, maybe it doesn’t stink. Yeah, so. 

MARK:           Like a little gas on the fire to keep it going. 

ANNA:           Totally, and then I couldn’t keep them on the walls, I couldn’t keep them out there at all. I made the transition to an apartment because Key West rents are so high for commercial, and I was like I’m just going to rent a two-bedroom apartment and make ‘em out of there. So, I did that for a year and then I stalked this place on Southard, and I would go eat at Charlie Mac’s with my husband and there would be paper on the windows and I’m just like, what are they doing with this big building? So, I contacted my realtor and I’m like, can you find out who owns this building? I really want to make it my studio and it’s huge and it’s all the space I need. I’ll make it pretty for them, I promise. So, she reached out and initially it was no sorry, hurricane damage, we need to fix the building. 

MARK:           That’s because they are putting glue to keep it standing. 

ANNA:           Yeah, this building, well new owners and he wanted to do it right. Joe Walsh owns the brewery and a lot of things in town, Caroline’s, Jack Flats and all that, but he finally agreed to meet me and once he met me and realized that I just wanted to bring this place back to life, he gave me the opportunity and I am so blessed with this space. It’s really allowed me the space I need to produce, and grow, and it is great retail exposure, it’s right on the way to Truman Annex so if people walk by every day.

MARK:           It’s right on Duval, pretty much. 

ANNA:           And it’s a block from my gallery. I couldn’t have asked for better. Like I said, I wanted to buy this building at one point because it’s so perfect, so I got really lucky with this space and it’s allowed me to develop into where I am now which is producing at a pretty big level. I’ve got galleries on every island of Hawaii and West Coast to East Coast to Martha’s Vineyard to the Hamptons to Miami to New Orleans, all over. So, it’s definitely a dream and something I will tell anyone that wants to build their career in the art world you have to just ask for it. You’re not going to get anything in life unless you ask for it. Literally, I’ve cold called and it’s the most uncomfortable five minutes of my life, but I will cold call a gallery and I will say “hey, did you get my email. I sent you an email and I want to mail you a piece of work and I want you to see it in person.” (if I can’t go there myself) You just have to get there and ask for it. I think that’s what has helped me. 

MARK:           Ask for it a number of times. Not just one time. 

ANNA:           Yeah, and not just one time because I’ve had galleries ignore, ignore, and then I’ll follow up and follow up and it’s maybe on the third or fourth time when they say, “You know what? I’m so glad you were persistent about this because we do love it. It is doing well, or whatever.” 

MARK:           It’s funny because 80% of yes’ come on the 5th ask. Serious, it’s crazy. It’s like being in sales and it’s so funny how the majority of the yes’ come after all those no’s. That’s like the secret, of doing that, right? 

ANNA:           Persistence. 

MARK:           Everybody could do it, but then everyone would be doing it. It’s not easy. 

ANNA:           You just have to remember that just because someone said no the first time, doesn’t mean they always will and I read a really good book recently called the Third Door, and it’s all about there’s the front door, there’s the back door, and then there’s the third door. You either go in the front door, because you know that person or you don’t know that person but you have a connection. You go through the back door because you know that person. Or, there’s the third way to get in. So, it’s a guy that interviews and you might want to check it out, he interviews the world’s most successful people. That’s his goal for this book and he’s a college kid that drops out of medical school and decides to write this book. It’s all about him getting to these people no matter what. 

MARK:           I love it. 

ANNA:           He uses this third door to get to them and he’s persistent and just wants to find out what makes them tick and how they got to be successful. But it’s a pretty good book. 

MARK:           Wow, I’m definitely going to do that and if you’re listening you should get that book, too. We are not getting royalties, so don’t worry. I know we are going long, but you mentioned Hawaii. 

ANNA:           You can edit this later, it’s fine. 

MARK:           Your successful selling the work and what location was that? Was that in New York? 

ANNA:           I was in New York, hadn’t started producing when I lived there, but my art and I was just doing photography. But when I was living in London, I developed that first line of work and I got it. 

MARK:           Okay, so London is where you sold your first pieces. 

ANNA:           I did an art show on the street in London, that’s where I first tired the concept and I sold one piece and it stunk so bad of polyurethane polyester, what was it? Polyester resin that I had to go take it out, the first piece I ever made with resin and you couldn’t buy resin back then, it wasn’t something that artists used at all. I went to an auto shop and I bought stuff to fix your car resin and I covered this piece and it was so yellow. 

MARK:           It smelled like an old Buick.

ANNA:           Oh my God it was bad. And she’s like, I love it but you’ve got to come get it out of the apartment, it stinks so bad. So, I’m like, okay let me fix this for you. Anyway, did that show in London then brought it to the gallery in Ft. Lauderdale and I moved to Ft. Lauderdale and my parents were there and I was over the greyness of London and that’s when I was coming down to Key West to visit my gallery here and met my husband. Just to fast track and then we decided, oh may be a little dangerous for a new relationship, let’s try to get out of this town. So, we went to San Francisco and lived there for a year and I would shoot my underwater series in Hawaii quite a bit. I’d bring a team of models and do my whole production out there. Then we fell in love with the islands and decided why are we paying all this money in rent in San Francisco when we could live here? 

MARK:           Pay all that money in Hawaii.

ANNA:           Well, own a home in Hawaii, you know? So, we invested and bought a property on the Big Island and it’s on a coffee farm and it’s beautiful and we love it. We got pregnant and had the baby there and then I was like, I want to open a gallery.

MARK:           How did you leave? And I’ve never been and everyone’s like, once you go you don’t. 

ANNA:           It’s so peaceful there. That’s not my personality. My personality is go, go, go and so I wanted to start a business. I just really wanted to prove that I could do it. 

MARK:           And you weren’t like, New York, because that’s where artists go. 

ANNA:           Oh gosh, New York, well New York was great for nurturing me to be a hard worker and not take anything for granted and to understand what it takes to succeed in the arts, so to say. But I think you’re not giving yourself any kind of advantage to produce in that city when you’re up against millions and millions of people. You come to Key West, that’s the great thing about Key West. You are one of 100 people.

MARK:           There’s a lot of art here, too. You keep mentioning New Orleans, it’s like, it reminds me of that little art culture in New Orleans that they also have here. 

ANNA:           But for the most part, I can afford a space here. A space in New York, oh my God. I mean, I can barely afford a space here don’t get me wrong. It’s the most heavy financial decision I’ve ever made, but what made us choose Key West was the tourist traffic vs. the rent prices. Maui – $26,000 for 1,000 sf., in Lahaina. And you maybe have, I don’t know how many hundred people a day. Key West? Do you know how many cruise ships stop at the end…?

MARK:           It’s a million people a year come through Key West.

ANNA:           It’s so many and you have one little street and they are all going to see everything on that one little street so that coupled with my gallery was so successful that was carrying my work, well it has to be Key West. We knew Key West. We met here, we lived here, we said let’s go back to Key West. From Hawaii we had our baby and she was four months old and we brought her on the plane with our dogs and opened the gallery, a week before Irma!

MARK:           And then, your parents were living in Ft. Lauderdale during that time? Right, that’s another decision too because closer to family. When you’re in Hawaii, you are not seeing anybody. 

ANNA:           But everyone came to see me! 

MARK:           It’s still hard to do that, you’re like 12 hours from East Coast. 

ANNA:           True, but you’d be surprised. Everyone was like, so when can we come visit? Same with Key West, I mean, people love it here too. Lots of visitors. 

MARK:           For sure, we were here like four months and we already have people lining up that want to come here. 

ANNA:           Everyone’s lining up, and that’s why you’re building that little backyard. 

MARK:           Okay so Key West …you’re here, you have the studio, you have the gallery, you are seeing success, are you thinking of expanding? 

ANNA:           I don’t know what the future holds for me. I’m, like I said I always look for what’s new and exciting and right now, I think we want to open, and this is out of left field you’re going to think, but a winery in Oregon. 

MARK:           Oh my god, no it’s not. It would be like my dream. If you need me to come work there, in the summers for free because you know the kid.     

ANNA:           We will definitely be taking all the help we can get. 

MARK:           I will work there, my whole family will come, we will bring our own tent, we will sleep in the tent. We just need soap. 

ANNA:           That’s what we are excited about. We are excited about doing something that people can come together and produce organically and enjoy, not only do you get to grow this beautiful thing, but you get to consume this beautiful thing, and with my art background and my husband’s financial background and science background, we are thinking Art + Science is what we are going to call it. 

MARK:           Listen, it’s nature and art combined. It really is, to be able to use nature and I’ve researched a lot on wineries and just, not even being the winery, just being a producer of the grapes and you’re like, I’ll sell to other wineries. Just the, unless you’re buying a winery already, and you’re growing that’s like having a child times 1,000. It’s maybe five or six years before you’re producing anything and then there’s so much science and art and intuition that goes into that. 

ANNA:           It’s the ultimate challenge so we are excited to do that and then have an art gallery within the tasting room and kinda scale back a bit. I think I want to take a breather after these three years in Key West which was the length of my lease. With the amount of overhead that I’ve had to meet, I’ve gone from zero to space I feel like. I’ve just worked myself so hard that I want to get back in touch with nature and nurture. Maybe have another baby, I don’t know. 

MARK:           This is like, definitely a round two, I’m looking at my notes and I don’t know if I’ve touched on anything yet. 

ANNA:           Oh no!

MARK:           Let me ask a couple of other questions, and it’s my fault, it’s not your fault because you’re like, winery and I could go on and skip over that, but I’m like Oh my god, no please. Tell me, and we may have already touched on some of these things, biggest and worst more horrible failure at the time?  

ANNA:           Oh man.

MARK:           Not personal, you, no no about your business. 

ANNA:           No that wasn’t a failure, that was me doing what was right for my life.

MARK:           Congratulations. 

ANNA:           But I guess with the art…

MARK:           Or business… it could have been I should have priced it at this and it did this. Or, I made this and nobody bought it or whatever. 

ANNA:           I think if you’re maybe speaking to take a lesson away from this, it’s that you gotta be a numbers person. You’ve got to accept the reality; it’s not just a dream and they don’t loan people money to buy a house unless you can prove on paper that you’ve made that much money for two years. For me, it’s like I was kind of, well I had no track record. I had no history. But my husband being in finance, he was like, look let’s sit down and talk about and I’ve done this all by myself. He loaned me the money at the beginning and I know this is personal information, but I’m not ashamed of it, he gave me a loan and I’ve been paying him back ever since. I want this to be 100% mine, but what I didn’t realize is how much working capital it would take to sustain growth and sustain the slow season. I think that when you open a business anywhere there’s going to be a season unless you’re in a service industry. If you’re selling goods in a tourist town, there’s usually a season so you have to think about six months of not making any money and you have to think about how am I going to grow this? I have to buy new inventory. I have to move into a bigger space. It all takes money. If you want to grow, you have to have that capital to grow. I think just trying to be realistic about the business side of it and understanding exactly what it’s going to take not only to withstand a year of business, have that money in the bank, but what you’re going to need to grow after that.

MARK:           And not to be ashamed to go to friends or family and this, this is your husband and ask for that. That is so much better. There’s three degrees on how you want to raise capital (1) you want to go to friends and family, the good news about that…

ANNA:           No interest rates. 

MARK:           You’re not going to screw them over either because you’ve got to see Uncle Frank at Christmas and if you’ve screwed him over. Yeah, this is good people. Then (2) you can take a loan which sounds like the 80’s but people can actually take a loan, or (3) you can raise capital and give away a big chunk of your business. Nowadays it’s so easy to raise capital because there’s so much in the system, fake capital in the system that it’s like now you have to answer to someone, and someone else is your boss, you may lose a big percentage of your company, you are now worried about answering to someone with a Harvard degree instead of a business degree of life, why you have to pay back or why you can’t and things like that, and the good news about that is, when you take a loan from a bank or when you take a loan from friends and family, you now are in a cash flow business. You are thinking about how can I make money with the business to not just pay the loan back, but sustain the business. Whereas when you’re getting it from a venture capitalist it’s like, hey it’s been 10 years and we are losing a million dollars a year for the last ten years, that doesn’t take a genius to do that, to lose money month after month after month. But it does take somebody with skill to take the loss and shrink it month after month until you’re now profitable and then you have enough money to start paying back the people that helped you.

ANNA:           I got in that position about a year ago and this time it’s dead, it is the deadest time. Nothing was coming in and I’m like and I was getting so nervous and I don’t want to borrow more money from Steve, I just want to do this on my own, and I’ve been so blessed to have been able to do it up to that point and then I just thought, what am I doing wrong? Do I need to get out of this? I was having all this self-doubt and wanting to just get rid of it and move on. Not think about the hard part of it.

MARK:           Be more of the artist and less of the business. 

ANNA:           Yeah, but I also think the best thing about this three-year lease is that it’s the biggest commitment I’ve ever had to make business-wise and it’s forced me to work through the hard times. At that time, I was thinking like you said, shrinkage, how do I go through find out where I’m losing and cut that and then find out where I can gain and promote that. So, I had to reassess whereas maybe some people would just say, “screw it 

we’ll move onto the next idea.” I thought that I can’t afford to do that. I’ve already invested so much in this; I have to pull it through and that’s exactly what I did. I reassessed and I went out and did a few shows and called a few clients and like, “hey what are you… how are you loving your art today?” You just have to hustle, I guess. 

MARK:           Let me ask you a personal question. 

ANNA:           Sure.

MARK:           Do you hate doing that? Total honesty, over your art? Which one do you love more? 

ANNA:           It’s evolved. 

MARK:           It sounds to me, that you like a little bit of both. You’re like, I like the pain of the business part but you like the challenge of it. 

ANNA:           I think in all honesty, oh gosh, I don’t know. 

MARK:           We can always edit it. 

ANNA:           No, it’s fine. I just don’t want to come off sounding shallow or anything, but…

MARK:           It’s not and I’ll give an example for me. There are, and I’m a big Tony Robbins guy, I’ve gone to all of his events and he has a thing called Business Mastery and one of the things he talks about is people are ingrained with their DNA – is being an artist, an entrepreneur, or a manager/leader. Tony is an artist, because 80% of his time is to do these seminars and 95% of his income is not from those. 

ANNA:           You wouldn’t say he’s an entrepreneur? 

MARK:           No. He says that he’s an artist at heart. But he has built the muscle of being an entrepreneur. So, anybody could be all of it, but at your core like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg with Facebook, he’s not going to sell it. He’ll never sell it because he’s an artist. That’s a little bit of a difference there. 

ANNA:           I don’t think I can put a label on myself. I’m really split down the middle between entrepreneur and art because as much as I love art and I know that it’s my true gift in this world, I ask God at five-years old when we were in church and they were talking about gifts and I prayed and I said, “God tell me what my gift is?” And I picked up a camera at 12 and everyone told me I was good at it. So, I thought maybe this is my gift. And I have led my life from that, but at the same time I’m constantly wanting to build and grow new things and you could call that an artist or you could call that an entrepreneur. 

MARK:           If I were to give you a billion dollars but you could never be talented at art again, would you take it? 

ANNA:           Yeah. 

MARK:           Then you’re entrepreneurial. There’s your answer everybody! And there’s nothing wrong with that.

ANNA:           That’s shallow but…

MARK:           It’s not shallow, absolutely not, it’s understanding and this whole conversation has been about being self-aware. What a lot of people do is they are judgmental and they don’t really understand. This is why the origin story and the learning about hardship, or the things that you’ve done along the way, is important. She’s a young blonde girl who is an artist and whoopie doo. There’s so much more depth and meat that comes with that, that you have to understand that and you never pass judgment, but you still need to understand those things. 

ANNA:           I felt that judgment really quick when I was in art school in New York, I was in school with all these kids who were doing it for the art. They were true artists. Here I am wanting to sell things with my imagery, wanting to work for advertising agencies, wanting to make money with my talent, right? Because that’s what my mom always did growing up. So, I realized right then and there that I’m in this to provide, like we said, and to have a lifestyle. If someone said, here’s all the money you were ever worried about making and you can just enjoy your life with your family now and experience the world, Heck yeah! I wouldn’t need the art anymore; the art is what gives me the opportunity to live my life the way I live it. 

MARK:           Like we talked about earlier, it’s something you are passionate about doing so you love doing the art. 

ANNA:           Yeah, it brings me joy.

MARK:           And it brings you money.

ANNA:           But it brings me money more than anything, but do I enjoy spending time with my daughter? Or doing a photo shoot? I’d rather be with my daughter. I think that’s where it kinda comes down to. 

MARK:           You could always grow grapes and forget about that art thing. 

ANNA:           And me and my daughter can grow grapes and sell that and we don’t need to show our expression through the camera or whatever. 

MARK:           One other thing that’s good too is that it’s not like, and maybe that answer would have been different if you had just started. You know, you’re so young in the journey of being an artist and owning this studio and the gallery and all that, but you’ve also produced a lot of pieces. You’ve done this, as well. 

ANNA:           Yeah, I’ve gotten that itch scratched you could say. But also thinking more about that question, I feel like it’s kinda loaded because if you take away the creativity, would life just be bland?

MARK:           Right. Well it wouldn’t be creativity at all because there’s no money in the world to eliminate that, you can’t be happy anymore. 

ANNA:           Right, that’s what I mean. Yeah, if you take out any kind of creativity then there’s no spark for life so there’s no seeing things in a way that makes you happy. So, that is a deep, deep question. 

MARK:           It was more about you being more of an entrepreneur at heart who has sharpened the tool of being an artist and issuing that tool to fulfill your entrepreneurial tendencies. 

ANNA:           My spirit, which is get out there, produce something that people appreciate and want to be a part of. It doesn’t always have to make money for me, I just want to create new experiences for people like I’m throwing this crazy party for Fantasy Fest and I’m like, why do I do this to myself? But I want my clients to have a good time and I want it as a challenge to myself, can I do it? Can I pull it off? You know? And if everyone else enjoys it in the meantime, I’ve won. And I get fulfillment out of making other people happy in a way. 

MARK:           That’s great, and then that comes with being an entrepreneur as well. Also, manager/leader a lot of times they are thrown at the wayside like the people that are running the entire ship are very important, but when you’re an entrepreneur you are carrying – not that artists aren’t – but if you are an artist then you’re like, this is my work and I’m doing it this way. 

ANNA:           Right. 

MARK:           When you’re …

ANNA:           Doing it for the people, then you’re willing to evolve and change and do it for the people truly. Give the people what they want!

MARK:           Yeah, give it to them! All right, so what advice would you give somebody that is an artist but wants to get into the, and say they are a hobby artist but they are talented, and they want to, because we are not going to get into how do you feel that you’re talented, that’s a whole ‘nother thing, but if they know they are talented and people have told them they are talented and they want to go out there and start selling their work, besides calling you and showing it to you and your gallery, what do you do?

ANNA:           There’s so many ways, but first you know, if you are talented and you have something that is different, I think that’s the biggest thing to understand that it has to be different, it has to stand out and it’s like the big thing they ingrained in us in art school was that you want someone to look at it and know that that is your work. It has to have an identity. It has to be you. It has to be just as individual as you are. So, if you have that and you aren’t’ just doing the same thing everybody else is doing because you don’t want to lie to yourself that you’re maybe going to be successful if you’re just drowned out by all of the other people doing the same thing, then you could get an Etsy shop. You could sell it on Instagram. You could do an art show. You could do a local benefit at whatever charity is going on and donate some art so that it gets in front of people who will show up at that charity and talk to people about your work. Maybe you never know who you’re going to run into. You could approach galleries, that’s how I did it from day one. I went straight in the door and said, here’s my work, what do you think? Well, we don’t deal with photography, cool, be back in six months. Came back, evolved and if that’s what you really want, you find that third door. You know you find a way to get in and do it and so for that emerging artist it’s just always just look for ways to, if you want to get out there and sell your work, to do just that. It’s like you can start anywhere. You can literally start selling at your kid’s bake sale. I don’t know. 

MARK:           I mean it seems easier when, and I don’t want to make it sound like it is easier for this person or that person, but when you spend your youth through challenges and through getting a lot of no’s to get to a yes, that builds a skin for a lot of business in the future because you can’t just, like I don’t want people listening to think, wow, she went into a studio or a gallery and said “hey, I have this photography” and they are like, we don’t do this and then you just came up with this new original thing and brought it there and were successful. 

ANNA:           I mean, but it was like that. I knew that I was passionate about photography and I knew I was good at photography. I knew that I had something, I had something and I believed in it. When they told me that, I almost did it as a joke, to say “oh is this what you want?” You know? Oh, you like that? Oh cool, maybe I like that, too.

MARK:           Was it competitive? You’re like, I’ll show you, look at this.

ANNA:           Yeah, it was competitive but it was also kinda close minded at a young age to be like, you know, I don’t know – it was and it wasn’t – I was willing to evolve whereas if I was a true artist like you’d say, then maybe I would say, well screw you if you don’t like it then, I don’t want to. But you know what I can be humbled, I can try something new, just like with carrying artists in my gallery, I think that has led to my continued ability to do what I do. I’m willing to evolve and I think anyone in this world that’s not willing to evolve, I mean we are species of evolution, you have to be willing to evolve. 

MARK:           Great answer. I know this answer will probably change throughout your life because I think for me, when I think of the answer now and in 20 years it’s going to be different, but what legacy do you want to leave behind at this moment? 

ANNA:           I don’t often think about that. I am sure there will be one. 

MARK:           What do you think your friends and family would, or people or your kids or people you would want them to say about you when you’re gone? 

ANNA:           That I was incredibly inspiring and a joy to be around, no that sounds cheesy. I should have really gone over these questions before. 

MARK:           No, it’s better to be, like I didn’t know anything about you. For me, I want people to say you know what? This guy actually cared and he did things not expecting things in return. Like to me, that would be a blessing to leave and that’s what people say about me into the future. 

ANNA:           Okay, well I think, I don’t know I see myself as I want to help people be happy and get the most out of life and I love the, well the biggest thing I love about this space on Duval Street is that I get to talk to complete strangers everyday and this woman yesterday came in and she said, “you know I’m a survivor breast cancer and I’ve been thinking about this art that I want to do” and I’m like, well what’s there to think about? Why aren’t you doing it? And she said, “I just don’t know how to start.” And I said well, what have you got? What have you got for me? Like, ask me a question. I’ve been working with resin for years because she wanted to use resin but she didn’t know how. So, I said I’ll tell you right now if you’re going to use casting resin or if you’re going to be pouring deep, you need to use blah – blah – blah and I gave her all these things and you could go on YouTube and learn how. Just go home and I want to inspire people to take that step. To take that leap into finding their own fulfillment and happiness. I get so frustrated when you meet people that say, “well I don’t know what I’m good at.” I’m like no, you’re just apathetic, you’re really just kind of an apathetic person. 

MARK:           Or you’re scared. 

ANNA:           Or scared, or you lack passion. So, I like to inspire those people to believe in themselves and say, well maybe I could be good at this and maybe I should try it. 

MARK:           Great quality to have to be a mom, too. 

ANNA:           Yeah. 

MARK:           Okay, we are almost done and it’s been very long and we’re almost done. Just a couple of quick fun questions that I always ask at the end here. What is your favorite Key West event to attend? 

ANNA:           Oh boy. Fantasy Fest, you can just be who you want to be. You can be creative, you can be crazy, you can be naked, you can do whatever you want and it’s a blast. 

MARK:           And there’s so many days that you can do each one of those in a different day. 

ANNA:           Halloween is by far my favorite holiday ever. 

MARK:           It’s my wife’s too so she likes getting dressed up all the time. 

ANNA:           Totally. It’s so exciting to just be something different for a day. That’s my favorite thing about going to a move, you get to be in a different world for an hour. So, just experiencing that is pretty cool. 

MARK:           What about favorite restaurant to go to?

ANNA:           Nine-One-Five. Upstairs, Point Five. 

MARK:           That was not even a hesitation on that one. 

ANNA:           Go see Andrew and Heather there, they are amazing.

MARK:           Awesome, well maybe I’ll get them on the podcast. What about favorite hidden local spot? That tourists may not know about which is hard now.

ANNA:           Mary Ellen’s is pretty cool. 

MARK:           I don’t even know that. 

ANNA:           Really? It’s right behind me, right beside the old where Two Cents used to be, and Two Cents used to be my favorite. 

MARK:           Yeah, me too. 

ANNA:           They got demolished, but they are going to rebuild supposedly. 

MARK:           Oh, they are? Well, I know they moved the bar and they moved the whole bar to their other location. 

ANNA:           I think they are just getting city approval, but they are going to be back up and running, not too long. But I think Mary Ellen’s is a really cool dive bar they’ve got an amazing little restaurant and it’s like a tiny little kitchen that makes grilled cheeses and they do trivia night over there and it’s fun. It’s like, pretty divey. 

MARK:           I like divey, you need a little divey in your life. What about place for music? I mean we are right across over here from the Parrot. 

ANNA:           Oh, I get blasted by the Parrot every day. Music, I’ve never been but I’ve been told that there’s a jazz brunch at the Ocean Garden hotel? The Gardens Hotel? And it’s not far from here and I’ve been meaning to check it out.

MARK:           Yeah, my wife told me. She didn’t go yet, she’s like we have to go for this jazz brunch at the Gardens Hotel, we have to go. 

ANNA:           I know, we should all go. 

MARK:           Yeah definitely. What about for happy hour? 

ANNA:           Honestly, happy hour, Art + Wine coming soon to Anna Sweet Studios. But, right now I truly, truly love Sunset Key. I like getting out there and you don’t feel like you’re on, well you feel like you’re on an island in the middle of the ocean when you go out to Ocean Key, or sorry Sunset Key and you’re just staring at the water and you get the unobstructed view of the sunset. Whereas, anywhere else you are going to be staring at Sunset Key.

MARK:           What about tourist attraction that you take out of towners to? 

ANNA:           I always like to go to the butterfly garden and I know it sounds cheesy.

MARK:           No, it’s a big hit from a lot of people I ask. 

ANNA:           Yeah, the butterfly garden or I don’t really bother with the Hemingway House it’s just like okay that’s a house cool.

MARK:           Right, and then the guy killed himself and you’re like ugh.

ANNA:           Oh, it’s depressing. Honestly there’s a whole circuit and I’m sure that you hear from people from Key West it’s like just these bucket list things you gotta check off your list. One of them being Captain Tony’s flipping that quarter in the fish’s mouth.

MARK:           I always see people doing it and sometimes they go like one foot over and I’m like buddy, a little more juice into that throw. But there’s a bucket list of people that come and I want to do all these things and I always try to find that obscure thing. Do you have other gallery friends that you can do a little art tour with, or are you just too busy? 

ANNA:           I tried in the beginning. I wanted to develop an art crawl for the city but every person I asked about it, they were like, yeah, we tried that and it didn’t work out and so and so didn’t want to participate and so and so didn’t want to participate. I mean a lot of the art galleries here, unfortunately, have been around for so long and they are so set in their ways and they are so competitive and not really open to promoting any other business but their own. I’m not trying to talk bad about anybody, I’m just, I’ve tried to bring up these things and if I really had the time and energy I would push through anyway and do it anyway, but right now I’m just trying to make sure I pay my rent. 

MARK:           You’re focused on the important things right now. Last question, besides where they can find you and all that, we’ll get to that and that will be the last question. Give us a tip of the day, it can be a new gadget, a new food, a book you’re reading, podcast, anything. 

ANNA:           Oh boy, the pressure is on. Tip of the day, I think everyone should carry and this is going to sound so hippie of me, but everyone should carry their own refillable water bottle because our consumption of plastic water bottles just breaks my heart every day. I get so much joy from refilling this water bottle it’s incredible to think that the oceans are what have made my career and without that ocean I wouldn’t be sitting where I am today. To not be contributing any more plastic to that ocean is something that we can all remember. 

MARK:           They say 2050 there will be more plastic than fish. 

ANNA:           Yes, and it’s the sad truth and every bit of plastic that’s ever been made is still out there today. I think if you can buy a hydro flask and I just upgraded to the 40 because that’s how much water I drink every day and I just, it’s one of the best things I’ve invested in this year and I won’t go anywhere without it. 

MARK:           Awesome, I love that. It’s definitely something to do. People don’t understand when it comes to recycling, we don’t have to end the show on that big hippie rant, but when it comes to recycling of plastics, it goes in tiers. So, let’s say it’s a plastic bottle that you recycle, cool then that maybe goes to a bag. Then from the bag they can’t use it for anything else. Then it goes into the dump. So, all recycling…

ANNA:           And we won’t even go into the fact that 90% of recycling doesn’t actually get recycled because it’s not recycled properly there’s no recycle education. So anyway, that’s a whole podcast for another day. 

MARK:           Where can people find you, find about your work, let’s talk about here in Key West instead of the other locations. 

ANNA:           Here in Key West you can visit me at 513 Duval Street, it’s my gallery, my original space, or my new studio where I produce everything is juts around the corner across from Charlie Mac’s and the Green Parrot and that’s at 417 Southard Street. Pretty soon we are going to be opening a wine bar, so you can come enjoy the art and some really amazing wine.

MARK:           Then online, AnnaSweet.com? 

ANNA:           https://www.annasweet.com/

MARK:           And I’ll put all this in the show notes. 

ANNA:           And that’s on Instagram, too: https://www.instagram.com/annasweetgallery/

MARK:           Like I said, I’ll put all that in the show notes. There’s a couple of other Anna Sweet Instagram things I see.

ANNA:           I have lots of Instagram’s.

MARK:           I’ll put all this, and look, if I was a woman and my name was Anna Sweet, I’d be putting it everywhere too… because it is a very cool name. 

ANNA:           It’s my born name, I did not decide that name for myself. That is my grandfather’s name and it came from the Mayflower, English descent.

MARK:           As long as your husband’s name isn’t sour. 

ANNA:           Ahhh. It’s pretty cool because his Granddad was a very famous Yankee so it wouldn’t be the worst last name to take, but I am not giving up my name. 

MARK:           I wouldn’t not in this world. It was a pleasure talking to you, we dug down the rabbit hole and we could have kept going so I apologize if it was a little long winded and if that’s coming from me and I appreciate everything that you do. You are super talented, you are super down to earth, and people need to come check out your work. Thank you 

ANNA:           Thank you so much.  

Lately, I have come across a lot of people that have asked me about the equipment I use for my Backyards of Key West Podcast. Some seem to be simply curious, but others have an interest in starting their own show.

Should you start your own show? Let me be very clear when I say that the answer is, “YES!”

Before we get into all of the equipment, programs, tools, and instructions, let’s cut to the chase and eliminate any excuse for not starting your podcast. 

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We are having a conversation between Mark Baratto and Rich Pesce. 

MARK:           This is the Backyards of Key West Podcast and this is a first for me. Normally I go to other people’s businesses and I talk to them and I am kinda like in their trench. But here I’m pulling up, right on Eaton Street, I’m looking and seeing that this is the Calvin Klein residence. Right?

RICH:            You didn’t know that? 

MARK:           I was just thinking that. I’m sitting outside by the pool in this amazing man’s backyard and it is incredible. This is the quintessential reason why I started the Backyards of Key West Instagram account because not only is the house amazing from the front but then you walk out and it’s just spectacular in this backyard. The pool, the outside lounging area, a little fountain, orchids everywhere, it’s just amazing. Now that you’re jealous by hearing the backdrop of where I am, I want to introduce our guest for today which is Rich Pesce. Not “pesh,” like Zuppa di Pesce, and he has a number of different businesses down here and we connected on Instagram. I really wanted to talk to him because this podcast is really about Key West, the people that are making it happen, the businesses that are down here, why people come down here and all these great questions that I think are great, and hopefully you guys think are great, too. Why don’t we start off with, give me a little background on your current business? It could be the one because I know you are also from New York, so your main business and then we can talk about the businesses down here.

RICH:            Okay, so my main business in New York is construction management. We basically only work in Manhattan and we manage all types of construction, new construction, renovation projects and we also self-perform construction as well. 

MARK:           Is it primarily in the New York state area or are you branched out besides Key West and other places?

RICH:            No, it’s specifically in Manhattan alone, not even in the state, just in the city of Manhattan.

MARK:           Wow, so are you renovating small rises, or how’s that? 

RICH:            I started out doing 6-story elevator type buildings, new construction and then I started building up and my tallest building was like 12-stories. Then the market changed in 2008 – 2009.

MARK:           Sorry to interrupt, but when did you start doing that business? 

RICH:            We opened up my business in 2001. Then I got some experience.

MARK:           Before September 11th

RICH:            Yes, before September 11th. Now that you bring up September 11th we were actually building a building and we were on the roof finishing off the building and we saw everything because in the location we were, the zoning and all the buildings were low, until that financial district where you see all the tall buildings, we had a straight shot and they were actually calling over the radio for any skilled labor at the moment and we sent our guys down there. They chose only a few and then sent the rest of the guys away and it was very unorganized, but everybody was …

MARK:           The whole city was under turmoil.

RICH:            Crazy, crazy, crazy time. 

MARK:           Being a New Yorker myself it’s like I get chills even just thinking about that. Everybody remembers exactly where they were,  but you were right there seeing it firsthand and some of your guys went there.

RICH:            We all went down there to volunteer and we were there, like hours after it happened and it was like a movie set. There were city buses that were just crushed and cabs crushed, fire trucks crushed, in like two-feet of dust which looked like snow like we were going through ashes, two-feet of ashes up to your knees and it was really wild scenario and seeing it firsthand. 

MARK:           You started your business, you’re all excited to get into this business, and then all of a sudden September 11th hits and then, how did this affect your business? I want people to understand that some people give up when that happens. Other people dive headfirst, so what did you see? Did you see the opportunity? Tell me about that. 

RICH:            I lived in Manhattan when it happened and everything below 14th Street was shut down by the Military Police. No cars, you could only walk, and if you were allowed past 14th Street you had to show I.D. that you lived there. So, everything died as far as business was concerned, unless you had business north of 14thStreet and most of my business was concentrated down in East Village and in West Village and Central Village so everything was shut down. Everybody knows in Manhattan that it is the financial capital of the world. 

MARK:           Yeah, shut down Wall Street.

RICH:            And real estate and it’s the highest in the world. Everybody knew it was going to come back it was just a matter of when and everybody was really more focused on helping people and helping people who lost family, friends, I mean I lost a dear friend of mine in 911. It really wasn’t like, where are we going to get business next? It was more like figure out how do we volunteer, what we do, everybody was angry and mixed emotions, but we made it through and it’s bigger and obviously better than ever.

MARK:           Of course. Typical New York.

RICH:            Yeah, typical New York. It was a crazy time. 

MARK:           So, for your business, when things started to settle down were you getting better deals on projects? 

RICH:            You know? It wasn’t like there was a lot of, like all of a sudden there’s a lot of things for sale, but a lot of people moved out of, and specifically out of Battery Park City which is down by Wall Street and the financial, I mean the residential district by the financial district. What the city was doing was offering six-months rent-free.

MARK:           I remember great deals, if you were going to go back into the Wall Street area.

RICH:            There wasn’t really many business opportunities so to speak, in my business anyway. There was a lot of rebuilding, but it was done by the city and the city would hire union companies because it was all televised and we are a non-union company, so it wasn’t something that we could…

MARK:           Okay, so you had to hustle and do your own thing to basically build your business which clearly is a successful business and then we can fast-forward to how did you end up in Key West? Did you come here to visit? And then we can start gearing into that part of the story.

RICH:            When I was, about 12-13 years old, my Dad came down with a friend and we stayed at the Casa Marina. It was the Marriott at the time, it wasn’t what it is today. There was a project under construction called 1800 Atlantic, the condos and it was under construction and my Dad bought a condo off the plan, off the blueprint.

MARK:           Like preconstruction?

RICH:            Yeah, they were offering. So, he purchased that, and I loved it. I was 12-years old and I was like, my Dad was doing his own thing and he was remarried and had his girlfriend and I was by myself pretty much just winding through Key West. 

MARK:           You grew up in New York City?

RICH:            I grew up in the suburbs in Long Island.

MARK:           I was going to say, typically if when you’re growing up in New York City, those kids grow up even faster so being left to your devices, it’s like no problem!

RICH:            Yeah, yeah, yeah. We were in the city; you know my friends and I were in the city all the time.

MARK:           Do your own thing and if you can survive that, anything’s possible.

RICH:            It was something that I wanted to do anyway, I was like, oh my God this is great! So, I just rented a bicycle and just kind of…

MARK:           Did you sneak into any bars? Did they let you in any bars? 

RICH:            I don’t think I went to any bars. No, I don’t think I did. Now, I would be but then I wasn’t thinking about that.

MARK:           You were a good kid.

RICH:            But I looked around and I was so enthused with the architecture and the vibe. For me, that’s was like, I really absorbed it. Then periodically I would come back with my Dad visiting and then eventually into the condominium that he purchased once it opened and fast forward, that condo was in our family for years and my father passed away in 1997, so my stepmother sold the condo. We had no reason to be here anymore and my Dad wasn’t here and it wasn’t the same, and then I purchased my own condo at 1800 Atlantic, maybe 6-years later. I did it really for an investment and also to come down.

MARK:           There was some nostalgia coming here.

RICH:            Especially there as well.

MARK:           Right, with your father and the times you were here and kinda growing up a little bit here on those vacations. 

RICH:            It’s kind of interesting because I knew what he purchased the apartment off the plan for, so he paid $225,000 for the same exact unit because most of them are the same layout, just different views, his was on the second floor, this was on the fourth floor, and it was however many years later, and I got mine on a short-sale. I paid like $335,000 for it. 

MARK:           Right, and that was a deal.

RICH:            Crazy deal because mine was a penthouse unit and fully furnished, it was renovated, so it was a really good deal. I kept that and then I was renting it and doing it on my own through VRBO and I was doing really well with it and then I was going down myself and hanging out, having fun, and then another one came up available. It was top price, it was no deal at all, but it had a transient license which I’ve learned to know how valuable it was and I didn’t know at the time because I am just learning the whole system down here. It was an oceanfront condo with transient license and I purchased it I think for $875,000.

MARK:           Wow, so you’re like holy cow.

RICH:            Yeah, this is crazy! But I rented it out and I mean it was fully booked all the time. So, I kept it for two years and then we would come down with family and we would have two condos at the same time so it was a lot of fun and then I just said, I would love to own like a motel. Just little motels, you know?

MARK:           Right, there are so many boutiques here, and they are just. 

RICH:            And they were like, I saw a couple that were like six rooms, so I looked online and I saw an ad and I answered the ad and it was an old ad so the gentleman said, the broker said, “what are you looking for?” and I told him I was looking for something I can remotely manage from New York, but I definitely want to get into this business because I saw how well I was doing on the small apartment. 

MARK:           When you contacted him, did you let him understand that you were somewhat in this business? You weren’t some newbie getting into it, like you may be new to the hotel business but you were in the construction business or did you hold that as like an ace?

RICH:            No, I told him that I owned at 1800 Atlantic and that I rented through VRBO, so he kinda got the gest of what I was looking to do. So really, at first, my whole direction was wrong because it was like, how are you gonna operate a motel? You are going to have to have staff, cleaning people, general manager and…

MARK:           A slush fund for things.

RICH:            But who, and what are you going to do if somebody calls in sick? You gotta be here, again I didn’t really think of those things. But he found a unique buying opportunity for me that was off the market, that was from clients of his who owned five or six bed and breakfasts down here so they had this house, 824 Fleming, a beautiful -beautiful house in a Victorian style I want to say. Porch on the top, porch on the bottom, built in the 1800’s  and it had transient licenses because it used to be a bed and breakfast. They didn’t operate it as a bed and breakfast, they operated it as a single-family home and what they would do is they would send their people down, more like their executives down from Ohio, that’s where they are based out of as a retreat home. Like a bonus, hey take your wife and kids and go down for the weekend and they found it really wasn’t working for them because it was a seven-bedroom house and most of the time people only needed three-bedrooms, so they would send other employees at the same time and it was kinda weird that they were forced to be with each other’s families so it really didn’t work for them. So they wanted to sell it, only a year after they purchased it, so I came in and we made an agreement and I purchased it and come to find out it had transient licenses but they were different transient licenses, they were transient licenses with ROGO credits. I don’t know if you know what that is? 

MARK:           No, what is that? 

RICH:            There’s two different types; regular transient license which means that you can transfer that transient license to an operator who already has transient licenses on that property. But ROGO credits means that you can transfer that license to any type of property as long as it’s in the receiver zone. So, these made them much more valuable than I think everybody knew. 

MARK:           And a transient license means that you can rent it out daily if you want, compared to monthly which is other homes.

RICH:            Correct. They became more valuable than expected because it had what they call the ROGO credits. It has five licenses, ROGO credit licenses because there were five rooms that were at one point in business and in operation. I currently operate it as a single-family home and I hired a vacation manager/broker so to speak.

MARK:           Right, that handles vacations.

RICH:            That handles all of the vacations and they do a wonderful job. It’s Vacation Homes of Key West and they do a great job and as I said, it was fully booked and what was happening was we were coming down as a family a few times a year and we would come down pretty much in high season like everybody else because the kids were off from school. 

MARK:           Exactly, let’s come down for Christmas. And they are like, what are you doing?

RICH:            Everybody, my kids they are loving it, and I’m sitting back and going… wait a minute, I just lost like $10,000!

MARK:           Right? You could go rent someplace else, go to a hotel. 

RICH:            Like what am I doing? So when I realized that it was a really good business to just leave alone. So, a friend of mine, an old friend of mine from Key West who was taking care of this property here told me that the seller was looking to sell and before it went on market you should come look at it, and I came.

MARK:           And that’s the one we are sitting in right now?

RICH:            The one we are sitting in right now. And I make an off-market deal with that one as well. Which tend to be the best because there’s no competition and there’s no bidding war and depending on someone, if this house would have went up for sale and they marketed it correctly, as you know, oh it’s Calvin Klein’s house and this house.

MARK:           Oh yeah and a bidding war, for sure.

RICH:            A bidding war because people just wanted the history of the house. So, I was able to side skirt that whole process which I think was a very valuable thing. And we did some upgrades and now this is the house that we come to when we stay and we let 824 Fleming just rent. So, you kinda figure and factor that in also, to offset the cost of this house. 

MARK:           Without giving numbers, does one cover the cost of both? 

RICH:            Um, not quite. 

MARK:           But almost?

RICH:            Well, if I didn’t have a management company it would.

MARK:           So just on rental income, it does. And then you have to pay staff.

RICH:            Right, in addition to staff, which only makes it easy for me so that I can operate my primary business in New York. When I do move down here at one point, I’ll take that over and have that income for myself. 

MARK:           Of course, but that’s amazing because I know that two, and I know that other house too, two spectacular homes and that’s what I tell people about what they don’t understand about Key West is, the rental market – if it’s the right house – and it’s marketed correctly is so strong down here especially in season and if you have a transient license, the amount of money you can get in season per week is ridiculous. 

RICH:            Especially if it’s a large home. Those people come down with multiple families and split the costs.

MARK:           Yeah, it makes sense, it’s more difficult to spend $20,000 when it is a family of three, where if you can have three families it’s a lot easier to swallow that pill.

RICH:            And also, cook and not have to go out to dinner, or lunch or breakfast every single, you know. 

MARK:           And location, like walking distance to everything. That saves a lot, too. Then you’re like, what do I have to rent a car? Rent scooters or something like that? If you have a couple of kids, it’s easy because you can walk everywhere. 

RICH:            Right. I think that people also want to get a feel for the island and feel like they are living here. So, I think that’s also a very big attraction. 

MARK:           Yeah, when my family and I – and we came down here a lot – we were living in Miami and we decided it was the place for us, we were like, we are gonna go rent. So, we went on Catherine Street, right down there, one block from Duval and more the quiet area, and we returned for a whole month there. It was funny because we were looking at, you know maybe we’ll just do a couple of weeks, like two weeks, but the two week cost was the same as a thirty-day cost because they didn’t have a transient license, so that was their way of being competitive. But it was awesome and we came in August because we wanted to feel the heat and everything, but being in Old Town and being so close to everything and being able to walk, is what made us fall in love with the whole island. Fall in love with the people and everything that’s here. 

RICH:            I agree. Coming from 1800 Atlantic, it’s all the way pretty much on the other side of the island, which had its benefits as well if you wanted to escape the hustle bustle, you are a seven minute cab ride away, but this is well, you definitely feel the island and you’re more in tune, I think with the whole vibe when you’re down here.

MARK:           As a fellow New Yorker, the walking here is spectacular. So, if you are in this area, you can just walk everywhere. Even in the heat, you just get used to it. You can just walk pretty much most of Old Town just to enjoy the homes, to see the side streets, and get coffee, get food, and everything. You can go to the beach on one side and go do sunset on the other from this location, it’s great.

RICH:            Exactly, we fell in love with the location. 

MARK:           You have the homes that you’re renting out and how do we now get into the Inn, because it’s more of an undertaking.

RICH:            I had found a house, also on Fleming, which before we bought this house we really, and we still do, really love Fleming Street. Great block, not so busy, nice neighborhood and I saw the artist house on Fleming was up for sale. I contacted them and I negotiated with the selling broker and I thought that I negotiated a very good deal. Again, I realized that wait a minute, how am I gonna run this? This is a full operational hotel/bed and breakfast type scenario. I contacted the people that I bought the home from at 824 Fleming, who have a hotel group and a hotel presence down here, they own Alligator and the Mermaid, West Winds, Island City House, Azul. 

MARK:           Yeah, great names.

RICH:            And another, maybe I’m missing one or two, so I contacted them and said, “hey I’m in contract to purchase the Artist House and gave them all the specs on it, and maybe you guys want to go partners?” Actually, when I first started I asked them if they would just manage it for me? They weren’t interested in just managing it for me because they only managed their own properties. So further negotiations and they agreed to come in 50/50 partner and closed and he was amazed on what a great deal it was. How come I didn’t know about this? I own this many properties. 

MARK:           Right, they should be knocking on their door.

RICH:            That’s what’s weird about Key West, you know restaurants pop up that no one knows, or businesses pop up and no one knows, or a house comes for sale. 

MARK:           Yeah, marketing is different down here, I find, than it is in other parts  and other cities because it’s like some businesses don’t have social media accounts, most still rely on print because down here the flyer  business, the print business is big. Especially when tourists come into town because they want to get that magazine and they want to get that booklet and stuff like that, they’re not really looking on social as much. But some of the other companies that I’d started to work with down here, once we get them on and do a social presence with them, it’s like gang busters because it’s so easy because it’s like starting in the early 2000’s on social down here. So, it’s great. There’s a lot of opportunity in Key West, especially if you’ve come from different cities with different things that are working really well like we work, in co-working spaces. If we opened a co-working space down here, I think it would crush it because there’s a lot of business owners and a lot of business people that don’t want to work out of their house, or out of the restaurant, or the  bed and breakfast and it would be nice to go to a place where rent is monthly and there’s opportunities to network and there’s conferences and stuff can be done. That’s just a little tip from me, anybody thinking of wanting to do that. 

RICH:            Maybe we’ll have a conversation later. But that’s one thing that I really fell in love with Key West, it’s a very small island with a lot of talented people in one area. 

MARK:           That’s why I started his podcast because people need to know that they are here. The people I’ve interviewed so far it’s amazing the risks that they’ve taken and how successful they’ve become so far. 

RICH:            Again, at a very young age, I had one eyebrow up and I was like, this place is special. And I’ve seen it through the years in a better directions and worse directions and different directions, but it’s always changing and everybody adapts and it’s positive and I knew it when I was twelve years old that at some point in my life, I’d want to live here. So, my goal is to retire down here and I’m trying to plant some seeds. 

MARK:           I have a sneaking suspicion that retire means just working out of this location for you.

RICH:            Yup. 

MARK:           I don’t think retire is sitting at this pool and doing nothing.

RICH:            Although that wouldn’t be such a bad thing either.  But I hear you. 

MARK:           You’d do that for a couple of months and then you’d find yourself wandering into new hotels that are for sale. 

RICH:            Getting back to the artist house, I brought them in and we purchased it together and they actually run it. They have staff, maintenance, they have general managers, they have…

MARK:           Multiple staff from their other locations so if they need to borrow. 

RICH:            I thought it was a brilliant idea for me, idea for them, because it was something that they could invest in that they didn’t have the opportunity to unless I brought it to them and I really couldn’t do without them as well. It was the perfect partnership and that was running for a few months and then they contacted me and said “hey, we are in the process of purchasing another hotel if you’re interested.” They sent me the specs and they said well, “look this is the deal and what do you think?” I invested I believe it was like 20% of that one which was Coco Plum, which is close to Mallory Square.

MARK:           Right, 611 Whitehead Street.

RICH:            Right, like two houses down from Green Parrot, which is a great location.

MARK:           Incredible location.

RICH:            And we are doing very, very well there because it was operated by a mother and a son. And from what we heard they wouldn’t rent rooms until they were clean, so they only had one cleaning lady and she just didn’t get to it, so they just didn’t rent it. So, it was a very underachieving.

MARK:           Right, their numbers were way off.

RICH:            Now we’ve got the numbers to where they are and seeing great success with it. Then not too long after that, we purchased Key West B&B, which is on William Street and I was really interested in that one because they already owned the Island City House and it is right next door, kinda like the backyards touch. We are putting a gate in there and any people who stay at Key West B&B can use the facilities which is beautiful grounds and I don’t know if you’ve been back there? Beautiful pool, beautiful koi pond and a nice garden, so you kinda get the best of both worlds. It’s like buying a portion of that as well. But our relationship is really really good, we speak once every month.

MARK:           Do you visit the properties yourself sometimes? 

RICH:            I have, I don’t go there to inspect. They are on their game. 

MARK:           It is definitely what I’m hearing is that the partnership aspect of this is really what helped you make this even more of a positive investment. Because you probably could have gone and done it yourself but the problem with doing that sometimes is that it’s a lot of Baptism by fire and it’s a learning by mistakes, but you had a team that already was in place and it was already successful doing this, huge staff and multiple locations and it was really just coming in and understanding that they clearly knew you as a smart businessman and you knew that they knew what they were doing and so that was a stroke of luck that you guys did that together. 

RICH:            Yes, definitely and I had experienced doing construction in Key West and it’s not very pleasant. 

MARK:           No, no. It’s like dealing with it now, and it’s not…

RICH:            Even if you’re not in the business, and I’m in the business, so it makes it even worse. But you hire someone and agree to a price and then you want them to show up, and they don’t show up. Or they show up on a random Wednesday at 2 o’clock to start, guys what happened to Monday? Oh well, you know.

MARK:           How about just letting me know that you weren’t going to come. Or they’ll just show up, and they won’t show up on Monday and then they show up Thursday and you’re like, what happened to you fellows were going to be here Thursday, we agreed on Monday.

RICH:            It’s a very funny way to do business down here and that’s why I think that if I came down here with the precision that we developed in New York and we offer our clients, if we came down here we’d be like “we want them!” Because….

MARK:           Yeah, because you’re like here’s our budget and we are going to stick to it and here’s our timeline and we are going to stick to it, and like…

RICH:            And this is when we’ll start.

MARK:           Yeah.

RICH:            This is when we’ll stop. What else do you need? Updated emails. Especially when you’re doing it remotely and really relying on someone to communicate. I would come down here periodically every two months and actually it was like every month I was coming down to check on the project and every single time I came I was like more displeased and more displeased about what was going on. I located a really great contractor who is probably one of the top contractors here through my attorney because it was, and you know I had some issues with building permit, and once he came aboard it was definitely a different experience. It was not to a New York standard, but it was definitely a bigger and better experience. 

MARK:           Here’s the thing, and you can’t knock anybody even in Key West or anything in any business they are doing most of the time and the reason why the failure rate after one year of a small business is like 70%, is because you are just learning. It’s like being a parent, who’d you learn from? I learned from my parents. And maybe they were like crazy, who’d they learn from? The grandparents in the Old Country. So, with the business you’re like, if you don’t have a mentor you’re just going off either a business book or you’re going on a couple of people you’re interested in and knowing what they do, and then you’re just learning as you go along because that’s always the story. Oh, the first five years this, or the first three years that, or they go out of business. If you’re lucky enough to find a mentor in that group, who is super successful, it is a dynamic learning, so what you’d accomplish in one year if you didn’t have them you’d accomplish in five years maybe. 

RICH:            So true.

MARK:           And then, it’s the dynamic of when the business grows. Because you may be running a business for five years with five people and now you have 20 people and it’s totally different. Now you have 50 people and it’s totally different. Everybody has this stride for a million dollars a year. They don’t realize that the bottom 1% of that and the 1% of the financially wealthy people in the United States, the bottom of that is $400,000. So, this magical million-dollar number, you don’t realize how difficult it is and very rare did anybody make that kind of wealth that didn’t work their face off for decades to get there. 

RICH:            It’s true.

MARK:           And you have to learn and navigate as things grow because like I said, if it’s a million-dollar business then it’s run one way. What about a 10 million, what about 100 million. It’s totally different beasts so you have to understand that and some people down here in the contractor world may be just worked for someone as a handyman first. Then got their contractor license and they are kinda doing things the way they were taught instead of understanding how to run a business first and that’s where your experience comes into play that you know how to run a business. In running a business and tying that to the contracting and being able to have foresight to, well these are some of the things that we could expect when it comes to permitting, when it comes to staff, when it comes that time of year of hurricane, all these things, that’s like a scientific formula and baking a cake the right way.

RICH:            I agree and I think that also coming from New York and working in the city and there’s so many shrewd businessmen and so many rich people who hire you, they don’t take no for an answer. They don’t accept when you don’t show up so we’ve developed such a good rapport and such a good track record and we are like a very well oiled machine from so many years of doing that and then you come down here and I feel like I could, it wouldn’t have to be construction it could be any business, that I applied myself at the same standards that I do where I am, I think that I would be successful. 

MARK:           For sure.

RICH:            Pride, which I think a lot of people do, and I love that also. A lot of people have pride and like you go to breakfast and they have a different flavor bread, homemade baked  bread, you know they don’t have to do that and they’d still get the customers. But they go the extra mile to show creativity and explore.

MARK:           The competition is so strong that it’s like, if you screw up once they can get rid of you and get the ten other people waiting in line that maybe almost just as good as you and that’s because the talent is so strong. I agree. So, come on down and help tweak some things down here.

RICH:            Yeah, yeah so that’s my goal. I have a young, well my youngest daughter is eight years old, so when she goes to college is probably going to be my shift. 

MARK:           And then are you, and I know it’s forecasting, but are you thinking of keeping your eye out for other projects down here? Is that something that’s always in the work right now, not then?

RICH:            You go through your year cash flow wise with your business and sometimes you’re cash poor or sometimes your business is doing very well as far as cash is concerned, but I look every single day. Every single day I’m online, on my phone, throughout my day, I have alerts set-up, I have contacts with brokers and if something comes up in my wheelhouse I’ll either get an alert or a phone call, or I’ll find it myself. Whether I execute it or not is another story. But I love to know what’s going on and I love to know. 

MARK:           Keep your pulse on the feel of what real estate is doing?

RICH:            Yeah, real estate and I’m always looking for hotels or motels, or bed and breakfasts, and will I jump? And there’s a few that are available right now. I feel they are super high. 

MARK:           I’ve seen a couple and they are pretty high.

RICH:            Then what happens is that you can pair it to your deal. And you’re like, wait a minute, either I got the best deal on the island? Or they are way off. So, you now, you kind of stick and move and you dance and all of a sudden, that’s the right partner and you just jump in and you do it and hopefully the timing is right with your cash flow.

MARK:           Sounds like cash flow and instinct?

RICH:            It is cash flow and instinct. And instinct is always first, I think. Cash flow, well you can always find cash and just bring in more partners.

MARK:           Right, exactly.

RICH:            But there’s no real timing to it. You gotta love it. And I love that, that’s one part of it that I love is that the chase and the find and where you can bring it and then watch it grow. That’s the best thing, so there will definitely be more projects and properties that will be acquired by the time I get down here.

MARK:           Nice, that’s exciting. Tell me what you’ve seen from the growth or change of business on the island? Because you have been coming here for so many years now, not suggesting you’re old or anything, but when you were a young lad you came down here and now you’re still coming as an adult and a businessman. What have you seen business wise change? 

RICH:            Definitely everything is more efficient. I think obviously the internet and technology helped that along. I was sad to see one of the big things for me growing up was Fast Buck Freddy’s was… and I would go in there all the time as a kid, as an adult, even if you bought anything or you didn’t, it was such a unique blend of goods that they sold and the way they designed the store. Were you ever?

MARK:           No, I never saw it.

RICH:            No, well it was where the CVS is on Fleming across from Banana Republic, I think? 

MARK:           Yeah, right on the corner there at Fleming and Duval? 

RICH:            Correct. It was like a really high-end department store but with funky clothing and they would do a New Year’s Eve window and they would dress the manikins  in really out-there clothes. So, it was really unique, really cool and they sold furniture, they sold make-up, anything you could think of, bathing suits, flip flops, you know really cool artwork and I think there was even a spot where they sold chocolates if I’m not mistaken. But it was really cool and it was sad to see that go. That was something that I thought was a staple in the neighborhood and another CVS moved in so that was a little bit, you know. 

MARK:           Right, we don’t need another one of those.

RICH:            But I’ve seen much more opportunity, I think. People utilizing the internet more as you mentioned before the social media is kicking in and everybody is getting used to it. It took a while, but you know, it happens, but the business is on an upward. I also saw that this used to be a nine-month vacation spot and now it’s a 12-month vacation destination. Which I think also might be attributed to social media in a way that more people are out and I see commercials in New York about Key West.

MARK:           I mean Florida itself is growing astronomical pace because of taxes and everything like that and the fact that a remote business and the internet is so much better. Remember this just 15 years ago there was no iPhone, none of this stuff, no social media and I mean it’s really like a bleep in time. You may be 50 years ago wouldn’t be able to do what you’re doing now. Work in New York, and come down here and work, what are you gonna get faxes going on? Now with technology being advanced and the fact that it’s paradise down here, I think there is more an influx of more fulltime people.

RICH:            Even if you compare it to Miami, I don’t really think that I could do what I do here in Miami. It’s just a different model. Different people. Different expectations. Everybody is worried about what they are wearing and what Lamborghini they are pulling into the hotel with and…

MARK:           For sure. So much more formal over there. 

RICH:            Whereas here, and I tell everybody, you could walk by someone on a bicycle with long hair, sunglasses, a ball cap and flip flops and he could be the richest guy on the island and no one would know. Which is super cool. No one is flashy and no one cares. 

MARK:           I think that is the appeal to wealthy people that come here that have beautiful houses, in Old Town and stuff like that, and are snowbirds, is that if you’re all about flash, you’ll want to go to Miami over here. So, I think that’s good because it keeps those characters out. But even if some of those characters do come down here? They like put on the flip flops, they take the t-shirt off, and they are like I could just be myself? 

RICH:            Right!

MARK:           And not really care about what I’m driving or any of this crap? I think they like that, it’s appealing even to that type of person. 

RICH:            I agree. I agree, and that’s where the vibe comes in.

MARK:           It’s islandy but we are in America and we can drive back to the mainland which is great. 

RICH:            It’s pretty funny that you say that, so everybody used to say to my Dad, like why won’t you go to Italy? Why won’t you go to the Caribbean? And he would say, “Key West is the Caribbean and it’s in the United States.” There’s no need for me to go anywhere else. He would always say that and it’s so true because it wasn’t like he was a fugitive of anything, he was like…

MARK:           Well, it’s nice to get in your car and go to Miami and now we can take the ferry over to Naples and that area, and it’s like great. And, an international airport, I flew right to LaGuardia, direct. I couldn’t believe that! It was great, but they don’t do back.

RICH:            Yeah I know, what is that? 

MARK:           It’s weird, but they go direct there, which is great. Listen it was great talking to you about business and I learned a lot about it and hopefully people here learn a lot. How can people get in touch with you? 

RICH:            You can email me: [email protected] and I can contact you back. 

MARK:           Social media? 

RICH:            Social media is: @themerrickconstructiongroup on Instagram. So, you guys want to reach out, no problem. 

MARK:           I will put all that stuff in the show notes and I’ll put the web addresses for all the Inns and the bed and breakfasts so people can find you, for sure. Now, before we go, I always end with some of the personal questions, which never are that personal. But they are always funs stuff like, what is your favorite event to attend down here? 

RICH:            Well, it used to be, of course, well I’m thinking and I’m changing it, we used to go to Sloppy Joe’s when they dropped the conch shell and I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that before? 

MARK:           No, I never saw it but I’ve heard of it.

RICH:            Well, my 13-year old daughter was, I want to say three months old, and we were down here and it was like, there’s no cars and it’s packed and kinda like Times Square’ish and on top of Sloppy Joe’s they drop a conch shell and I remember I was with a bunch of friends and I had my daughter and she’s three months and I don’t know if that’s good parenting or not, but she’s on Duval Street and it was a lot of crowds and I’m  kinda keeping people away from her, and they are coming near the baby and…

MARK:           Yeah, you’ve got the guard up!

RICH:            And they were like, why would you have a baby here? But whatever it’s Key West so you can do it. That was really a fun event to go to.

MARK:           Well, that’s for New Year’s Eve, right?

RICH:            Right. 

MARK:           You’re like thinking in your head and remembering being in Times Square watching the ball drop and being like, where do I go to pee? It’s freezing here. I can’t go anywhere. A $10 water over there in the corner but now you’re like it must be surreal that you’re holding the baby and you’re in Key West and life is good. 

RICH:            And Fantasy Fest is always fun but we have small kids, so it’s not really for small kids. We don’t really attend and it’s also a hard time because the kids are in school and you have to get away. But that’s always fun. We periodically come down and we just hit Lobsterfest, and you know, a lot of cool stuff. My dad used to come to the boat races, religiously. That was pretty cool. There’s a lot of events and we don’t really come down for events, we just come down to unwind and be here.

MARK:           To unwind, and if there happens to be an event going on, which is the October 1st they are every weekend, you’re like, “hey I like this one.” Okay cool. I’m going to check out, and of course for New Year’s Even I’ll be there for this, and just to go watch the conch drop. That is pretty cool. What about favorite restaurant? 

RICH:            Oh wow, that’s tough. Blue Heaven is a great find for us, it’s breakfast  and they also do lunch I believe and dinner, but we’ve only eaten breakfast there and we have a great time whenever we go. 

MARK:           It’s so Key West it’s like… you have to go.

RICH:            The live music at 10 in the morning and you walk out of there. 

MARK:           Roosters everywhere.

RICH:            You walk out of there after three Goose hounds and you’re already feelin’ good. 

MARK:           They’ve got that banyan tree there which is beautiful. 

RICH:            Louie’s Backyard is always a favorite, we go and I think they are renovating right now but every trip we always end our last night we eat at Louie’s. A&B Lobster House is always a good one.

MARK:           I’m telling you; it is so touristy but….

RICH:            It’s so good.

MARK:           It’s so good and all those restaurants in that little area you come for fish and shrimp and all that and they are just, I’m telling you… you gotta go! What about for a happy hour? I know Louie’s Backyard is always a top for happy hour.

RICH:            Right, that’s our go-to is Louie’s Backyard, where else for happy hour? I think we did it at LaTeDa. There’s a nice little happy hour there. 

MARK:           Nice, I like LaTeDa, the food is good there, too. Like lunch is really good and the atmosphere is cool, the whole story I found out about where the name came from. I guess there’s that little balcony where they do shows up there and someone was like, I don’t know peering out and looking at something to do with Cuba, you know I’m sure people will write in about that, but it’s interesting the history on the name and everything. 

RICH:            Yeah. 

MARK:           What about a place to watch music if you’re going to go out?

RICH:            Well, Green Parrot is the first thing that pops into everybody’s mind. Also Hogs Breath, they always have great bands there. My friend Matt manages the place from New Jersey.

MARK:           Nice.

RICH:            And, live music, I think that’s my go-to’s.

MARK:           Those are pretty good ones there. Alright, so the last question, always is: a tip of the day? It could be a favorite book? Favorite audio book? New technology? New shoes? I don’t know, new drink? It could be anything. 

RICH:            I would say my tip of the day would be to really seriously think about coming down to Key West and either spending time or investing. That’s my tip of the day and I think if you ask me that every day I’ll give you the same answer. It’s just my thing. 

MARK:           Well, Rich it was great talking to you. I learned a lot. There’s 1,000 more things I’d like to ask you, which I’ll do off-podcast. But it was a real pleasure, thank you very much. 

RICH:            All right, thank you for having me. 

MARK:           Thanks.

We are having a conversation between Mark Baratto and Chef Bill Hunt. 

MARK:           This is the Backyards of Key West podcast; my name is Mark Baratto and I’m here with Chef B. Please, I need the name here, all I know is Chef B. 

BILL:  Bill Hunt is my name and Charlie’s nickname so he uses that, but I don’t know where that came from but I’m okay with it. 

MARK:           It’s just easier I guess to say Chef B in the house! Or if he’s praising, Chef B! It’s easier for the cheering. 

BILL:             Yeah, you know I think he has his own language, basically. 

MARK:           We are going to try to get him on the podcast at some point or another and I think that would be fun to have him on here to hear all the other stories. And, I don’t know I’m sure he’s got a lot of them.  I’d like to get his perspective. But right now, we have the most important person, I would say on this podcast because you are the chef of the Smokin’ Tuna. 

BILL:              Yes, I’m here playing with the food on a daily basis and responsible for the crew and what we’re doing and the teaching of the program. And the purchasing is exciting for me buying all the local food that we use and that’s always been fun for me. So yeah it turned into, and it seems everywhere that I go if I’m lucky, I have some moldable people and people that are really interested in learning and growing and doing different things like that, so that is happening here. I have a few young guys and a couple of old friends that I brought in to work with me, so we have a really nice balance now and I’ve been here doing it long enough together with this crew that we are really excited for next season. And what we’ll be able to put forward that maybe we couldn’t six months ago.  

MARK:           Like what? Name some of the changes and what you’re doing.

BILL:              Well, the changes are turned into instead of what would you do now, it was almost kinda like fix it according to me and using the right products 100%. There wasn’t really a leader who was bringing things and moving things along fast enough, I felt. So, I got that opportunity and I saw the excitement with the people they were very interested to learn and do new dishes and use new products and like that. So, it’s even things like – one guy might be preparing seafood for the last two years but, did he actually cut the whole fish and break it down and be introduced to a different fish that he hadn’t worked with before. Even shucking oysters at a good rate and doing it properly, stuff like that.  

MARK:           Sounds like more pride in doing that work, than will make you more into wanting to serve the client and the customer better. 

BILL:              Yeah, you know it’s really how you live your life and then it can be applied to pretty much every job. And anywhere you are, and it’s finding the interest and then having them duplicate it, and feel good about what they’re doing and getting complimented on it and just being able to become better at what you do in any scenario. At any level of the kitchen operation. There’s been a lot of – and I see it – I see the smiles and hey look at what I did and I’m prouder of what I’m putting forward and now I know why and now I understand this and why is it a different olive oil, why is it a better vinegar, why is it always fresh citrus, why… you know. All the questions that they would get a recipe and they can do the recipe, but the didn’t know why they were doing it sometimes, so then they realized that if you just switched this out and that, so it’s always and forever scenario that I try to create. Whether it’s the most simple items that we’re doing, just do them the best they can be done and like that. It almost becomes a competition, look at how I did this, and look at that, so the pride comes out and people and it gives you a happy environment, I think. 

MARK:           Tell me from a menu perspective, what’s going to be different? I know you’re not just trying to say, “hey come in for the music and the bar only,” which is amazing. You’re going to be producing some great food which people need to come here to check out. So, tell me about that.  

BILL:              What was great and good for me was Charlie saying “hey, I want you to just run and I know you have the experience, please just do what you’d like to do to make people happier, draw them in and give them something great that they haven’t had before.” So, that’s where we are at, we have succeeded in the transition to better looking plates, cosmetics, always the best seafood, just taking care of the product like that and buying them right, sending them back if they are not perfect. Everybody goes through that. All the delivery guys sent this – you know – things like that so it’s just paying attention will make all the food better and food handling and that’s where you start with that whole thing. But in regards to items that everything is 4 or 5 new items on the menu every day that weren’t here a year ago. Tomorrow is going to be different than today and often times it is never duplicated unless somebody is very excited about it and it sold well and compliments so we will run it back again next week like that. But there’s so many choices and which ways to go and keep that learning process going with everybody and using new products and like that. So, we went with a more upscale steak for the menu so there’s always a great steak on the menu for a great steak and maybe they wouldn’t have one available or like that, so it’s a matter of ordering which is really good and the purchasing, never running out of things, but always having them fresh. That whole mentality so when you have these ingredients in the house like now I got fresh papayas and some really nice local mangoes and things like that, so all of a sudden I can see that my kitchen crew is already remembering something that they did before and they add that to something different and they are excited to get those products out. I know I might be repeating myself on that, but that part of the education is going to put forward, and we do the boards every day so the board is a different soup, different salads and I encourage everybody to come up with their favorite thing and how would they do it? And things like that, so that’s in play and more pieces of equipment that will allow you to do more things are actually in the making, in the works, I rebuilt a smokehouse out back so we have a brand new smoker and a couple of smokers out there and we’re going to have that all dressed out shortly. That’s going to expand again for like tailgate parties and having the best guava, mango, habanero or whatever, ribs and smoked whole turkeys, smoked whole chickens and things that weren’t happening before. They would have some smoked items and it was just like, hit and miss kinda thing. Always done well but it was just the consistency, so now it’s like ‘hey can we have that again?’ and can we get that back and then you put a little spin on it, so it’s keeping it fresh. We do have a room all set up now for this hot weather and the room we are sitting in now we call it the writer’s room and there’s 24 – 30 seats but if you want to have a small party here, a business party, birthday, any event kind of thing we can give you a private room which wasn’t really available. 

MARK:           For catering.

BILL:             Yeah, it wasn’t really available before but even if it’s a group that comes in with two dozen people or a dozen people, and they are in Key West for the first time and they want to do something special, I will give them a choice of a menu with a day’s notice. Things like that, so there’s more available to anybody who wants to come here with small parties or big parties, catered parties, we have weddings coming up in December and lots of new situations that have been created with the staff, having constantly growing the staff, and having a better group of people. They all know what they’re doing and they are all pros and all on the good frame of mind and so, anything is possible. The private parties and take the whole bamboo bar if you want, if you have a big group, stuff like that, so I think all the tools were here to do those things before, but…

MARK:           They just needed the leadership.

BILL:              Yeah, but now more than ever that we see the possibility and Charlie is very positive behind the whole situation of growing the deal. Had a great year last year and we are looking for a bigger year this year and I think a lot of it is keeping it changing and keeping new things on the menus so people come here a couple of times a week instead of one so three times a week or whatever. Bring their friends over and so that’s my responsibility is to say “wow!” That’s on the menu? Hey, that’s great let’s try that. Oh, I love that, I never had something like that before. Those are the things that are what I need to keep happening all the time to get to our goal of having something for everybody. Again, focus on dayboat stuff, the real pink shrimp, the fresh stone crabs that are big around here when they start up in October so we literally have stone crabs available by any amount all the whole season. 

MARK:           Right, all the stuff that when tourists come into town, this is what they want. The quintessential Key West experience and being right off of Duval, right in the heart of everything, there’s two key take-aways that I heard in the things that you said; (1) this isn’t a place to come and get bar food, this is a place to come and have dinner. This is like a restaurant that’s here now where you’re providing the freshest food, a variety of food and if you’re here to enjoy Key West and you want amazing drinks and amazing music you can also have an amazing meal, so you don’t have to eat dinner somewhere else and then come here, you could do it all in one place. 

BILL:              Yeah that’s totally correct. 

MARK:           And the other thing that I heard that was pretty amazing, and hats off to you, is that it sounds like being the head chef here and being the leader in the kitchen, you’re giving a lot of leeway and a lot of room for creativity for the staff. A lot of times, especially when you’re pivoting and you’re making things different, you just say like, “no, no listen I’m doing all this, you follow orders and you do this.” It sounds like you’re really allowing everybody to have their creative juices growing here. 

BILL:             It’s being smart enough to tell your crew why you’re doing it, and hey that looks good oh you do that and just give me the recipe and I’ll be a robot. But that’s not the deal, the deal is that you learn it and you know it and it’s your repertoire now and you can do it anytime if I’m not here one day and this comes in and then you can just roll with it. I want everybody to be free thinking and also be totally capable. The people rise up and I’ll say every employee that I had here, one or two people left because it wasn’t for them, they didn’t want to think that much and they didn’t want to do that much, but there were five other people that wanted the opportunity to say I’m getting an education while I’m working. And that’s good for everybody, it’s good for the place, it’s good for me, and it makes my life easier to see that they can do more and it brings the whole level up if things go the way they are supposed to. I think we are totally on to that. 

MARK:           Did you learn that from other kitchens? If you can’t tell, you can hear that Boston accent in the background. Have you been a chef most of your career? Tell me a little bit about the origin story. 

BILL:              The origin was that I grew up in Boston and moved down here fulltime after visiting a few times and vacationing and a month camping and stuff like that to get out of the cold winter, but in Boston it definitely was where it all started. The high school I went with had a great opportunity and there was an excellent chef there that an old friend. She actually made me feel like, well she let me know everything that I needed to know, in your face kinda stuff and don’t waste anybody’s time, and don’t go down that road unless you feel like that’s really what you want to do. So, anyhow, I haven’t really been doing many other things, I’ve been doing all the branches of different cuisines, and I was trained classically in hotels and I was a chef at University Club in Boston. Opened Faneuil Hall Marketplace and all over there, so I did a hard firm probably 10-15 years with people that were very talented. I was very fortunate and I’m not going to name drop at this time which would take way too long, but there were many famous and well-known chefs that had all their own places and writers and authors and so on, that I happened to cross their path and spend a year with them. I was very fortunate with that, and every time I would meet one other person that dedicated their life to it and could see how much they loved it and the passion came out of that. First job, first restaurant and while I was in high school taking the culinary program there, placed in a little restaurant in my town and first time I saw service where everybody is dressed up and at six o’clock they open the doors and it’s like an off Broadway or a Broadway play and all of a sudden the energy is there and everybody is talking and it’s all happening and the food is flying and I’m like Wow! It’s like getting your first guitar or something like that. 

MARK:           Coming into that too, it’s like getting your first guitar but going to play Woodstock. You’re like the rush of everybody coming in and if they are dressed up and if they are going to a show or whatnot, they expect service to be perfect, they expect it to be fast, they expect to love what they want to get and they can’t be late with things. So that was a good baptism by fire for you.             

BILL:             It was and then luckily enough, as I say, I made this my philosophy and it was just to find out what the best restaurants were and apply to all of them and only give confirmation for one year. So, agree to a one-year program, because I felt like I have to learn all I can at that place and then move to the next. And I actually had five in a row go that way for me, so they knew I was going to leave and that’s that, and then I would go to the next place that I was excited about and maybe a different cuisine and stuff like that. I really enjoyed the flexibility and the people and how receptive they were and willing to teach and all that. I found a really great community in Boston doing that and then before I knew it, it’s like that’s all I am going to do and that’s what I want to do. I love to cook and I’ve always loved to cook, then I got excited about this, and then somebody taught me about that, and then I learned how to do Chinese, and then I learned that and it’s a never-ending deal. It’s like I always look at it like the team in your kitchen is like a sports team or a band and everybody has to do things and you all grow together. I’ve been really lucky to even discovering new people that were coming up and wanted to get all of that and they said “hey, you’ve been all over here and you’ve done this and oh you’re catering and you’re working at this big fancy house and doing private parties and that’s what I want to do.” And if they wanted to put the effort in and play that game then I was more than happy to be a teacher. And here’s your recipes and look at this cookbook, take this for a couple of weeks and so…

MARK:           You’ve mentored a lot of people. It also sounds like that you worked in such a variety of cuisines, do you find now that when people want – not traditional – but they want seafood down here, but I love the smoker and I love the steaks and everything like that, do you find that you’re able to now sneak in little different ingredients that are picking from all of those things? Cajun over here and maybe some sauces from Chinese there to like, make things different? 

BILL:             Absolutely. Absolutely, it just never stops with that and different oils with this and different citrus with that and just today I haven’t done it in a while and I made a puree of fresh papaya vinaigrette with soy and Asian BBQ and that turned into a dipping sauce for a smoked lobster eggroll. So, I had some smoked lobster and I was like, I’m gonna smoke some lobster with the new smoker – boom – what am I gonna do with it? Okay, it goes to eggroll or it can go into any assortment of dishes. 

MARK:           Yeah, that’s great. 

BILL:             We are doing a quesadilla and now with the grilled lobster meat and the guy that works with me in his day chef Tim, he’s somebody that I worked with in three or four other places and when we opened something that was just like an open for the people and then get out. I did a lot of that catering stuff, go in consult and stuff. So, I actually consulted probably a dozen or more in Key West in the last ten years that got people off the ground or fixed it, and things like that. I am like a rescue guy, too. 

MARK:           You’re like a jack of all trades, not just cooking in the kitchen it’s like knowing the business aspect of it because when you’re doing a catering business, you can go bust quick because of the fact that you can over order, you can mess things up and then your whole business can be gone. 

BILL:             All the varieties and everything that you can do with food, whether it’s a little birthday party for some guy up the Keys and he has his immediate family there. I go shopping and I know what they are going to want, I buy the best quality and boom – just to knock stuff out – and I like that a lot. I do that in my off time and actually have a fishing camp that I’m partner in and it’s fly fishing lodge up the Keys and this is my 12thyear that I did that, so I’ll leave for a short period of time in the spring to do that because I do it with my sons and my family. It’s amazing.

MARK:           Then you all cook the fish together? Or is it a catch and release? 

BILL:              No, it’s 100% catch and release but they all want the best of everything so that’s a whole different story. 

MARK:           But it’s wonderful to be able to do that and I like the catch and release. I like the fact that you’re not catching and then cooking and then it’s when do you have that time to unplug so that you can spend time with family and do something totally different so that when you come back here you’re like, okay I’m ready now. I’m ready to get back into business. 

BILL:             I guess it gets to where the experience takes over and you start being very comfortable with, me mentally I think about okay I have to be over here for a couple of days, then I have to be three days here, and a couple of nights here and I gotta keep coming back and making sure everything’s all good and now when we get into full season the Tuna is my 100% focus, and like that. But to be healthy in food and creativity and stay happy with it, for me it was going to Montana and cooking for people up there for one month. I was lucky enough to go to Alaska for a couple of months, for six weeks and cook for a family there at a lodge and it just breaks it up. Makes you stronger, get more ideas. 

MARK:           Totally different ingredients, I mean completely different. 

BILL:              Then you get your book of all the different adventures and you discovered how to cook salmon a different way while you were up there and you bring that back once in a while, to people that appreciate it. It’s just the whole thing is a big tree and it just keep and you’re like, I forgot all about that, and then I have my cabinet of 10,000 favorite recipes that have been tested and written out and I haven’t even opened that cabinet because this thing that I’m doing here or there is a different deal. I have a lot of resources and all the experience and then the main ingredient is your team. Then we already got into that and if you can get the right people around you, they make everything stronger where you couldn’t do that yourself. I can’t, nobody can do anything themselves, any great things themselves. 

MARK:           Let me ask you this, on a busy night are you and I’m not a chef so I just see what you see in the movies and stuff like that, where the head chef is the person that is directing everybody to do the things that they do. Is that how it is here? Or are you in there cooking yourself? Or a combination of both? 

BILL:              It’s all of that, it’s daytime is basically the creative time. You can actually go to sleep thinking about it and writing notes and what would work and what wouldn’t work and it depends on where it is and what’s available now. And then, oh by the way lobsters are here now and I just saw some great pink shrimp when I was at the fish market so I kinda steal that for myself, that I bring these things in and then I show everybody and I’m then we can do three different things from that shrimp we got, or that beautiful mutton fish the guy just caught and told the story about it, and then you bring it back and then it ends up being two or three different specials. I’m selfish that way if I find these things, I already know somethings I want to do with it and then ultimately it trickles down and everybody can respond. They can use the same products and then they’ll say, “what would you do with this? I’m thinking that” and bah-bah-bah.

Then I’ll say, “well what if you did this? Or maybe that?” So, don’t do it for them, but give them direction and give them some ideas and then let them grow that way. 

MARK:           That’s great and again, it’s not the typical story I hear from a chef but when you’ve got all this experience and all these variety of different categories within cooking, it’s almost like you want a mentor. Especially when you get the feedback, right? When you’re getting people that are showing you that they’re loving learning what you have to offer and you’re opening the bank of the million recipes and experiences in your head. 

BILL:              You know, I’m sure that the chef teachers in my past, and I’ve always respected them so much for passing on what they went through and maybe they are 20 years older than me and they worked in the old school hotels back in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and where you know a lot of the European chefs and the big chefs of hotels and like that, old school, they wouldn’t really teach as much. They would hold a lot of things to themselves and this is what makes me special. I’m going to give you my secrets. I’m the kinda guy that’s just got a secret and I’m sharing it with everybody. The customer can have the recipe if he wants. 

MARK:           That makes you the most valuable person because of that. What I really love about that is sharing your experiences and all these things with your staff makes them excited to come to work. Because to me, the easiest way to keep people and to have a successful staff in any business, right? Because this is a business type podcast is making them and ensuring that they are happy to come to work. They are not going to be happy all the time, everybody’s got a storm of heck that happens on a day to day basis and no matter what you do, which is important in my opinion because if everything goes perfect all the time, life gets boring. It’s fun to have those things, but if the majority of the time you’re teaching and educating and people that are trying to be chefs themselves or artists themselves and have their own dreams, can actually learn from you. I think that’s one of the reasons why the kitchen and the now expansion of food here at the Smokin’ Tuna will be extraordinary. 

BILL:             Well, as I said, we have the backing and the attitude and great bosses that want to do the right thing, so why wouldn’t you? If you now how. 

MARK:           The thing is that this location is like so quintessential Key West and I remember coming here 100’s of times as a tourist when I lived in Miami. It’s an amazing spot – forget about for the music and forget about now for the booze – the location wise and now for food, it’s like come on? I mean, there’s so many different places that I would go before with my wife and we would have food and then listen to a little bit of music but then have to go somewhere else. We would, a lot of times come here for the music. Knowing that I can come here and spend the night is really appealing, especially for a local and especially for a tourist. 

BILL:             Yeah, we got that a lot this year. In early December and January and January especially, our busiest month in town, lots of people talked about how we came here and we always came here for the music and the beverages and maybe have a snack, but locals were going to their favorite restaurant and then popping over here. Which is totally cool.

MARK:           But that’s what we are trying to change that, you’re doing that right now with these recipes. 

BILL:              Then all of a sudden, it’s like what’s this? We have these offers and that sounds good and I haven’t had that in a while so let’s do that and then it’s not going to happen overnight, but it does happen a lot and it’s spontaneous and then it’s in their head and you know, I like nothing more than having people come in and really enjoy the food. I know they are happy with the program here anyhow, and this is a bonus and a big part of our business now and always was but now probably appealing to a different crowd or other people in addition, too. 

MARK:           Let me ask you this, before you came onboard and started becoming the head chef and making the changes here, you weren’t permanently working for any other restaurants, right? You were doing your own thing, at least that’s what it sounds like. How does it feel now to first have that free reign from the owner? Being like I want you to take charge and make this menu and now you can do these things that you want. And then also feel like, wow I can make a difference here to a cornerstone place in Key West.

BILL:             It’s exciting and I hope to find that when anybody calls me and they want some assistance whether it’s for a year, or they want me to come in and help with problems for a couple of months, and help me do the menu, show me how to do this, show me how to do that, you have new places opening up and stuff and they don’t know all the purveyors and a lot of that experience and friendship you create over the years. I’ve been purchasing in Key West for 30 years. So, you know everybody and now you know their sons and their father and you get the real deal. You get the straight thing and you know where you can go to get what you want and like that, so that foundation is always there. Any place that I go to, I pump myself up and I come in and whatever the need is, or whatever the job is, I decide I’m willing to go there and I just leave it all on the field. I come in and I can read things super well, I’ve been doing it all my life. I read the scenario, read the situation. Well maybe you really don’t have to get rid of that and change that, what if we did this? There’s a lot of hands-on stuff and playing with your food and again, the educational part. I’m an older man now and I need the help of everybody and their energy when we’re busy in a place like this and literally hundreds of people come through here on a day in season. It’s more important that I have a great team because I just can’t run like a young guy anymore. 

MARK:           Older but wiser. That’s why you’re doing the things that you’re doing and you have the demand to come here and do something like this because if you weren’t then you may be more of a tyrant or you may be more of a person that has to leave his mark. It sounds like you are satisfied with the career path that you’ve had and the work that you’ve done and you feel accomplished in the things that you’ve done that now I’m seeing a glimmer of ‘this is fun for you.’ 

BILL:             With the time frame in your life and all the things that you do then you get more personal about where your time is going to be and what you’re going to do. I am and have had a very fortunate career in the food thing, had my own restaurants with success, ran some really great restaurants, and worked with some people that were just amazing constantly. I seem to just step in it and when we moved here fulltime from Boston and decided we are going to do it here and raise the kids in the Keys and stuff there was a lot of unknown. Okay, I know everything in Boston and I know where I can get jobs all the time, I know where I can be comfortable and what’s going on, got a ton of friends that will keep you busy. But down here, was all brand new and I was just wide open to it, and I’m going to take a couple of weeks off and look around and get settled in and see what’s up and I walked into one of the more famous chefs ever in the history of Key West and just bumped into him on the street and then ended up working for him for a year opening a new spot. Then got placed into a world famous Key West destination and put five years in over there and then I was offered my own fine dining spot and that wouldn’t have happened in Boston. The magic was here. You had to take that leap and sometimes it’s a little more difficult or you know, whatever comes down the road, but Key West has been very kind to me every place I went. I was able to grow when I was ready to make a change, there was always something better. Then in addition to, well okay people approached me and I have a house in Key West and tons of visitors, would you be the personal chef. Well, my schedule is 8-5pm and I have weekends off, so yeah! Let’s do that, I’ll be available as much as I can. Then you’re swinging two jobs and you end up meeting some really cool people out of it and it just goes – if you have the right attitude I think –and right approach, you make things work for you. 

MARK:           I think the magic of Key West is that if you do right by Key West, it does right by you for sure. 

BILL:              I agree. I think that it’s really the approach and what you’re willing to do and be flexible and you’ll find out. I found out that some of my best friends in my life I’ve met here and just through coincidence. It never stops, you have an influx of people from all over the world and they love being here and they come here with a great attitude and so you’re in a kind of a party atmosphere. 

MARK:           It’s positivity almost all the time because people are here on vacation, the majority. 

BILL:             Everybody is having fun, it’s raining out and they are on vacation and they’re like “hey!” we are going to go over here tomorrow, and everybody’s got positive stories. I recently touched base with a guy that I first came down here with when, we were right out of high school and we came down here just to get away from Boston for a month and it was actually my first connection with him since my wedding about 100 years ago, and I just said, “hey how are you doing?” We ended up talking for an hour and laughing about the things we did and how magic Key West was for us in a pickup truck and camping. It lends that to everybody who comes here and with the right, and if you’re a nice guy a nice person, it will all go great for you in this town. A lot of good stuff here, so anyhow, Key West was even more kind to me in the business than Boston was, and Boston was a lot of you know, I felt I had to give more to learn and the more I learned the easier it was and then you get this and get that, and you’re more comfortable and so forth and so on and get a better job. But great move for me to come to Key West.

MARK:           Well, we are glad to have you for sure. 

BILL:              It’s great to be at Smokin’ Tuna right now and you now, I might have a couple of weeks off here and there in the past and say ‘what am I gonna do next?’ Then before you know it, you get a couple of people that are interested and somebody’s really excited and they are happy with what you’re doing and all of a sudden, it’s like, boom. It’s another little show. 

MARK:           Do you come out of the kitchen at all? If I’m dining here, am I ever going to see you come out? 

BILL:             Probably too much. 

MARK:           Good, that’s great! It’s nice.  

BILL:             I want to see who’s there. I want to see how they are feeling about everything. I want to enjoy what they are feeling and I want to be a part of that, too. 

MARK:           I think it’s important.

BILL:             There’s no way that the educational part and do this and the technical stuff, we do lots of that. But if I have an opportunity to talk to somebody and the customer wants to say hello, ask you about something, that’s me and I love that. I can do that all day, so. 

MARK:           I feel that about you that you would really enjoy seeing the fruits of the labor that you’re doing whether it be for that night or over the course of a season where you could come out at say the end of the season and be like, wow. Look at these customers enjoying this food and loving this and I see the needle shift in the change of what people are saying about the Smokin’ Tuna when it comes to dinner and actually coming here to eat. It is definitely amazing to see that. 

BILL:             It’s another little philosophy thing that if something is not working up to potential, often times it’s just tweaking and paying attention and doing things like that. I some situation, so in that way, they had the stuff and it makes it easier to make people happy once you have the tools to work with. 

MARK:           It’s like baking a cake with the wrong recipe, it’s not going to work. 

BILL:              Or you know, if you have to drive 67 miles to work and you go in there and there’s one grouchy person that’s been there for five years and you’re not happy to see them every day and stuff, that’s real-life stuff. But we don’t accept that. I don’t. I’m like, ‘hey!’ and I think that rubs off and I have no reason to get all crazy about anything. You know what I mean? I know this is good, I know that’s right, oh if you’re not happy well we can adjust it. 

MARK:           We’ll make it work for you. You’re on vacation, come on. I love that. 

BILL:              So, it is like living on vacation for me. It always has been since I got here. And hey I got this new job and it’s a really cool place and I end up being there for three years and whatever, and I go there for a month and I’m there and enjoying the people and making new friends.            

MARK:           I have one of the selfish, but most important questions, this is just for my wife and I so anybody listening, you don’t have to listen anymore for this second. Where and when will you bring down New England steamers for me to eat? Because I cannot get steamers, not steamed clams, steamers, you know the ones that smell like barnacles and you know what I’m saying. I miss them and I couldn’t get them in Miami, and I don’t think we can get here, can we? 

BILL:             You can. 

MARK:           Okay.

BILL:             You can pretty much get shellfish from Peugeot Sound to P.E.I., anywhere and everywhere and if you’re willing to freight it in, and sometimes it can be more expensive, and sometime surprisingly affordable and it becomes a byproduct and whether you want, okay I need 50 lobsters from Portland and I need it for a party on Saturday and that’s all they want, Maine lobsters, they gotta have ‘em. That’s always available and surprising enough, the price on Maine lobsters per pound sometimes can be and when they have a great season and the price drops down and you can have them flown here and be no more expensive than the local Florida. Somebody just happens to want that, so it’s all being a part of the network and talking to people and what if I really wanted these oysters from P.E.I. every Wednesday, how much are they? See if I can fit them into the demographic and like that. 

MARK:           It’s not just knowing the art, the cooking art, or the business aspect it’s having those connections over time and knowing, like you said the tree branches that go out all over the country when certain people want certain things. It’s like ‘hey I’d like steamers, if 100 people want steamers, and you’re like ‘well let’s put some steamers on that menu.’ 

BILL:             I kind of, like everybody gets well I’m really good at this or whatever, after coming from Boston down here I felt like I knew a lot and I felt like and I feel now like I only knew 10% what I’ve allowed myself to learn since. So, I was mistaken thinking that I could just roll with it from that point on. 

MARK:           That’s wisdom, too. 

BILL:              So that was like, hey wait a minute, this guy is onto something and this is going on and I really did, I applied myself strong for about 10 years in Key West to their purchasing of all products. In one particular place could afford to have anything from all over the world and we did that. We had Christmas every day with boxes from FedEx and like that, so we were getting the best mushrooms from California and you were getting the oysters from Peugeot Sound and a variety pack, all the top ones the best ones and you’re getting the best of anything you want. There’s a place in Texas you call for deer and they actually have a preserve and a surgical unit set-up and they go out and pick out your deer and like that. So, if you want to pay for it, you can whatever you want. That I didn’t have any clue about when I was in Boston. I just saw food show up and I played with it. Here I got much more into the buying aspect, and who has what, and there was a company that we used for years and it was, out of all places, in Chicago and it was Chicago Wild Game. Anything, the next day. Anything that you want. If you want quail eggs and this and that, and caviars and foie gras and blah blah blah. Anything that you can possibly want on earth, you can get in one day from people that know what they’re doing. So that is really…

MARK:           That’s a huge connection to have, even the knowledge to do that.

BILL:             And it’s calling and communicating and say ‘well if you don’t know where to get it, hey, you know, who do you know?’ Who should I talk to? I love that conversing and kibitzing; you know a little bit. 

MARK:           You like the schmoozing a little with people and working with them. 

BILL:              Absolutely. That’s who we are, so who are we and then what do we need to do. 

MARK:           That’s great and sometimes you’ll see chefs that just like to hide in the kitchen and they don’t like to come out and shake hands with anybody. But I think, I personally like seeing all aspects of the restaurant when I’m out. That’s part of my experience is that I would love for you to come out and say hello and that would be nice. It would make me feel special so I’m sure other customers love that, too.  

BILL:              I wouldn’t understand anybody that is really good at what they do and somebody wants to say thank you, or like that, it’s kind of like, you would be proud of your work and you come out and share and that makes you happy, it makes them happy and it’s like that’s what we do. Let’s say you’re an artist and you are a painter and they come to the gallery to see all your stuff and you’re not going to come out and say hi. Of course, you’re going to be out there with a glass of wine and puttin’ around and how you doing and I’d like you to meet my wife and it’s all, it’s a big world and we are just a little part of it you know. So, I love meeting new people. 

MARK:           You’ve got strong New England roots giving you that nice foundation. 

BILL:             Lots of close people in New England and you get comfortable in your skin and if you know what you’re talking about and you surround yourself with good people, how can you go wrong? Again, lucky enough in Key West, many great friends here and my daughter works downtown, my wife worked in town for years, so Key West is a big part of my life. 

MARK:           Seems like it always will be. 

BILL:             It’s just a chapter, it’s chapters in the book, ya’ know? And there will be a big Smokin’ Tuna chapter and someday I’ll just be visiting.

MARK:           I’ll see a Smokin’ Tuna tattoo on your shoulder something like that.  

MARK:           Uh, maybe? 

MARK:           Well, that was a great ending of the business aspect and the artistry aspect of that, now we get into the personal questions. Which aren’t that personal so you don’t need to worry, it’s not that crazy. Because you’ve been in Key West so long, what is your favorite event to attend? 

BILL:             I think the thing that I like to do, attend like meaning in town events and stuff like that or just things to do, we used to always like the whole Fantasy Fest thing. The kids would come down before dark and all that, so we all our friends would come down and people come in town from Boston to go do it. So, we lived all that and then it became, okay really like Goombay. We want to taste the food and what they have going on there. I think you go through the whole gamut and then the bike events and then the runners that come in town and come up and down the highway and then the boat races and there’s so many things that go on and it’s like a weekly deal. Even if you loved it and you did it for five years it’s like you don’t have time to do that stuff anymore. I do live up the Keys about 20 miles or so, if I’m not working, I usually don’t come in town and I’ll take that one day off to chill up there. 

MARK:           Spend with the family. 

BILL:             Go to the beach or do whatever. Go get in the boat or whatever.

MARK:           It sounds like boating is something you love to do right? Fishing and boating? 

BILL:              Yeah, not really seriously fishing, it’s just… 

MARK:           Right, no bait on the hook fishing, I like to call it. 

BILL:             Or just get that one fish and hang out and talk about fishing and get one for the grill on your way back. One guy loves diving, okay go get some lobsters or just get us something to eat, we’re not going to buy anything. I catch more fish on the phone than most people catch in their life. 

MARK:           You’re like an expert fisherman with that telephone. 

BILL:             In general, I appreciate all the events and I know that a friend of mine is coming in to do this Lost Kitchen deal, celebrity chefs come in and they just work one night and they have wine and great food and kind of like, showcase that particular guy. I would love to attend all of those. That’s something that is right up my alley and I end up seeing people in the biz and people I used to work with and all that kind of stuff. Anything related to the restaurant scene, I like that, or food events, markets, everything. 

MARK:           What about local hidden spot? It could be restaurant, could be anything, park, anything. 

BILL:             I used to love that property at Casa Marina. The old Flagler house and I always just loved being on the property. I could feel the history and they’ve changed it up so much and everything with the lobby is all great. 

MARK:           It has an old feel to it, right? 

BILL:             I find myself, if I’m driving by once every few months, I’ll get out and walk through the lobby and walk around and just look at it and imagine and had stayed there thirty years ago with the family, we were just in town for the weekend events or whatever and would stay at the Casa. Again, reminiscing and old memories and seeing old friends. I have a friend that has a restaurant and he’s in there every night trying to make it and that would probably be the first pick. Or my favorite bartender is at this place. Let’s stop and see him, so it’s more catching up with your old buddies and like I did 15 or 16 years in Key West when I first got here and then kinda got up the Keys and even into Marathon, then going off to work in the summer and things like that. Go to Boston and so the last couple of years I’ve come back for months at a time and worked in Key West doing things and now I’m back in town. Now I’m tracking down people and seeing people that I used to see all the time and that’s the most fun. My wife loves that to see her old friends and we would come in and catch a movie and go have a dinner and just soak in the whole Key West vibe. 

MARK:           The reminiscing, I like that because you were here so long. What about a tip of the day? Something that you’re into that is totally not related to anything we talked about. It could be a book you’re reading, these new loafers that you like, a new toothpaste, it can be anything.  

BILL:             Tip of the day, work in your garden for a couple of hours.

MARK:           Yes, I love that. 

BILL:             I have lots of trees, flowering things in my yard, lost a lot with the hurricane a couple of years ago, but it’s all back better than ever. I have to give it a little more care and that kind of settles me 100%. It’s like something really warm and fuzzy happens, and I go down there and I talk to myself and look at how things are growing and had to do with some of it, you know simple things like that. It’s kinda like you can get real hectic and you can get crazy and jump in your car and you ran out of this, go over there and get back there, there’s a crowd waiting for something, by the way we gotta work extra hard and it becomes intense, so I really appreciate those moments.

MARK:           Yeah, digging my hands in dirt too, destresses me, big time.  

BILL:             It’s like floating on the boat I had an old house boat attached to the back of my house and we would just go out there and sometimes stay overnight and have the kids on the boat and you wanna go in? No! Okay, we stay out and the stars are out and you capture that stuff and it’s a wonderful place. I would say that I am going to add a second tip, one of the hot months in the summer if you live here year-round, get out of town. Go somewhere cooler and go visit somewhere you haven’t been. 

MARK:           I like that and that’s a great way to end. Chef it was great talking to you. I look forward to coming here myself with the family and trying some of your dishes and saying hello for sure and seeing where you take this. I really appreciate everything you are doing and I thank you very much.  

BILL:             A real pleasure to meet you Mark. Thank you very much. 

MARK:           Thanks. 

We are having a conversation between Mark Baratto and Jenny Lorenz. 

MARK:           Welcome to the Backyards of Key West podcast, my name is Mark Baratto and I’m with Jenny Lorenz and we are at the Perry Hotel. There may be a little background noise, there’s a meeting going on over here to the right and we are in the bar/lounge type area where there’s an immense amount of happy hour that will be going on later today. Not right now, because it’s about 9:30 in the morning, so the happy hour is the Perry Hotel coffee that I’m guzzling. I am very fond of this hotel. So there’s going to be a lot of biased questions and love for it because I’ve stayed at the hotel and it’s amazing. I’ve eaten here, they have an amazing pool for locals and I’ve splashed in the pool as a guest and as a local and all of it has been fantastic. Why don’t we start by you giving me a little background on what you do here and then maybe go into, I don’t know how The Perry ended up here on Stock Island? Maybe a little bit of the origin story? 

JENNY:          Okay. Again, my name is Jenny and I am the Director of Marketing here at the Perry Hotel Key West and the hotel opened about two years ago, May 1, 2017. Actually, closer to 2 ½ now, and it’s just a really cool property. When they built it they really wanted to embrace the maritime history of Stock Island and with the location on the marina, we really wanted to embrace that and not only did the design and the décor, but in the architecture, so I thin that they did a really great job with that. We’ve won multiple awards when it comes to the design of the hotel. It just really stands out apart from the rest of the properties in the Florida Keys. 

MARK:           I know that Stock Island, because I’m originally from Miami and Miami Beach in particular and then you had Wynwood which at the time was kinda like dumpsville and then has now transformed to be a hot spot and a hot place to go. Now I’m not calling Stock Island dumpsville by any means, but when I was first coming to Key West and you come across this little island right before you got to main lane Key West, proper Key West, was Stock Island which I’m assuming was fisherman, docking, a lot of that stuff going on here. So why this location? I love it. Stock Island in and of itself is reminding me of the direction of where Wynwood is going, there’s a lot of cool and hip things here, a lot of locals like to come here. My gym is here so that’s convenient, I’m in New Town so it’s even more convenient, so tell me why this location?  

JENNY:          I think that our owner really had this vision before anybody else could even conceptualize it. In my opinion, Key West could only grow so much. We face issues with housing regularly and there’s only so much space to grow. Actually, I look at it a little bit like Las Vegas, where you have old Vegas and new Vegas. You get to a point where one section of the land is built up enough and you really just have to grow outward. So that’s the way that I look at Stock Island, it’s the new up and coming Key West. Like you said, it’s not Key West proper but it is still part of Key West. Really, we are just one bridge over, five miles from downtown Duval. Everything is still really easily accessible, but you have a little bit more space to move around, it’s kind of like an oasis from the chaos of what downtown has to offer, and there’s parking! Actually, a lot of amazing great restaurants reside on Stock Island. I’m biased, I love Matt’s (Stock Island Kitchen & Bar) of course, and we have The Salty Oyster, but also there’s Roostica Pizza, Hogfish, El Siboney here now, and I think that we are just going to continue to see amazing new restaurants being built here on the island. 

MARK:           And we can bounce around a little bit but also there, and I’ve heard in the grapevine and I see pictures over here in the front, there’s expansion happening over here. Tell me a little bit about what’s going on here. But first, let’s paint the picture. How many rooms do we have here in the hotel? 

JENNY:          We have 100 rooms, it’s a boutique hotel, so we are not a part of any chain. We stand alone. 

MARK:           Are there height restrictions? Or, no?

JENNY:          I believe that there are. 

MARK:           I think that the whole island there are, but it seems like you wanted to keep it boutique’y anyway, right? So why go up 40 stories. 

JENNY:          The 100 rooms was just the right number from what I’ve heard from ownership and what they originally determined when they were building this whole property, was they started with the marina. The marina was the vision and they said first we are going to build this amazing state-of-the-art marina. 

MARK:           Deep water marina, right? 

JENNY:          The deepest water marina. 

MARK:           A 100-foot boat could come in here. 

JENNY:          Oh yeah, bigger than that. I think it’s close to 300. And there’s 220 slips right now and so that was the first phase of the Perry property. 

MARK:           Are they rented by the Perry? Like the Perry owns them or can individuals buy the slips? 

JENNY:          They are owned by the Perry and the Stock Island Marina. We do have transient slips available as well as Coconut Row. And Coconut Row is where people can live long-term. So, they can do monthly, semi-annually and they can do annually. That’s just one of the main cool features that we have to offer here is that when you do live here at the property, you have access to all these amazing amenities that the Perry has to offer.

MARK:           And as a local, we have them, too. Which is pretty amazing. I mean not the inside part of the hotel, but the pool and the outside part. 

JENNY:          Yeah and parts of the inside you know. Especially the lobby area, the bar area, stuff like that, but the marina was phase one, then once that was built they moved onto phase two which was the Perry Hotel and our two restaurants Matt’s and Salty Oyster. Obviously those are up and running and so the next phase is phase three and that should open November 1st and that includes a second waterfront pool, a third restaurant the Barrel House, and an event lawn with a raised stage and will also feature a VIP terrace overlooking the area. Then it’s also going to tie into the opening of a new distillery on property.

MARK:           Owned by the Perry? Or is that separate?

JENNY:          It will be owned by the Perry property and the Stock Island Marina Village, but it will be run by Key West Distilling. Yes. 

MARK:           Interesting. That’s November as well?

JENNY:          That’s all November 1st.

MARK:           Like a month – almost away?

JENNY:          It’s going to be a rolling start. Because it is a lot and so we are still kinda just confirming all of the permitting and the opening of the different parts and pieces of the property. But as of November 1st, we anticipate at the very least the second pool will be open and the event lawn and the stage. 

MARK:           And permitting is done already. Because that’s the thing that will keep it going forever. So, if you have permitting done then – it’s a matter of logistics.

JENNY:          Exactly, so that’s the phase three and we will have a phase four. That’s still in motion, they haven’t started breaking ground or anything like that yet, but the hope is that that will bring additional rooms to the property. 

MARK:           Okay, so the way it works is that when you drive down Shrimp Road and then you make the left into the drop off and the lobby entrance is, if you were to keep going straight past the hotel, you can make another left where you can go to the marina. Then there’s a little area like a dog park kinda thing.

JENNY:          Yup, two dog parks. 

MARK:           And a parking lot over there and if you keep going, because I’ve gone all the way down as far as you can go and it’s like, there’s a bunch of dead land. So, is that where this is all happening? 

JENNY:          Yes. 

MARK:           Okay, so it will be to the right of where the hotel is coming when you’re coming in and the pool, will that be for hotel guests? Obviously hotel guests but locals? Can I use that pool, too?

JENNY:          Yes, so both pools will be available for our guests of course. The pool that’s closes tot the hotel and in between Matt’s and Salty’s will primarily be for hotel guests and marina guests. We will really look to that second pool as the moral local friendly pool.

MARK:           Smart, very smart.

JENNY:          Which is nice just because you know, our guests do pay resort fees and we want to be respectful of that. The pool is right next to their rooms and so there’s, well you kinda want to keep all that in mind. Whereas the other pool is a little bit further down the property and really it will be like the party pool. 

MARK:           No, that makes a lot of sense and I always think about that when I’m in the pool and I’m going, okay so I see 20 people in this pool that I know aren’t staying here. It’s off season, so us as locals we are respectful to that you know. That’s why you guys do that because it’s not like in peak season. We are not here during Fantasy Fest unless you want us to be jumping in that pool. But I’m thinking that if all these rooms are full and it happens to be at pool time, how do you navigate that? But this is a great solution for that because if I was running the hotel, I would want the pool closest to the rooms for the guests and now, if you’re a local you can still go to the restaurant there, just don’t go in the pool because of everybody else. So, then the bigger pool is going to be for all the locals and guests. Now is it bigger or the same size?

JENNY:          It’s actually the same as it comes to how much water is in the pool, how many gallons it is. But it’s a different layout though, which is super cool, the actual patio is a little bit bigger and it has a little bit more of a design rather than the rectangle that we have here at this property. 

MARK:           Now, most importantly, will there be a bar connected to this pool?

JENNY:          There will, yes.

MARK:           Okay, then all the locals will be there no problem. 

JENNY:          That will be the Barrel House and that’s actually going to be a BBQ and Brews concept. Because we already have two really amazing seafood restaurants on sight, we were like, you know there’s no need to add a third. 

MARK:           There’s only so many oysters and shrimp I can have.

JENNY:          Yeah and they do it so well, why compete with our existing restaurants. So, we really wanted to go a different route with it and our chefs all come from the south and one of the things that they really wanted to do was to pull in that southern cooking with the brisket and BBQ ribs and that kinda stuff. 

MARK:           I was just thinking about my trip in Austin last summer and all of what’s going on there will be going on in this restaurant. 

JENNY:          We are really excited about it and wanted to go out on our own when it comes to signature cocktails and shareable cocktails. We already have a couple of those really big Moscow mule mugs and I forget how many ounces they are, but they are huge and so…

MARK:           Yeah, two and you’re done.

JENNY:          It’s basically like a fish bowl so it’ll be cool because we don’t know any other restaurants that are doing that around town and we want to be creative and have fun with it and have another reason to come out to the property and just see what we have to offer. 

MARK:           Will the stage be there as well? You mentioned the open lawn and the stage? I’m assuming that that means music?

JENNY:          Yeah, a lot of the events that we have now, we really want to shift over to that part of the property because that’s what it’s for. It will be great for not only events and live music, but also for weddings. So now we have this private space that’s waterfront that our brides, grooms and any other kind of reception or celebration will have access to. 

MARK:           So, if there’s a crazy bachelor party they can be jumping in that pool naked instead of this closer one.

JENNY:          They could, yeah.

MARK:           So how many people can that lawn area hold?

JENNY:          It’s about up to 500. But that would be the entire space. I would say the lawn itself is probably close to like 250 standing. If you open up the bar area, the VIP terrace, the pool area, then we anticipate we could probably get about 500 up there. 

MARK:           Okay, but if we are having a wedding and it’s sit-down, with the stage is the actual wedding is happening, then you’re looking at in the 2’s probably. 

JENNY:          Probably.

MARK:           Is there another area for events? Like say that I wanted to bring down a bunch of businessmen or women and we want to have a corporate event? Is there a space inside for that? 

JENNY:          Yeah, what’s interesting about this property is we have a lot of what we call “out of the box venues.” We not only have a sunset lounge up on our 3rd floor that overlooks the saltwater mangroves, we also have an office space in the Coral Lagoon building that’s right behind the Salty Oyster, and that space overlooks the marina and can accommodate up to 70 people. That’s a really great space. 

MARK:           Is that being redone? I went in that space once before and there was a couple of random offices and the Red Pants Collection were in there. Is that all being converted into space for events or also office? 

JENNY:          Not for events but it’s office space right now. The lower level is actually going to be turned into retail space. 

MARK:           Oh nice.

JENNY:          Right now, there’s on the bottom floor is garage door openings and they are going to change that to glass doors. 

MARK:           Like bay doors but it will be all glass. Wow, that’s nice.

JENNY:          You’ll be able to hang out, really where we see it going is having a bunch of retail shops down there. Cupcake Sushi actually has one of the spots, Lazy Dog has one of the spots, we are hoping to expand maybe to a retail space specifically for the Perry merchandise there. So that’s also part of this development and it’s the third phase. 

MARK:           The indoor event space, how many people can fit in there? What’s that going to look like?

JENNY:          That is in that same building and can accommodate about 70 people.

MARK:           Okay, so it’s in the same building. Are you not building a whole separate building for it?

JENNY:          No, it’s in that same building and it’s on the second floor so you have really beautiful views of the marina. Then we actually have a third location as well. That’s our captains’ lounge and it’s at the very end of the pier. That’s birds eye view of the marina, you can see the shrimp boats that come in and out of the harbor and it’s a really beautiful space. That one is a little smaller, probably can accommodate about 35 or so. 

MARK:           Okay, and that’s if someone wanted to do an event at the end of the pier or something like that. 

JENNY:          Like receptions. We have had bachelorette party receptions, we just had meetings out there, baptism parties, you know so pretty much anything. 

MARK:           You’re doing a great job, you’re looking at any notes, you know all these numbers, you are definitely in charge of marketing. You’re doing a wonderful job. 

JENNY:          I have it here just in case though. 

MARK:           You’re doing great, don’t worry. 

JENNY:          Let’s talk about social media. I know that you don’t do the social media, well sometimes you do because we communicated a little bit but tell me about that because this is what I do. I do marketing, sales consulting and all that and the job you’re doing on social is fantastic. 

JENNY:          Oh, thank you.

MARK:           I just want to know how is the return on that happening? Because, are you doing paid advertising? Let’s start there, you do paid advertising on there as well? 

JENNY:          We are.  We do have a variety of different campaigns on social media. We do an email acquisition, promotional and then we do one specifically promoting Matt’s as it comes to whatever specials we are offering, like right now it’s locals’ appreciation. And next month it will be the brunch. We also do some Instagram feed and story advertising. 

MARK:           Are you, and sorry I’m getting nerdy everybody, are you breaking that up into a particular amount? Meaning this percentage is for return on investment? Like we are doing things that we can prove that people are walking into the door because of social? And then another percentage just for branding?

JENNY:          Yes. What’s nice about it is that even though you may not be able to tie each one directly to that ad, you can see your clickthrough rates and you can gage it based on impressions as well. So, it always comes down to attribution, I would say. You can see either if it’s last click attribution where they are actually coming straight from the ad into the booking engine. Or, you can just look at really your return on ad spent. As it comes to clicking and viewing and engaging with the app. 

MARK:           Well, something like this in my opinion, you definitely want to go a little heavier on the branding because someone may be planning to come down here in six months and not know where they want to go and they see all these amazing pictures and all these different things and then when they are ready, then they remember it. That’s heavy on the branding. But what’s cool on Facebook, on their business page to get even nerdier, you can do ads for shopping. Like actually coming into the location so if you are capturing emails and phone numbers and stuff, even of guests, you can upload that and then you can track to see how many people clicked on that ad and came in here because they used a credit card and stuff like that. So it makes it really good because even if you show that to me as a local, and you’re like local specials, and then I come here and I actually pay, you can track because you upload that and you’re like, Mark came in here and he saw this ad and he came in here and spent. So, there’s a lot of great things that Facebook business page which change all the time. 

JENNY:          It’s funny how much they can track nowadays. 

MARK:           It’s pretty amazing. I’ve heard a couple of times, maybe the audience heard a couple of times, you refer to the Perry Key West. Does that mean that there’s expansion of the brand to other locations? 

JENNY:          No, it’s just really our full proper name. The Perry Hotel Key West. 

MARK:           I thought it was going to be like, Newport, Rhode Island. 

JENNY:          Not at this time, but who knows? 

MARK:           Well, you are expanding here and it’s smart from the business that I’ve done and a lot of my mentors, you’re focusing on the core business. You are growing that and you have a big expansion coming, you might as well put all your efforts into that to get that brand really strong, which in my opinion, is very strong already. 

JENNY:          It’s pretty amazing how far we have come in just two short years. And even with Hurricane Irma back in 2017, we had just opened. So, the fact that we were able to bounce back right after that and come back even stronger, it says a lot about the product that we have to offer. I feel like the hardest thing in my position is getting people out here. There’s so many people in Key West who are like, “Oh it’s so far.” It’s like, really? It’s four miles. But I get it because we are a really small community on a really small island so my goal is to get them here. And once they do, they fall in love with it. 

MARK:           You are focusing a lot on locals, not on locals first but getting a lot of locals to come to the hotel. When it comes to Matt’s, that is definitely my focus, Matt’s and Salty Oyster because locals is what keeps this island running. We are the ones who really, I mean you need the local support if you want to be successful. 

MARK:           Since this is September.

JENNY:          Exactly, and September is kind of rewarding them for that loyalty that they’ve given you throughout the rest of the year. 

MARK:           The deals on the food are pretty amazing. 

JENNY:          And, it’s very competitive too. Anywhere you go they are offering a really great special. 

MARK:           I don’t know if I’ve seen, and it’s funny because in my marketing psychology plays a lot of play on things, and you can say half-off dinner specials, or you can say you buy one and you get one free. And for some reason, the one free sounds better even though 50% off dinner is the same exact thing. So that’s a good move doing that. 

JENNY:          It’s really funny because I actually have a retail background. One of my first jobs out of college was working at a major department store in downtown Milwaukee and that’s one of the campaigns that we used to run all the time. Not buy one get one free, but we would always look at what the offering should be and the wording of it. There is a lot of psychology that goes into it. What triggers that good feeling when you hear it or see it and you’ll see it in grocery stores, any kind of retail offering. I think they’ve really done their homework and understanding what it is that drives sales for their industry.

MARK:           Oh yeah. We can get really nerdy, and we’re not going to get that nerdy on this one, but that could be a marketing podcast and I’ll get all the marketing heads together. The power heads together here in key West and we can talk about that because I could go on and on because I’ve studied psychology and all that, way many years. And the littlest tweaks make a big difference. 

JENNY:          My favorite class ever was consumer behavior in college and you learned a lot about what makes people want to buy things. And what kind of connections they have to brands. You know the emotions that are triggered and the different types of advertising that you can do based on fear, based on emotion, it’s just so cool. 

MARK:           There’s a great book by Robert Cialdini called Influence. If you haven’t read it or listened to the audio book, I will show you after. So, let’s get into some juicy things here and people always want to know, and I want to know, so how about that? If I go to Expedia over coming to the hotel, what’s the better deal for me? 

JENNY:          Always booking direct. It kills me. It’s so funny because we actually are running a promotion right now, I have the perfect example, and within the last four days I think, I’ve received at least ten inquiries via social media saying “I booked through Expedia or I booked through Hotels.com and I want this offer.” And I said, you know that’s why you don’t book with those companies because you can’t get that offer then, and I said it in a much nicer way, but. 

MARK:           Oh, so they saw a better offer and they are like – I want this – and you’re like sorry. 

JENNY:          Well, we are always happy to work with guests on that sort of thing. Our recommendation is to call the front desk first so that we can understand what you booked through that third party and then help you maybe cancel that reservation and then rebook directly with the hotel. 

MARK:           Or, what about if, for whatever reason, they find it cheaper, they can call the hotel and you’ll match that? 

JENNY:          We have a best rate guarantee. If that ever does happen, let us know, and unfortunately it does happen because those third parties can undercut the hotel. What they do is they collect a commission for every booking that they get, and so if they aren’t getting the bookings that they think they should be getting, they will actually cut their own commission so that they can get more bookings. It all comes down to the most beneficial to any guest is to book direct, because not only is the reservation in your hands but the payment is also in your hands as well as the hotel. You have full control over that and you’re much more likely honestly to get an upgrade when you come to the property and additional perks. 

MARK:           I agree, I agree, and I’m not knocking any of those services because I know that Expedia is knocking on my door to sponsor the podcast, but I have recently because I travel a lot had gone direct. I will do price searching and then I go direct because you do have the at control. You have the ability to say, like let’s say that I pay for a room direct and I got to my room and I wanted it on the ground floor instead of the second floor, I may not be able to get something like that. With your hotel, you’re very accommodating, others they don’t. They are like, well that’s this rate, you can’t change it. If you book directly with us, we can play with all those different things. 

JENNY:          Exactly, when you have a specific – and really the large hotels – they are going to have a specific range of rooms or room types that they give to all those Expedia bookings. And there just isn’t a lot of flexibility there as it comes to upgrades or anything like that, whereas if we are going through all of our inventory and we see one day that we are overbooked in this one room type, the first thing we are going to do is look to see who booked direct and we are going to upgrade them. 

MARK:           Wow, so listen everybody, you’re getting it here. The thing about Key West is that we don’t have 100 story hotels. It does help the local businesses by going direct because then they don’t have to pay a middleman and like you just heard right here, you’re going to possibly get an upgrade or a little perks or little things like that when you’re going direct. Speaking about all these perks, I see that you have a very strong influencer program with social media. Especially Instagram. 

JENNY:          Yeah. 

MARK:           Are those people that are like? Hey, can I get a deal? Or, are you actively searching them out? 

JENNY:          It’s a little bit of both. What every marketer…

MARK:           Let me interrupt for a minute, what I mean by that is, there will be guests who come to the hotel who heavily promote the hotel and their overall experience because they are very good story tellers. Maybe they have a half million followers or a million followers, maybe 100,000 followers, sometimes 20-30,000 followers, these are what we call influencers in the space, because this is the person that when they speak to their audience then their audience listens and they are able to then show their experience in the hotel. Sometimes they get the hotel for free, sometimes at a discount, sometimes they get food and I understand why because it would be like if Brad Pitt came walking in the hotel and he’s gonna get something free because he can promote. 

JENNY:          Yes, what I was going to say is that what every marketer needs to understand in this day and age is that influencers are very important. It’s interesting to me how quickly they skyrocketed to those positions but because they have such a large following, it’s a really relatively cheap way to get in front of a large audience. When you’re going into sales funnel, you want to touch every person you’re reaching out to at least 5-7 times. If that first touch point is then learning about you from an influencer then that’s great because then they are starting to get that introduction to the property, maybe they will come visit the website, maybe then we can serve them up an ad in the future or maybe they follow us on social media, whatever the case is. We really embrace the influencer community and I’ve had some really great partnerships with them where it’s nice because they are all pretty strict sometimes about this is what you get for this. When they come to this property, I never have to worry that they are not going to post enough, take enough stories, it’s just really organic and I’ve never been let down – knock on wood – but I’ve had a lot of really successful influencers stay with us and just promote the property to the level that I can’t do because I’m sitting in my office all day and they are really experiencing it as a guest and that’s what I want on my side. I want that guest point of view and I want to share that with our followers so that they can see this is a true experience, this is not me telling you what you’re going to experience at the property, this is somebody who is truly experiencing it. 

MARK:           So that people at home will understand, the way that it typically works is that if I’m an influencer with a million followers, maybe I reach out to Nike and say I’m going to wear your shoes, or they will reach out to me and they are going to pay me for that, and right now there is no gage on what that payment should be. 

JENNY:          Everyone negotiates it really. 

MARK:           For some people it’s $50,000, and for some people it’s a free pair of sneakers. When you have great product and something that’s beneficial, it is a lot easier to trade a hotel night’s stay, a dinner, and what people don’t understand is that a dinner that costs $100 for you, doesn’t cost the hotel $100. This is their cost and time and a loss of maybe somebody else. So, the benefit of doing that at a hotel like this is that it’s better than paying somebody for it. The reason why is because, just like you explained, I come to the hotel and I am promoting to my audience that, and this isn’t me it’s them, love them and will follow them and want to hear their story and they are sharing the story of I’m on the bed with my robe and here’s the hotel lobby and oh my God I had this cocktail, and look at this amazing food, and they are posting like crazy just like if they didn’t stay for free they probably would do the same thing anyway. 

JENNY:          I was going to say with all of those different concepts that you just mentioned, they are doing that on their own. So really, I’m giving them the venue and then they are running with it. It’s really amazing to see and work for a property that has such a great product that I know when influencers come and stay with us that they are going to do a great job promoting it, because they love it and they are experiencing it and they are happy with it. 

MARK:           Has anyone yet said, “Oh my God I’m staying here because of this person.”

JENNY:          Actually yes. We have had a couple of them. 

MARK:           Yes.

JENNY:          Yeah, the last one we had has a huge account with over 430,000 followers and she focuses on really amazing decadent food and so she came and stayed with us and she was an amazing partner, and was just really excited to work with us and everything and after she posted our lobster mac and cheese that we welcomed her with, I had somebody email me right away, and said, “I’m specifically following you because of this post.” 

MARK:           Right, of course!

JENNY:          I said well that’s great and now you’ll have to come down and have it for yourself. 

MARK:           Listen everybody, if you do have a business, small or big, you don’t have to sit there and go well I don’t have free stuff I can give away, I don’t have a budget for something like this, you don’t have to go with massive influencers, you can go with micro-influencers. If you’re in a small town in Kentucky, not that Kentucky is small, but if you are in a small town there, you can find the stay at home mom with 5,000 followers where they engage with her, meaning that they are liking her posts or commenting. You can see that these are people that actually that what she says and does mean something to them, that’s an influencer in that town. If you’ve got 10 of these people, you can move your product or at least your brand. 

JENNY:          I think that you really hit the nail on the head because the key is finding somebody in that target market that is alignment with yours. So, if that mom in this random town is not your target audience, then that’s not going to work for you. But if it is, then you are really targeting a key market for your business.

MARK:           Right, you sell moms clothes or sell stuff for a mom to help with her kids or something like that, and you’re like global, you can target all those mini-cities with all those mini-influencers. Sometimes, especially if they have 10,000 or 5,000 or 20,000 followers, then you can say “Oh I’m going to give you these free diaper bags to do this.” And they are over the moon to get that. 

JENNY:          Exactly, or even just a discount sometimes if, let’s say it’s a really busy time of year and we do have an influencer that we would like to work with, sometimes we have to charge them a media rate which is just a discounted rate. And we can do something for free and as long as they have that experience and they understand that and so it’s kinda every single influencer that I work with each deal is negotiated separately then each one is very different and unique. 

MARK:           Don’t try to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes, we can look by seeing your engagement if you have a million followers and twenty likes and one comment and they are all from some foreigner. 

JENNY:          Then you are paying for followers, which is a big no-no.

MARK:           You might as well not even bother. 

JENNY:          If I can just say really quickly that I’m very excited that we just hit our 10,000 followers.

MARK:           I saw, congratulation on that. Maybe when people listen to this you’ll be over that number, I am sure you will. 

JENNY:          Yeah, one million. 

MARK:           You are doing it the right way because it is the marathon not the sprint when it comes to branding in this business and you don’t want to go from 10,000 to a million overnight that would be good if Will Smith came here and he started posting stuff and he probably would, but …

JENNY:          Well, we did have Mark Wahlberg not too long ago.

MARK:           Oh nice. I didn’t see any posts from Mark, damn it. 

JENNY:          I really wish I could have; it was all top secret.

MARK:           he was here on vacation? Not for a movie or anything. Well that’s cool though. 

JENNY:          Yeah, we had to keep it on the down-low, so that was kind of a bummer, because I would have been following him around with my camera. But it was an honor have somebody of that caliber come stay with us. 

MARK:           Very cool and I know, and staying off the beaten path and not in Old Town is nice, too. So, we are wrapping up, but let me ask, and I ask every guest the same thing and we’ll mix it up a little but very deep and dark personal questions. Which is… what’s your favorite event here in Key West to attend?

JENNY:          Songwriters Festival. 

MARK:           Nice, I like that! Finally, we didn’t get a Fantasy Fest answer.

JENNY:          I do love Fantasy Fest but, yeah.

MARK:           What about, favorite place for happy hour and it cannot be here. 

JENNY:          Uggh. 

MARK:           Even though, I will be coming for happy hour here. 

JENNY:          I would probably say Mellow Ventures. 

MARK:           I love Mellow Ventures! Yes. They have great beers and the location is. 

JENNY:          They are really great, super casual, it’s on the water, there’s usually parking.

MARK:           Yeah, and you’re into the parking. You’re all about the parking. 

JENNY:          Does that make me old? 

MARK:           No. Absolutely not! 

JENNY:          Is there parking here? 

MARK:           You’re smart.

JENNY:          And the food is really good. 

MARK:           It is, it’s healthy and it’s good, prices are great. 

JENNY:          I don’t feel as guilty when I eat there. I do love my bar food but I try to eat healthy whenever possible. 

MARK:           Okay, so bar food, what’s your favorite one for bar food?

JENNY:          Lucy’s. 

MARK:           You knew that one right away, too. You were holding out with that. What about thing that if a tourist came into town, who is a friend of yours, never been here, what would you do? 

JENNY:          I would try, if I have somebody who could take us, take us out to Snipes. 

MARK:           Snipes, nice. I don’t know Snipes. 

JENNY:          Really? Oh, you have to. It’s just a beautiful sandbar in the middle of the ocean. Yeah and it’s so pristine and there’s really nothing like it. 

MARK:           That must be the pictures that I’ve seen because I’ve seen these pictures and I’m like where the heck is this?

JENNY:          If I can just say that one of the things that I feel really bad about is that when people do come to Key West for the very first time and really haven’t done their research, I feel really bad when they never get out on the water. Because that’s why Key West is such an amazing place and the Florida Keys in general. Duval Street is great, our food and drink and all that stuff is great, but in order to truly understand what it’s like to be on an island, you have to go out. Some kind of excursion or if you can get on the water and get out to a place like Snipes. 

MARK:           Yeah, and not to knock the beaches, you cannot judge the entire water experience on the quality of the beach. The beaches are okay here, I mean South Beach beaches are better, some of the islands are better, but you cannot judge it on that. You have to get out on a boat on the water and it’s worth it, spend the money and get out there. 

JENNY:          or even on a Jet Ski, or just do parasailing or something like that, so you can get a view of the water. 

MARK:           Or under the water, if you want to go scuba diving or snorkeling. There’s a reason why Key West is what it is, and it’s protected and all these things, because of the reef that surrounds it. So if you get out past that reef and I’ve been on, and I remember when we first were coming to visit, I did a tour where you can rent a boat and I think 4-5 people can go on it and you go and you go view dolphins. So, you drive around and you’re guaranteed to see dolphins and you do and then it’s like, oh my God.

JENNY:          We have that here, one of our experience partners is the Dolphin Safari. They are the #1 South Florida excursion when it comes to dolphin watch. Every single time you go out you will see dolphins because they know exactly where they hang out. They just go to each of those locations and they know how to just hang out for the right amount of time and eventually the dolphins pop up and kinda hang out and play with the boat. 

MARK:           Amazing. Well listen this was great, thank you so much for taking the time. 

JENNY:          yeah, thank you! 

MARK:           We learned some things and got some inside scoop if you want to come to the hotel, book direct. There’s a lot going on here, so I’m not going to hold you back and I’m sure you’re super busy. Thank you very much. 

JENNY:          I was going to say, there’s only five days left of our locals’ appreciation, so what we were talking about earlier with the buy one-get-one-free entrée, we do that for dinner every night here at Matt’s through September 30th. Then we do it at Salty Oyster all day long. If you’re looking for really great food, a cool vibe, on the water, lots of parking, then you can come on out through the 30th and enjoy those specials. We also have our own signature beers where if you add on a growler it’s only $15.

MARK:           Tell me about this growler. What is a growler? 

JENNY:          If you look over there, I know our listeners can’t hear, but that big brown bottle? 

MARK:           It’s like a big brown jug that you think a thing of honey would be in. 

JENNY:          It’s a huge jug and it’s just convenient if you want to take some beer home. After you buy a growler, every refill is 20% off for every refill. 

MARK:           Nice.

JENNY:          Yeah, so you can take a growler with you and it’s $15 for a great deal on amazing beer. 

MARK:           Okay, in true marketing fashion, we ended with a wonderful plug. But it was a good one because if you are local like me, you must come for the 2-for-1.

JENNY:          Yes please!  Thank you. 

We are having a conversation between Mark Baratto and Amy Clarke-Van Schoor

INTRO ~ Welcome to the Backyards of Key West Podcast with your host Mark Baratto. 

MARK:           Welcome to the Backyards of Key West podcast and I’m sitting outside in a parking lot and you can probably hear cars going by so I’m going to be extra loud today into this microphone. One of the cool things is that I have a beautiful view of the ocean and the reason I’m in a parking lot is because I am outside of the famous Taco Grilla, not taco gorilla, not taco grill, Taco Grilla with my guest Amy. And Amy, welcome to the show.

AMY:              Thank you!

MARK:           Tell me first, the name, I think it’s very catchy. Who came up with it? Who is the branding expert here with Grilla? 

AMY:              We were bouncing off a lot of different names, and there’s four of us, and we couldn’t all agree on one name. And it’s actually my friend’s dad who came up with it. 

MARK:           Really? And you’re just like, well we are taco grillin’ and we’re doing this, and he’s like, how about grilla?

AMY:              It was going to be Yobro Grill, I don’t know, we wanted to do something with taco and his dad just came up with Taco Grilla. Then we were like, yeah, and we all agreed so it fit. 

MARK:           The logo? What about that cool…

AMY:             The gorilla, again that was a combination of, and this time it was the three of us and our good friend and myself and the other chef Riaan, we all just kinda had different specs of ideas that we wanted to put in and we had a friend draw it up for us.

MARK:           And here you are. How long have you been in Key West? Let’s start there.  

AMY:              I’ve been in Key West for 12 years.

MARK:           What about this business, how did you get into this? Was this a dream? Did you just fall into it? I need this whole scoop here, it’s just too cool. 

AMY:              My husband Riaan, he’s the chef and he has a culinary degree and we were both kind of in between jobs and I always told him that, and he always told me actually, if he ever worked in a kitchen again, he wanted to have his own. He didn’t want to be working below anybody else. 

MARK:           It’s like a dream of every chef. As an artist. 

AMY:              It was the most financially smart thing we could do at the time because opening a restaurant takes loads and loads of money. 

MARK:           Yes, super risky, yes. 

AMY:              Yes, it’s super risky and this just seemed a little bit more up our alley, that we could do. 

MARK:           And when did you start this?  

AMY:              We started looking for the truck in January of 2017. Then we were open in May of 2017. 

MARK:           You are in between jobs and he’s like listen, I want to do my own thing, we don’t want to do the restaurant thing because that’s crazy to do, it’s like really ballsy and you need a lot of cash to burn through for years. And he’s like, so how did that conversation go? Was it like, well… should we do a food truck? Or did that just come out of nowhere?  

AMY:             That’s basically how the conversation went, I was like “well what should we do?” He said we could do a food truck because that’s just us. Nobody else. And I’m like, all right and then we just started looking online for food trucks for sale. 

MARK:           And where?

AMY:             Miami, we were looking at Miami. Then we contacted a few online places and then we found this one in Miami and the lady told us that somebody, well the bank had foreclosed on it, or the bank had took it back and it was going for really really cheap. Cheaper than what it should be and then we went and looked at it and we were like; all right let’s do it. 

MARK:           And you just bought the thing and drove it down. How quickly, well was it like an overhaul, you know you’ve seen movies where it’s like a gut job on the inside. 

AMY:             No, it was beautiful. It was beautiful and they had a bathroom in there and we actually got them to take that out because we knew that we weren’t going to be traveling and it’s a great thing to have, but whoever put it in was really really smart because they knew what they were going to be doing. 

MARK:           Yeah, they may have even been living in there, too. 

AMY:              But we wanted the bathroom out and we just wanted more storage space. 

MARK:           Right, that’s awesome. You got the truck, and quicker than any restaurant were able to open. What about the menu? Was this something that you both worked on together? What’s your role? I can tell you are the creative genius with that smirk, so tell me your ….

AMY:             I am more of the, well my husband calls me the experimental chef? Because I put a lot of stuff together that he wasn’t taught that would go together in his French cuisine culinary school that he went to, so we just bounce things off of each other. I make a chai tea pineapple and spinach smoothie. And when I first told him I was like, oh give me that chai, I’m going to put it in the blender and he was like, eww gross. Then he tried it and he was like, it’s really good. And I’m like, yeah! 

MARK:           That’s great. Why Key West? Why did you first come down here? Tell me that story. 

AMY:             The first time I was here was on a cruise ship thanks to my parents. They bought us kids tickets to go on a cruise ship as a family trip and I basically just stuck to Duval walked around, and as the cruise ship was starting to leave, my brother and I were standing at the back and it’s like, “I want to live in a place like this.” Not thinking that I would eventually come back here. Then less than a year later I came back with somebody whose mom was down here writing a book, so it was just a connection. Then I just kept coming back and then I got a job at a bar and then I met people and then I had a place to stay.

MARK:           It kinda swallowed you up. Key West swallowed you up!

AMY:             The next thing I knew it was four years later and then I met Riaan and then it was another six years later and now we have the food truck. 

MARK:           Wow, I love that. I mean that’s why I love doing these podcasts to learn the business of why people are doing these things. I mean, it’s kind of a business’y podcast in the way that we are in Key West but there’s still people here, there’s not everybody just drinkin’ and lying on the beach. There’s people living their dream, whatever that dream is, and it’s so exciting to hear from so many people that they are just going for it. You wouldn’t think that, you know this isn’t New York and we’re not in LA, we are not in Miami, we are in this small-town Key West. Big town in its own way and people are really going for it down here and my hat’s off to you for that. 

AMY:             Well, thank you!

MARK:           Tell me about the food truck business. Me coming from Miami, and I’m new to Key West and in Wynwood there’s food trucks everywhere and because the population is so big, they don’t usually stay in one place, they go wherever the people are and show up and open the doors and everybody comes. Are you allowed to do that, can you cruise Duval with this and park? 

AMY:             No.

MARK:           I didn’t think so, I figured you would be doing that. 

AMY:             I think you’ll notice most of the food trucks in Key West are all stationary. And I just think that’s because of the size of Key West because we are so small and everything is so tight, there’s not a lot of places that you can just pull up and park your food truck to serve.

MARK:           Right. During two cruise ships parked and if you went and found a parking spot, which I doubt you would, but if you did and pulled this up there, what would happen? The police would come and ticket you or you are not allowed to do that?

AMY:             No, you have to have the right permit, I believe. And there’s only a certain amount of them given to do food vending, like what they do at the beach where they pull up and park there and I’m not 100% sure, but I know they are really expensive and there’s not very many of them. 

MARK:           What you have is just a regular permit to serve food? 

AMY:              Yeah, I have a food vending permit from the city to be at the Liquid 8 Pawn Shop.

MARK:           At that location only and if you wanted to move, like you were at a location before, you had to reregister and go through all this paperwork?  

AMY:             I probably just had to change the address. I got the permit for serving food and I think that’s all that I need. It actually wasn’t as complicated as I was worried that it was going to be. The city was really really helpful. 

MARK:           Awesome, cause I don’t know. I’m getting permits for stuff in my house and it’s like taking forever, so I figured wow – you just got the permit a year ago and you started in 2012, right? But that’s good that they are wanting a lot more of that because I think it’s great, food truck popularity is growing. People like to come and do that and we are in a town where people go to the beach and they are always on the move and it’s like less about sometimes going and sitting and having dinner and more like, let’s grab a quick bite and go and this is the perfect thing for it. You are right on North Roosevelt over here. We are on 1970 North Roosevelt and this is the hub. You come into Key West, make a right, and you go down this road to Old Town and guess what you are gonna see? You are gonna see your food truck. Do you get a lot of local? I mean it’s gotta be all locals, or do you get a lot of tourists too? Tell me about that percentage wise.  

AMY:             I feel like, maybe 60/40 tourist depending on the season. I mean 60 for locals and 40 for tourists and I don’t know how good I am about guessing that, but March it definitely picks up a lot with more tourists for us. March is like our busiest month and that was on Stock Island, so I’m excited to see what it’s going to do. 

MARK:           I wonder if that was people coming in or coming out of Key West, whereas now this has appeal because we have all the hotels in the New Town section and then people coming to Old Town and vice versa. They are coming by this all the time and before it used to be Old Town or bust, now it’s like the whole island. So, I think you are in a prime spot here and if people want to sell pawn stuff, you’re definitely in the right spot for it. I mean, just the traffic and you can hear it coming by, this is like – and you know – you pay for this, but you got lucky to have such a great spot. And, there’s parking, which is another thing.  

AMY:             It’s amazing, the parking is really really good to have. 

MARK:           I know you were talking about restaurant possibly, is that something maybe in the future? Or you’re like? 

AMY:             Maybe? I have some crazy restaurant ideas that Riaan, and we butt heads on and he’s like, not right now Amy.  I know, but wouldn’t that be cool, if? And same for him, maybe Taco Grilla will move into a building one day, I don’t, we don’t really know. 

MARK:           Or staying in Key West? Is that the plan? Or moving because you are mobile, right? You can go to New Orleans or go to other places. Is that ever in the cards toying with that? 

AMY:             You know, whatever comes our way, we are going to take. This being here at Liquid 8 Pawn Shop, this came our way, we didn’t have to go out hunting for it which is really great. I think that’s how it should be. 

MARK:           Yeah, that’s like the free spirit in me. I’m going to get all excited and all right, if I buy that food truck, I’d be driving across country from festival to festival. 

AMY:              I think the thing is, that we don’t even have a vehicle that can pull this.

MARK:           There’s no engine in the front. 

AMY:             No, there’s no engine we can tow it, but we don’t have a vehicle strong enough to tow it. 

MARK:           Right, I see a bicycle and maybe a motorcycle. 

AMY:             I have a scooter and a bicycle and a Honda Element and neither of those can pull them. 

MARK:           That’s like a long ride to Austin with that right there. Well, you never know, I mean we can see you in a multitude of places. We just need the vehicle to help get you there and if that comes your way, then it’s meant to be then. What advice would you give someone looking to get into this business? Now that you are kinda wet behind the ears with it. 

AMY:             Ummm, don’t give up, I guess? 

MARK:           How was the beginning? Was it super rocky? Give me a little bit of that. 

AMY:             It was a little confusing because they were like, well you need this permit but to get this permit you need to have this permit. And then to get this permit you need to have that permit, then you need that permit, and I was just kinda like “ugh!” 

MARK:           But I just want to serve food. 

AMY:             Yeah, but there’s ways around it and honestly, Miami was a huge help probably because it is a lot bigger and the place we got the food truck at, they were really helpful with getting our licenses and helping us figure out how to get it registered.

MARK:           Because you have to start with a state license? Or is it a whole new?

AMY:             Yeah.

MARK:           So, Miami helped with the state and then when you got here, was it county too?

AMY:             County was up on Stock Island. Then it was a different license for Key West. 

MARK:           So, you have three licenses. 

AMY:             Yeah, so don’t feel overwhelmed once you do start if this what you want to do. Don’t – and you’re gonna feel overwhelmed – but just breathe through it and know that it is just day by day and just keep plucking away and little things will eventually give you the big end product that you’re looking for. 

MARK:           What about inventory? It’s like, okay we are going to start, what do we do for inventory? What do we do for marketing? Tell me that.  

AMY:              So much. Inventory is everything. The timing of it, when you want to get it because when you’re going to open and you don’t want stuff to go bad too soon. 

MARK:           When you first started, were you just going, okay we may have over ordered and we are having tacos for breakfast, lunch and dinner the next couple of weeks.  

AMY:             No. Fortunately, I have to give credit to Riaan for so much, everything. He does so much in this food truck.

MARK:           Well, having that degree it’s not just cooking, there’s other aspects that they teach in there, right? The running of the business. 

AMY:             Measuring, costs, how much it takes to even make a taco. How much your taco is gonna cost. Then how to sell it to people.

MARK:           And at the end of the month, you’re like we’re doing great! And you are like, well then why is our bank negative, right? There’s a lot that goes into that. 

AMY:             And I’m learning a lot. A lot. This is the first time, and I’ve been a server, bartender, but this is the first time I’ve been in the kitchen. I was like…

MARK:           And learning the business part of it, too. You are looking at the numbers so you have to know we have to have this amount to buy for so many weeks or months in advance for certain things, right? So, you need to take care of that too.

AMY:              Yeah, just making sure that what you’re buying and you’re not getting ripped off on it. How much for this avocado? Is it worth it? We just shop around and that’s the big thing down here is that we go to all the grocery stores. And we order from Cheney Brothers. Daily. I have my spots for things like cilantro, and avocados I get it here. Vegan cheese I get it here. Purple cabbage I get it over here. 

MARK:           You are running all over the place. You don’t need to go to the gym, you are on that bicycle all over the place. 

AMY:              I scooter for that stuff. 

MARK:           Tell me in preparing everything and getting everything ready and he’s got the experience being a chef and everything, and you’re getting ready to open, how did you prepare? The window opens and what? Tell me about the first day.

AMY:             We just crossed our fingers and we were like; well I hope people come! 

MARK:           You just tell them, well was it a line of friends that came at first to support? 

AMY:             Honestly, we are kind of really bad at having grand openings. We didn’t really want to, we were just kinda like let’s just open and we’ll post it on Instagram and the people who see that message and want to come down and get food, then they can come down and get food. Fortunately, we created a nice little following of people who really really enjoy our food which makes us super proud and happy about it. To see their faces again and for them to tell us like, “oh wow you’re back open?” It’s a really nice feeling. 

MARK:           I saw you guys on Stock Island because I always go to Fit Gym as well, and then I had a couple of friends down here, me being new to the island, but I have a couple of friends and they are posting these pictures, and like Oh they are back in Key West!  Proper Key West, not on Stock Island anymore. And I was like, wow, I’ve gotta go have this food. And we went today for the first time and it was amazing, it really was, it was excellent. So, hat’s off to you that the food lives up to all of the hype from everybody on social that loves to post and talk about it. My friends were like, you just gotta go, I’m so happy they are here because I’d ride a bicycle past there every day and now, I can go and eat. 

AMY:             Yeah!

MARK:           You are giving back to the island yourself and living the dream. 

AMY:             Good thank you. That was our goal, honestly, we wanted to create good, healthy, affordable, fast food for people. 

MARK:           That’s what I was saying, in Miami in Wynwood, if I were to get what I got for lunch today, for half of that would have been that price. And it wasn’t like one shrimp, it was like buttloads of shrimp on each taco and I was like, wow I got some chips going on over here, I got a side of rice and beans going on, too. I got more than I expected. 

AMY:             Good, that’s what we aim for. 

MARK:           That’s great. Name something people that know you, don’t know about what you do?  Like friends or anybody, they are like, oh she’s got that food truck, but what else? 

AMY:              I’m a professional cilantro picker now.  

MARK:           Are you gonna grow it? Are you going to grow the cilantro? 

AMY:             I tried growing it up on Stock Island and the iguanas ate it. 

MARK:           They are crazy, they will eat everything. 

AMY:             Now there’s no garden over here. 

MARK:           Well you could do something on the roof. 

AMY:              Not right now, it’s leaking actually. That rain, this past rain, oh no!

MARK:           It’s crazy rain, it was like a flood everywhere. But that’s another challenge of the food truck business. You have a leaky roof. 

AMY:             Exactly, just think of a food truck as owning a boat, ya’ know? It’s just one thing after the next. Except for, honestly, I think the food truck is better than the boat? In that aspect because I feel like the boat there’s always something wrong and here it’s just little hiccups every now and then. 

MARK:           You can get some mechanic or somebody over here to help this, where there it’s an extra couple of hundred bucks just to get there.  

AMY:             Bring on another thousand. 

MARK:           Exactly, right? We have learned a little bit about the business’y side about what you’ve got going on, now we go to the very important detailed questions, the personal questions. So they are really not that crazy, they are pretty simple. What’s your favorite event to attend here in Key West?  

AMY:              Well it has to be Fantasy Fest. 

MARK:           What part? We all know that. 

AMY:             What part? Umm.

MARK:           Is it the Zombie Bike Ride? Is it the Local Parade? 

AMY:              I ummm… 

MARK:           Or is it that you start on day one and then on day ten you wake up? You’re so hungover you don’t know what to do. 

AMY:              My typical schedule is, well because I bartend. So, when Fantasy Fest rolls around I am getting ready to bartend and…

MARK:           Yeah and you’re like slammed. 

AMY:             What I like to do is that I like to join in the Zombie Bike Ride on my way to work and then I get off and I go work. 

MARK:           With the gear? Like do you have the full paint? 

AMY:             Yeah, I mean I’ll try and do my best, but I get a little dressed up and then I go to work. I also really enjoy the Tutu party. I had the privilege of bartending last year for that and I really had fun bartending there. It was before I knew, it was 4:30a.m.

MARK:           It’s gotta be characters. The stories you could probably tell on the people that you meet and see, and the age groups of these people doing these things. But that’s for another podcast. What about favorite restaurant to go to? 

AMY:             It’s new, Moondog Café. I really enjoy their food.

MARK:           I like their food, too. They have those muffins in there and every time I come by, I say “I’m here for the muffins again.” And they are just like, all right. We are going to supply these muffins just for you dude because you keep coming back every day. They have great food, too. Great pizza and other things too that I have to try there. What about hidden local spot? Could be a bar, could be a restaurant, could be a park? 

AMY:              Hidden local spot.

MARK:           Yeah, that not many tourists will go to.

AMY:              Well, I like Mary Ellen’s, but that’s kinda getting’ hyped up for tourists, too now. They’ve got a scene in there, and I like it. I still enjoy Green Parrot which is again really popular. I don’t go out much, though. 

MARK:           And you’re busy doing this, or if you’re bartending, right? That’s your going out. 

AMY:              That’s my going out, yeah. 

MARK:           What about favorite place for live music?

AMY:  .           Favorite place for live music, again I’m gonna have to say Green Parrot.

MARK:           Green Parrot, yeah. They have great jazz on Sundays. 

AMY:             I really enjoy their space.

MARK:           It’s nice because you can kinda hang out with the open windows if you want to get deep you can, if you want to stay on the edges you can. 

AMY:             Yeah, I like free popcorn.

MARK:           Free popcorn is always good, always a good thing a little snack action. What about for happy hour? 

AMY:              For happy hour, ummm it’s on the tip of my tongue, and I just went there the other day I feel like. 

MARK:           Is it because of the deals or because of the location. Sometimes I like going to the happy hour because I get the good 2-for-1. Sometimes I go and it’s not the best price wise but the view is nice. 

AMY:             Man, I can’t think of one right now. 

MARK:           Okay, we can come back to that one. You can tweet that, or put it on Instagram after this comes out. Oh yeah, I remembered it, here’s what it is!

AMY:              Oh! I thought of it! The Orchid Bar. I love that little bar. 

MARK:           And where is that? I’ve never been there yet. 

AMY:              I think it’s at the Orchid Inn, right on Duval. Again, that’s probably my favorite tucked away hiding spot that tourists don’t know. 

MARK:           Awesome, well I’m going to hit that this weekend. 

AMY:              They are local friendly and they make awesome craft drinks and it’s a beautiful little bar. 

MARK:           Love that. Tourist attraction that, like when people come from out of town and they are like, okay I gotta take you here. 

AMY:              That would definitely be the Southernmost buoy thing. But early, early, early in the morning before that crazy line starts.

MARK:           That’s like locals know that and I go by that all the time and there’s nobody ever there. 

AMY:              I’m like, okay let’s go take our picture! 

MARK:           But every tourist goes and it’s like 20 minutes deep just to get there and I’m like, no – get up at 7 and go when there’s nobody there. Like on a Saturday, nobody’s there let alone on a Tuesday. You can go there all day and nobody’s there.  The personal questions, they weren’t that difficult, you made it through. What about where people can, obviously we know where to find you address wise, but websites, social media, I’ll put it all in the show notes, but also tell me. 

AMY:              Everything is at Tacogrilla. 

https://www.tacogrilla.com/
https://www.instagram.com/tacogrilla/

MARK:           What about on the Snapchat, are you hipster with the Snapchat yet? 

AMY:              Personally, I am, but Taco Grilla doesn’t understand Snapchat, he has issues. 

MARK:           He’s too beefy.

AMY:              His fingers get stuck on the buttons; he gets too confused. 

MARK:           Well that was great. I loved talking to you and I loved learning more about this and I know that we are at the end of the day here. We are closing in on sunset and we gotta go watch the sunset down at Mallory Square and you’ve had a long day. So, I really appreciate you coming out and doing this in the parking lot on a time when you could be relaxing, and thank you very much. It was great. 

AMY:              No, thank you. It was really fun. 

MARK:           Thanks.  

We are having a conversation between Mark Baratto and Billy Kearins 

INTRO ~ Welcome to the Backyards of Key West Podcast with your host Mark Baratto. 

MARK:           Welcome to the Backyards of Key West and we are at Coast Projects, a couple blocks from Duval and I walk in and of course, the place is awesome, the clothing is awesome. It’s very surfer, very California, very… I don’t know, cool rustic vibe but then I walk when I come to meet Billy and I come outside and there’s a pool and Banyan trees and it’s like a whole thing going on out here. Tell me about this spot, how did you pick this spot? 

BILLY:           We started out about seven years ago and when we first started it was more of a work space and artist collective. We found a spot, out on Stock Island on Front Street and it was an old fishing shack. We were over there until this January and we had a bunch of artists out there sharing the space and we used to do concerts and events. Retail was sort of a smaller facet of what we were doing at the time. A couple of years ago, I guess about 2 ½ years ago, I wanted to push the retail a little bit more and come out with more designs, t-shirt designs, hats, sweatshirts and things like that. I was keeping my eye open for a space in Old Town, probably specifically in the Bahama Village just because I like that area, I like this area the best.

MARK:           Yeah, me too. It’s really nice. 

BILLY:           I drove by on my bike and saw this old building and I actually knew the owner and I had looked at the space years before, but it was never the right time and at this time, it was sort of the right time. There was a For Rent sign and there’s two retail spaces here and one of the spaces was open, so I got in touch with the owner and she said yeah! If you’re interested, I’ll give you first dibs.

MARK:           And here you are.  

BILLY:           Yeah, I think that was January or February of 2017. So, it’s been 2 ½ years.

MARK:           Tell me about the business that you are currently in now? I know it’s retail but who designs the clothes, who makes them, what are you looking to get from doing this type of business? 

BILLY:           So, like I said at the beginning it was not a brand or retail or anything. But over the years it sort of evolved into that slowly and made one t-shirt and people started wearing it around town, a lot of musicians and stuff and the next thing you know, people are asking if we are gonna come out with new designs and so over the years, we came out with a few designs and then once we moved into this space, I had to have more than 2-3 designs so it forced me to come out with, and I do primarily and most of the t-shirt design and product design I do myself. I have a couple of guys that I work and collaborate with and one of them is a guy named Chris Diggins who does some street art and stencil work and things like that and he’s done a number of designs over the years. Some are limited edition type of stuff and things like that. But for the most part, I do most of the designs and usually there’s some sort of story behind the design. It could be something relevant as far as timing wise, it could be something a photo that I took that sort of translated to a t-shirt on some level, some of it is concert based t-shirt design, so we still… and when we were on Stock Island we used to actually host our own concerts and now we do more concert promotions. So sometimes the designs are based on an artist coming to town to play music and we do a limited run of those shirts and things like that, but as far as who designs them, for the most part it’s me. I do the t-shirt design, printing, screen printing and we do it all right here on the porch. I do some photography and there’s a couple of artists that kinda cycle through and do other things. 

MARK:           And how did you get into this? How long have you been in Key West and where did all this come from? Are you a musician? Tell me about that. 

BILLY:           I moved to Key West about 17 years ago, like in 2002, I came down after college and didn’t really know what I wanted to do and at the time, I was thinking I’d be down here for 6 months or a year. 

MARK:           Doing what when you first came to town? 

BILLY:           Well, I started working on a boat. I grew up with that, but I wasn’t really into boating, but I grew up on the beach and things like that. I like to be on the water and around the water so at the time, I got a job with the Fury, and that sounds pretty common – start.  

MARK:           Right, it’s a right of passage here.   

BILLY:           At the time they only had two boats and it was a totally different thing. I worked there for a year and sorta hustled and I knew that if I was going to stay down here longer then I didn’t want to be scrubbing decks, I’d rather be driving the boat so at the time I worked quickly and got a license and got my masters license and started driving the boats within a year or two. Then I did that for a couple of years and started building boats because I was getting a little tired of going back and forth to the reef.

MARK:           During all this time when you’re working on Fury and thinking I’m going to get my captains’ license are you finding yourself doing other things on the side, like being a photographer? Drawing?   

BILLY:           Yeah, at the time I actually always had a little studio space. The first space I had was right across the street from Blue Heaven and it’s now an antiques space, but it used to be a spot called the Lemonade Stand Art Studio.

MARK:           I remember that, yeah.   

BILLY:           And, off the side of it was this little overhang and I think it’s enclosed now, but at the time it was open air and I used to build skateboards. Like longboards, pretty basic shapes and things like that, and I combined that with my boat building techniques, so I was doing some different stuff than most longboards like doing fiber-glassing, using epoxy, and stuff like that. Eventually I got a space out on Stock Island and again, this is like prior to being in Denmark, this is like 2004 or 2005 through 2007. I had a space out, like right where the Perry Hotel is now, it used to be Andy Griffiths Marina and it was a little garage right on the water and I’d open up the garage and the boats were right there and the fishing, the shrimp boats and dive boats and all that stuff, and I had a space out there for a number of years. That was kind of where I….

MARK:           You were shaping boards there and also working on boats at that time? 

BILLY:           Yeah and building boats. 

MARK:           You always had a kinda love for it, it was your art at the time? Woodwork and stuff like that? That’s cool. 

BILLY:           And so, I guess my main thing is that I always liked to have a little place to run to, to sort of get my creative fill. It is always difficult to do it at a home; I think because it’s hard to define.  

MARK:           Yeah, of course. I’m the same way, I work for myself doing marketing and stuff like that and I haven’t had an office because I’ve always worked out of coffee shops and stuff like that. But I’ve never worked in my house, ever. If it’s raining out and I can’t get out, then I’ll work there for a short period of time, but I have to have separation between the two, it’s the only way it works for me. And I need chaos. That’s why I like going inside the coffee shop, like I can’t work in a quiet… and if someone said “Here’s your job, there’s your office, we’ll see you in five hours.” I’d go stir crazy; I need chaos.  

BILLY:           Correct. Same with me. So anyways, then I lived in Denmark for five years and also had a space similar and kinda like a studio where I could shape boards or whatever, tinker with stuff. My time over there I learned a lot about, and the Danish people are great with design and branding and you know, making things look just so. I learned a lot from my time over there and combining sort of this creativity that I’ve always needed so that was inspiring over there. When I came back, I sort of combined those two things which was this rustic seaside creativity and craftsmanship combined with this world-famous branding and design. My branding and design is not world famous at all, but it at least it showed me that I feel like they do it better than anyone.  

MARK:           You saw what it could be. 

BILLY:           Yeah, they do it better than anyone. 

MARK:           I’m sure being in Europe for that period of time, always getting out of the U.S. and traveling within the U.S. first, but then getting out of the U.S. and seeing how other people live and stuff, it’s a massive mind shake or mind shift, for sure. 

BILLY:           Definitely. 

MARK:           From an artist’s perspective, you were absorbing and learning different things from the culture there and when you come back here and you’re doing your thing in Stock Island and doing the shirts and design like that, what do you see your biggest goal to be? Did you say, “okay we want to have a shop, we want to do massive events, we want to have big concerts?” 

BILLY:           I really just like to get my hands dirty and make stuff and my train of thought is usually all over the place. But the t-shirts for me, I guess maybe have the most potential on some level because they scale well. 

MARK:           But it doesn’t seem like from the way you said it that you were like, “Okay, this is my money business.” It just seems like…

BILLY:           Yeah, no, everything happened…. 

MARK:           You did one and then people loved it and then you just… 

BILLY:           So, I guess what I’m saying is over time I sort of had to change my mindset which was, because when you’re doing one-off art and one-off construction pieces and installations, because we’ll do that as well, we will do a lot of work for other companies. Building things, designing, it’s like you do all this work and maybe the money is okay and it helps to pay the bills and stuff like that, but at when the projects done you kinda have to start over. It doesn’t scale. But the t-shirts, it’s like, at some point in time they could be placed all over, you know the country or the world. 

MARK:           And was that the first time coming here? Or you came before that?

BILLY:           Well, my parents had a house. I was 21-years old living in my parents’ house and teaching scuba diving, it was awesome. 

MARK:           You have a nice way to reach more people with the art that you create by doing that, rather than like, helping build a float or something here or a stage for a production or something like that.   

BILLY:           The shirts can go anywhere, that’s a good point. You could make a million of a single design and whereas a lot of these installations and construction pieces and commercial art that we are doing is like – one and done.  

MARK:           But I also like the artistic twist you can put on it, like hey we are doing a limited run of 100. And that’s it and then you design something else.   

BILLY:           And that’s another corner that I’m trying to turn, how can I keep the t-shirts interesting because at the end of the day it’s like, they help to pay the bills but it’s not like, it’s the most inspiring thing to sit and print 300 t-shirts. 

MARK:           Right. But the designing yes, the printing if you ever got to a certain size you can let somebody else do that, right? If need be. 

BILLY:           Yeah and that’s another thing that I go back and forth with because the brand really is based on this locally made and hand-made thing, but I know that if I did want to scale it at some point in time that that’s probably not possible.  

MARK:           You could keep it local. That’s the beauty of it, you know? You don’t have to, and it doesn’t have to be okay you’ve got 24 hours – you have to eat, sleep, you have kids to take care of so that knocks a lot more hours off of that whole thing – there’s nothing wrong with bringing in other people and giving other business to other locals. Then share that mindset instead of you sitting in here doing thousands of prints and going, okay now what? 

BILLY:           Yeah and there are companies in town that do a good job of printing on a scale and so, that’s something that I’ve thought about and even mentioned to one or two people in town.  

MARK:           I remember, and this is way back many years ago, I had a friend who was an artist, he’s a painter and he had a lot of other painter friends and he had this idea which you are more than welcome to take, I am not in that business, but it was working with other local artists that would have an original painting that they did, and taking it and however way you translate that to a t-shirt, doing a limited run of 100 of those, and then on the website you are now having 50 different artists with their original work where you can buy the painting if you want if it’s not sold, or buy the prints if they have them, and then buy the shirts as well. I thought that was a cool concept, too.  

BILLY:           And it’s funny that you should say that because we are sort of, and I am sort of toying with that idea right now. 

MARK:           From a marketing standpoint it’s great because they are marketing themselves and in turn, marketing you. 

BILLY:           Right, yeah right. 

MARK:           Because it’s limited, you do profit sharing with them and helps get them exposure for their original pieces and stuff like that. So, I like it, do it. 

BILLY:           Okay. 

MARK:           Tell me, what does the brand stand for? I know you just mentioned it a little bit.

BILLY:           Basically, it ties everything that I enjoy into one space and time. 

MARK:           For me, it makes me think of the ocean because I’m from New England originally so obviously, the ocean and sailing, but also and not coasting through life in the negative sense of it, but in the positive sense. Do the things that matter but let things go as they are supposed to go too, don’t force things. When I was younger, when I was in my 20’s and I was also, I was like there’s a boulder, I’m going to break through this thing no matter what. And then now I’m in my 40’s and I’m like, well I’ve tried pushing it once or twice and then I go, well maybe there’s like a cave that goes through it, right? Instead of trying to bulldoze everything. 

BILLY:           The Coast is meant to be not in a lazy thing, it’s more supposed to be, and I describe it as a moving along without too much effort but that doesn’t mean that you’re not trying, it just means that you are moving along at a pace that is comfortable. 

MARK:           You could be on the boat working your ass off but letting the river take you down the river. And to me, that’s what it seems like that as we get busier and there’s so many more options, it’s wise I think, and this is a good lesson for people listening, I think it’s wise to keep one ear open to – and I’m not going to say what the universe says or anything like that – but just listen to what’s around you. Maybe it’s family, maybe it’s loved ones, maybe it’s what’s going on in your business, maybe it’s what your customers are saying, stay true to yourself but listen to that and have help from your surroundings that put you into that mood. Just like when you went to Copenhagen, it’s like the same for me, and I know a lot of other people that, a shift and change in location sparks something inside you. If you are sitting in the same place for ten years, then in my opinion and what I’ve seen that worked with others is get out, totally change your perspective on something and when you come back you’ll have a new outlook on something you’ve been doing. 

BILLY:           No, I agree with that. Sometimes it’s tricky to be down here because I feel, of course there’s a lot of inspiration with nature and all that sort of stuff but it is nice to get away for a while.  

MARK:           Yeah and it’s small town – big town. You can get caught up in the small town, I can easily get caught up in, well maybe one more beer tonight and I’m trying not to get into that route! But this is one of the reasons why we were talking earlier about I wanted to do this podcast because I wanted to talk to people who are young, but also young at heart in changing the dynamic of what Key West is – not changing it – but just letting people know that we have stuff going on down here. You have a project that you’re working on that you are passionate about that is artistic but also a business, and it’s cool. It’s not like we are in some shanty place, your store is awesome and beautiful, your clothes are beautiful, so it’s like it could be done, but it can’t be done if you just want to dream it and that’s it. There’s work to be done. And that’s the thing that I’m trying to get across when I’m doing things like this and a lot of the stories that I hear from people is you have a decade or two, or five years of all of the struggle to get to where you’re at and then it starts paying dividends. It’s like going to the gym. Nobody goes and expects to be really buff in one week, it takes time and there’s a lot of pain involved and then there’s more of it and then you keep going. 

BILLY:           For me it’s like a roller coaster where you go through periods when you’re inspired and then you go through periods when you get kinda caught in a routine. Early on I think we were doing a lot of new and innovative stuff for the first five years, especially before we got this space. We sort of pioneered ticketed concerts in town and there’s live music all over the place and there’s certainly big shows that would happen a couple of times a year. But we used the space out there which wasn’t set up as a music venue but I always liked music and I always thought that we could have better performers come down here. Again, we pioneered that space and now we still do it on a small scale just because I like it, but I think it has helped and proved in town that there was a demand for music. Now there’s a number of people that are doing it probably better than we could have done it. We were doing it differently, it was definitely this backyard kind of strange vibe, the musicians that would come down thought it was really strange and weird and then they’d end up loving it. But what it did basically was to show that it could be done down here. Now it’s being done on a larger level and I think everybody in town is happy about that. 

MARK:           Tell me about that part of your business, and I know it’s smaller, but how does it work? What do you do? 

BILLY:           Like I said, it started out and we had space, it wasn’t necessarily a venue space in the formal sense of the word, but we had a backyard and we built a stage.

MARK:           You built it, and they came! 

BILLY:           Yeah it was that sort of thing, almost. There’s this certain type of music that I like and …. 

MARK:           What’s that? 

BILLY:           It’s like a Folk Americana, singer songwriter type stuff. So concerts like that are not like a huge production involved with it and a lot of times it’s just one guy up there with an acoustic guitar plugged in and you know, so the guys that I listen to aren’t necessarily like huge on the radio, but they are big enough name to where when we mentioned it, people got excited about bought tickets and we would sell out shows in 24 hours.  

MARK:           You were like, “hey I want to bring down people that I like, that music, and I want to bring them down here and people get to listen to them.”  And you get to show other people, like I get it, if there’s not a venue for them to go all over the place, you’re providing a spot for them. 

BILLY:           And with that, then you end up having these guys who are, you know fairly well known especially in that…

MARK:           In that genre?

BILLY:           Yeah and also with people that are probably my target market at Coast. They came down and then they become sort of ambassadors of the brand you know, and we’ve become friends with them and they like to mention us and wear the stuff and everything like that. 

MARK:           Would it be a venue that would say, hey listen, can you help us bring a musician down?  Like that part of your business, how would that work? 

BILLY:           How does that work now? 

MARK:           Yeah.

BILLY:           Now the way it works is that I sort of have a handful of loyal kinda acts or performers that just want to come down on an annual basis and when they do, they just send me an email and say can you put an offer in? A lot of it is even just like, some of it goes through, the way it usually works is I’ve become friends with the guys so…

MARK:           You’re like the manager of the thing down here?

BILLY:           We’ll get in touch with one another if we want to do something and then the agent comes in and sort of mediates the whole thing. 

MARK:           Got it. Yeah because I don’t know that world at all. 

BILLY:           Now most of what we are doing is bringing down some of the guys that I’ve got to be friends with. 

MARK:           And which are now ambassadors now too, with the brand.  

BILLY:           They come down once a year usually. 

MARK:           Right, so you get to hang out with your friends and listen to some awesome music and collaborate and keep whatever that is that you have going, keep it going, which is cool, very cool. Tell me about where you would love to see the brand go to? Do you want it to grow enough, that obviously it is sustaining a decent living and then you can do things that you need to do within the business to grow it? Or, are you looking to have a chain? Tell me… I don’t think a chain, I’m looking at you and I’m thinking not a chain. 

BILLY:           My goal is to get, not a chain, but get Coast stores in other relevant communities like you know, Key West is on the coast, it has this sort of funky artistic heritage to it and if there’s other spots like that all along the coast, so really what I want to do is find those spots. Which I already have in the back of my mind and create new Coast spots in these sort of end of the road artistic enclave type places. That being said, I don’t want and let’s say I go into one of those places and it’s up in New England or the Northeast, the goal isn’t to bring Key West there. The goal is to take their local sort of history and their local aesthetic and that sort of stuff and make the Coast brand a part of their whatever. 

MARK:           Being ingrained in the community, and you the artist being inspired by that community you’re in and designing around that.  

BILLY:           A lot of brands like, you know I think Key West is a great place to start a brand because everybody knows it, but at the same time, it’s like well it’s not just about Key West, it’s more than just Key West. For me to go into another place and go, “Well it’s a Key West brand, no, now it’s a brand based in this place.” 

MARK:           It seems like the theme would be coast, water, ocean and stuff like that, which you can go into those places and adjust based on that.  

BILLY:           Exactly. 

MARK:           It sounds like, and this would be cool and just what I’m thinking, if also you did one in Newport, Rhode Island and you had a store there and it was like you could put a show like the annual Coast Music Festival or whatever you’d want to call it but in Newport. Then one here, and one in all those different locations, it would be really cool and also bringing in all those ambassadors together.

BILLY:           Yeah, you’re on the right track there. We are working on a festival, actually we’ve done it for the last couple of years on varying scales and I think maybe that’s what I ultimately want to do is just one festival a year where I can focus all my attention and effort on one weekend where we have a festival rather than sporadically throughout the year.  

MARK:           It sounds a lot harder to do that, but if you had one and then you had, like let’s say six locations, you could do local marketing in those locations for the main festival that then everybody could go to. Speaking of that, what are you doing for marketing to get the brand out there besides the ambassadors? 

BILLY:           Aside from social media, really nothing.  

MARK:           Social is all you really need nowadays. 

BILLY:           Yeah and I’m like…

MARK:           Instagram and posting on there and…

BILLY:           Kind of, and I do that with varying degrees of success. I’m not very social as far as like going through and commenting and liking on stuff and I think a lot of times that’s where you get your following from, or that’s what I assume. But we kind of have an organic approach to it. 

MARK:           I’ll give you some tips off, when we are off, it’s no problem. Because you have such great stuff, I think there’s ways, like you’re right with the commenting and everything like that, think about it if you had a house party and you invited all these people and then they are like, where is he? And you went upstairs and went to bed. You may not have as many people come to the party next time, but in the same token you don’t want to force doing things that you don’t like. If someone’s like you gotta do a video blog, but you don’t like being on camera then you’re going to try it and that’s gonna just die. You have to find out which one of these things you like. Instagram seems like it would be great for you because it is visual and you can post something. You seem like a deep person where the words will matter on what you write there, you may need to get somebody to do that for you. Like here’s the words, here’s the picture, make it happen so that you can focus on the things you love to do. We’ll talk after. 

BILLY:           Okay, sounds good.  

MARK:           I love the vision, I love where you’re going with it and hopefully, I didn’t spill any beans, we didn’t talk about this beforehand. I didn’t feel you kicking me under the table so, you know, we’ll keep this a secret until you’re ready to “out” the next location.  Tell me about some local favorite places here. What’s your favorite event to go to? 

BILLY:           I have always like Goombay. The first house I lived at was 818 Thomas Street which is ½ block from Blue Heaven so that was and Bahama Village at that point in time was a different place. There was nothing really on Petronia. So Goombay was really the only time people came to Bahama Village, unless you were going to Blue Heaven which was still there. I’ve always had a soft spot for Goombay and then how it leads into Fantasy Fest. I have mixed feelings, it’s fun for sure, there’s a couple of events in that that I like, I like the Locals Parade and Zombie Bike Ride. More recently, I’ve actually met a few of the guys that ended up playing shows at Coast at the Songwriters Festival. I like that, it’s sort of a little bit more country than I’m down with? 

MARK:           But you get to be, I heard you get to be more intimate with the musicians because they don’t just play and leave, they’ll come and stay and listen to other music. 

BILLY:           The way it works out every year just coincidentally every year, it’s like the first or second week in May, that’s when we have G-Love come down and you know, a big musician, so he comes down that weekend and then just though the grapevine people like managers or agents will get in touch with me and say “so and so is in town, they kinda want to see your place and want to link up with G or whatever, can you put them on the list.” And I say yes and that’s how I met people like Langhorne Slim, Rayland Baxter, and a couple other guys. 

MARK:           What about your favorite place to go eat, that’s like a local place? 

BILLY:           Blue Heaven is my favorite. And it’s like right down the street, so. 

MARK:           And for dinner, too? Because it gets so packed for breakfast that I don’t know and I haven’t even been there for dinner. 

BILLY:           Definitely for dinner because…

MARK:           And it’s chill? More chill? 

BILLY:           Yeah and they have good background music and it’s like a place where you can just, even if you’re waiting for your table it’s not like you’re sitting outside with a buzzer type thing, you can play ping pong. So definitely for dinner and I’m not a huge breakfast guy, but I do go to Glazed Donuts all the time. 

MARK:           Oh yeah, they have good coffee, too. What about a place for live music? 

BILLY:           The Parrot. 

MARK:           Yeah, I gotta get them on here because it’s like the Parrot is, and I like the fact that they put out a line-up so early in advance. That I like that I see for the whole month who’s playing, what’s playing? I love jazz and blues so like on Sunday, my wife and I will just go there sometimes and chill on the outskirts and just relax and listen to some great music.  

BILLY:           We are kinda located right in between those, so a block from Blue Heaven and two blocks from Green Parrot so it’s nice, but sometimes it’s difficult to not get sucked into either one of those, but those are my two favorite spots. We have done some collaborations with the Green Parrot, like t-shirt design but also with this festival that we are trying to work on together. Even Blue Heaven, the first year we did the festival we actually had some of the shows over at Blue Heaven.

MARK:           Cool. Are you here all the time in the store? 

BILLY:           This time of year, I probably will be just because it’s pretty slow and my employees are kind of like, traveling or doing whatever. So, it’s a good time for me to get caught up on the computer. 

MARK:           I saw you looked like you were doing some design work. 

BILLY:           I’m happy to be here and I won’t get as interrupted as much. A lot of time if I’m here and it’s busy then it’s really hard to sit on the computer.  

MARK:           And where will you go to do any artistic work on the computer if you’re not here? 

BILLY:           I will just do it later at night when the shop is closed.  

MARK:           Alright, so you’ll do it here later at night. Cool, so if you see the light on don’t come a knockin’ because they are closed.  

BILLY:           A lot of times I’ll just leave the door open, like we are usually open 10-5. But if I’m here and as you go on in the day it gets slower and slower at the shop because you know, so I’ll just leave the door open and you’ll get every once in a while you’ll get someone come through and they’ll be like, “Oh this is great you know it was closed last time I went by.” But if down a rabbit hole then I’ll close the door and turn the music up. 

MARK:           Alright, so you come in and say hi and if you do walk by and the lights on and the doors open, definitely come in and say hello. Where else can people find you? I mean the websites, social media and I’m going to put it all in the show notes, but why don’t you let them know, too.   

BILLY:           Website is: www.Coastprojects.com

And all the handles are Coast Projects, where else, I don’t know. 

MARK:           Which one do you communicate the most on, Instagram?

BILLY:           Yeah, Instagram. Facebook well …and I never had, well I guess I sorta had to have a personal account on Facebook just to open the business account, but I don’t think I have and I don’t even think that I have one friend on it. So, it’s just there because it had to be there. I used to post on both, but…

MARK:           Now you’re just on Instagram when you’re on it. 

BILLY:           It just seems simpler. It’s not as much like drama. 

MARK:           It sems like your core audience, too.

BILLY:           Yeah, I use Instagram like if I’m making an announcement or if for instance, we are going to do a concert. We’ll probably do an event page, or if we are doing some type of sale, but it’s less and not like, I probably use it once a month maybe. 

MARK:           As we are wrapping up, tell me one thing that you’d like to leave the audience with. It could be a favorite coffee, new music you’re listening to, it could be a tip of the day, anything. I’m going to do something different that we’ve never done, we are going to do two things; (1) give me a musician that we should be listening to that most people probably aren’t and that they can hopefully find somewhere online.

BILLY:           Geez, sometimes I like to keep them to myself. 

MARK:           Then give someone that’s not at the top.

BILLY:           I think everybody should be listening to Rayland Baxter who has come down and played here a couple of times. And you should follow him on social media, too because he’s hilarious. He’s got an interesting sound and a funny social media presence, a super good guy and his music stretches from folk to pop. I think he’s a good one. He shot a video down here and actually some of the radio stations play him quite a bit. I’ve heard a number of people say they heard Rayland a couple of times on the radio just in the course of a day.

MARK:           Definitely check him out. Follow him on social and Instagram. 

BILLY:           Rayland is here, is his…

MARK:           Sounds funny. And then now that you’ve had a couple of seconds to think while you were doing that. 

BILLY:           Okay, so part of what I’m doing while it’s slow here is trying to like reignite some creative embers. Not even necessarily having to do with anything that we’ve done in the past, so we just finished, and I made a last-minute entry into the 72-hour film challenge which is at the Tropic and they will be doing the premiere on September 17th. We did that and so.

MARK:           Nice, so what’s the name of the movie?

BILLY:           It’s called Keysy Rider and it’s basically, well the original ending to Easy Rider was that they bought a boat and sailed to Key West and a lot of people don’t know that. Well, they never used that ending they went quite a bit darker and so we took that original ending and created a short sequel to it. That’s happening on the 17th and then the other thing that I’m doing right now is trying to do some artistic stuff that I’ve been wanting to do for years and never got around to. 

MARK:           Different than? 

BILLY:           I’m doing some painting. This is just going to sound weird, but some of our, well sometimes some of our screens that I screen-print with will rip and then they become useless but there’s this wooden frame that has all this paint on it and looks really cool. Then my favorite breakfast place is Glazed Donuts and they have these burlap sacks what the beans come in, so basically, I’m stretching the sacks over these old screen-printing stretchers and creating canvases made of all reused materials. 

MARK:           But you can sniff that coffee smell. 

BILLY:           So, I’m trying to create some type of painting series based on that and I’m also doing some spray paint and stencil on paper. 

MARK:           Awesome. 

BILLY:           And the themes will be coastal for the most part. 

MARK:           They will be in what you love doing. 

BILLY:           Yeah, it’s just that I’ve never done it before. 

MARK:           It sounds like the tip of the day is: do things that you may have been putting off on the side artistically – now. Challenge yourself, go out there, who cares? You can always paint burlap sacks for the garbage and no one will know. But you’ll know. But my tip of the day would be: the ugliest look in the mirror is that of regret, so don’t have it. You might as well do it because who cares? You never want to do things to impress people that you hate anyway, so do things for yourself. 

BILLY:           That’s a good way to look at it.

MARK:           Listen, it was great talking to you. I’m looking forward to talking again maybe about some other projects you’re doing and checking out the store when we are done. 

BILLY:           Okay, I appreciate it. 

MARK:           You go it, thanks a lot. 

BILLY:           Thank you.

MARK:           Bye. 

MARK:           This is the backyards of Key West podcast, my name is Mark Baratto and I am sitting here at 1201 Duval Street at the infamous Key West Pottery, with the magical magician, the artist himself, Adam Russell. Welcome to the show. 

ADAM:           I’m stoked, thank you so much.

MARK:           I’ve seen a bunch of your stuff because we were talking before and I used to live across the street for a month. We walked by and see your stuff and of course on Instagram you are like an Instagram celebrity down here because typically people don’t have many followers at all down here and you’ve got quite a big following because of the work that you do. It’s great to actually be in the store and to meet you and maybe before I go you can show me the backroom where all the videos and the magic happens? 

ADAM:           Actually, that’s one of the things that we talked a lot about is that, a couple of years ago we used to be on Truman Avenue here in Key West. Lovely location, great neighbors, we loved it. Not as great as terms of business traffic, but when you came to Key West originally it was really just about setting up a studio. Not necessarily becoming this…

MARK:           A studio to make, and not to sell?

ADAM:           Yeah, just not even really as a retail venture but just have a space to create work because at that time, I say we because it was my wife Kelly, we were pursuing a more conventional artist gallery relationship. The artists kinda is the hidden little Quasimodo in the back and he’s making work and you have a face person out front in various cities around the world. Typically, Americans doing that right now.

MARK:           Like a wholesaler, right? You’d be selling to them at a lower price?

ADAM:           Yeah, kind of. So, if you would imagine throughout history especially in modern art setting, most artists make work and then you’ve really made it when you’ve got a gallerist who is essentially your partner. They are selling it to their list of collectors that they have cultivated and it’s long and hard work, over time, they have the facility, they have the store front, all that.

MARK:           Right, they are the business aspect of it and you are the artist. And you keep the two separated.

ADAM:           Exactly. So, that’s kinda like as basic as it was, it was my understanding of the art world coming out of a non-profit background. Working in the arts my entire life, but really what we wanted to do was create a studio that was capable of making high-end work that we could then shop around and find us galleries. The funny thing that happened is just the magic of Key West, people just started to stop by the studio. They would see the work and they were like, “Is this for sale?” 

MARK:           How did they come by the studio? Was it open air and they just walked by?

ADAM:           It was on Truman Avenue at the corner of Truman and Grinnell, next to Island Bicycles, so there was some foot traffic and people coming into the bike shop and we just hung a sign outside that said pottery. We have given it a little bit of class with this and that, brand new to the island, we came down with literally nothing. 

MARK:           And when was that? 

ADAM:           This was in 2009.

MARK:           Wow.

ADAM:           So, we had nothing except for and you know what artists have? They have this, well you’re possessed by this love and this dream and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t work out but you have to keep pushing on. Essentially, that’s who you are in a way.

MARK:           Well, what would signify it not working out? 

ADAM:           I guess not working out would be, compared to where we came from in Toledo, Ohio, which has a lot of love and respect for that art scene and community, but compared to where we came from Key West is very expensive place to live. So, there’s as an artist couple with two children, there’s some really non-emotional pretty straight up stringent guidelines about what it means to make it or not make it. For us, be able to provide the opportunity that we want with the kids, and opportunities for ourselves, and not be asking favors. That was always my thing about business is that we had people who really put us onto it. Great dear friends of mine, mentors, so on and so forth, that could help us out with a place to live for a little bit. You know how it is. 

MARK:           Yes, of course. When you don’t the kids it’s cool because you are eating noodles and sleeping on couches and you’re fine with that.

ADAM:           It’s all good. Yeah.

MARK:           It’s totally different when those little ones come along.

ADAM:           But it’s like when we first getting started, the feeling I had was that we had to make this go because you can’t take favors forever. It is good and best to be able to shake hands and give heartfelt thank you and say “hey man, because of you, we’ve made it.” We are doing it. So that to me was how I measured success. Back then and even still now, we have been fortunate that Key West has wrapped its arms around us and embraced us and inspired us, you know? It’s grown from there but we started the studio as just a studio and then the people of Key West and consequently of the world were in Key West. They came through and said, “hey, you know we want to buy it right from you!” So eventually and I may not be the quickest learn on it, but okay, let’s have a go at this. Now what you see here on Duval Street is coming back to your original question is that this is our retail space, our gallery, and for a long time the gallery and studio were in the same place but now there’s actually a division of church and state. So the videos I make at my studio which is up island about a mile. 

MARK:           Oh wow!

ADAM:           And this is our clean space. 

MARK:           I figured not being an artist myself, or an artist in different ways, we would come by and my wife is more of an artist and we are like, okay I know what they are doing… they’ve got the gallery here, he’s making everything in the back and living right above it and we thought, how cool!

ADAM:           It would cool, but this building is, and I’m not sure what vintage maybe 1930’s construction and it’s solid. They don’t make them like this anymore type of solid. It was the Miami Herald outpost 36 seasons, it’s kind of a cool thing in the sense that it was a slop for a long time down here, but oh boy I would love to live upstairs and work out the back.

MARK:           But I think there’s got to be, well I like to have separation. I’m a consultant and I do everything myself and I rarely work at home. It’s not like I’m being bothered, I just like to get out. I like to have noise, that’s just how I operate. Like we were talking earlier and my brain works is that if there’s chaos in the background, I can work. If it’s quiet, I freak out. I need that. So, like I’m a coffee shop jumper and in Miami that was really easy to do, but down here it’s a little bit harder because they are like, you gotta get outta here. 

ADAM:           It is hard, I’ve never worked in restaurant or service industry, but there’s not like a café culture as much here as what you see in other cities to just hang and work.

MARK:           Well, that’s because, and I’ve talked to a couple of cafes that are here and they are like, “Listen we don’t make money on the coffee, we make money on the booze and the food, right?” And I made friends with some of them and they are like, you can come in anytime you want, but I still don’t want that because I know they are trying to make a living. I went to Starbucks, and they are fine with letting me sit there all day. I don’t like the coffee, but its fine… and Starbucks if you want to sponsor me, I’m sorry that I said that, but they’ll let me stay there because it is corporate. So why Key West? What was the appeal? Did you visit before or were you like, Key West or bust?

ADAM:           You know what, I had been in Key West as a kid. The family mini-van trip as a teenager and loved it.  Actually, one of my fondest memories of that trip is Key West that I’d ever had a mango. And I didn’t know how to eat it so I bit right through the skin which is like Pine Sol? But I bought that from a young man down in Bahama Village and it wasn’t necessarily Key West, per se. I was a public art administrator in the city of Toledo, so I was working in the field of art, specifically sculpture mostly, conservation and new acquisition and it was a great job. It really showed me where the rubber hits the road in the art industry and these people have to get it done, you know what I mean? This is not just about oh if we get to it.

MARK:           So, the business aspect. 

ADAM:           Yeah! And you hear words like, okay artists don’t have to be born rich, you know what I mean? It’s like this is work and there’s a certain way this is done and I really got that education there. Ultimately, I knew that that wasn’t for me entirely. Because I wasn’t making the work and I was always, well I put it this way, I wanted to be the dirty one. You know? In the studio, making the mess. Exercising the demons, exercising the visions, just getting it out. I’ve always been compelled in that way. During that time when I was applying to the Artist Residencies and while I didn’t have the most well-developed portfolio in the world, because I was working fulltime and raising kids, too and the whole deal. I saw an opportunity come through on one of these list serves that we were a part of at work and it said, “Cultural Manager in Residence.”  Or, actually call for Cultural Manager Residency. I read the criteria and I thought, “Well, heck I’m a cultural manager and I’m managing an art collection.” It just so happens that it was the Studios of Key West. So I wrote them and it was, I think darn near their first season of hosting people for residences, maybe second, but very early on and I talked with the then director and they said, “Why don’t you come down as an artist if that’s really what your ambition is?” You could stay a little bit longer, come on down. I had a painting project going on at the time that was called “Oneness Identity Project” and little did I know the whole thesis of this project, could be summed up another way “One Human Family.” So, they brought me down to work on this project, develop the philosophy behind it which is already really well set in Key West. One Human Family is our slogan and they introduced me to that, and they brought me down for a month. That was in 2009, and it was a pretty big gamble for us, if I’m honest, even just leaving work for that amount of time. We were a little bit hand-to-mouth at that time. 

MARK:           So you were saying that taking the gamble, taking the whole family, coming out here for the month when you left, did the company you were working for, did the Studios say you could come back, or was it like, “See ya’ later?”

ADAM:           No, they are still some of my dearest and closest friends. It was the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo and it’s a non-profit organization up there and they are continuing to set the pace for, and I’ll tell it bigger than it actually is I’m sure, but they set the pace for the Midwest and rust belt as far as arts and innovation in the city and outlying areas, inclusion, all these things. They were supportive of me and I think that probably in that way they could see that there was some risk, too. They put a lot of investment into me at that time, but I think, and there’s this thing when you work with people and you know them, you are actually working with the person. You have to know that, each person is complete and has their dreams and goals, whether you like it or not, and you might as well be supportive. They really, truly embodied that and so there was some flight risk, you know what I mean?

MARK:           Of course.

ADAM:           I came down for a month and as I said before, right after that last week in November, and without a D.C., had put on a thing for Art Basel in Miami, so we extended it to five weeks to go to Miami and experience Art Basel for the first time and on the way back, we are driving in our conversion van, my wife and I, and she’s pregnant with #2, and #1 is three years old, he’s in the back, and we basically quiet the whole way because we are driving from, well we had lunch in Miami and there’s green parrots overhead and we are driving to Toledo where it is snowing sideways, and by the time we got to Ohio, I think both of us had mustered up enough gumption to look at each other and be like, “We are out, I want to go back.” She was trying to break it to me and I was trying to break it to her, and we were able to reach an accord, you know what I mean? But it takes some help from people that we had met in a relatively short amount of time in Key West and it was a month residency and we had met people that were solid enough contacts where we had a place to put the studio and a short term low-rent lease on a place to live for long enough to either sink or swim. 

MARK:           Right, so you had a plan set-up and you’re like, alright we are going to give it a go for this long period of time and if its not going to work out, then it doesn’t work out.

ADAM:           Yeah, if it doesn’t work out then it doesn’t work out but if we won’t forgive ourselves if we don’t try. 

MARK:           Regret is like the ugliest thing to look at.

ADAM:           It is! It is. I haven’t encountered a lot of it in my life but the few run-ins I’ve had it’s like, it hurts. You know what I mean? It hurts in an existential way. For us, it was just worth it, so ten years later, the stars continually align and we are very thankful. We work hard and we are very fortunate at the same time. 

MARK:           Before I get into today, tell me about when you knew you wanted to get into art and what type of art did you start with?

ADAM:           For me, it was just never a question and I never considered anything else.

MARK:           As a young kid, you were like…

ADAM:           My father is deeply artistic and was a career law enforcement and ended up as a major crimes’ investigator and a brilliant man. He’s still artistic and started a design business and has retired in it, so I know where it comes from. That’s how we would spend time together, but I’ve pretty much never considered anything else. Like a lot of young artists, they start with a pencil, they start with the paper.

MARK:           Were you in school doodling in the corners?

ADAM:           I was, I wasn’t a terrible student. I went to a decent school and felt like I could get by and not have try super hard which is a shame to say now that I have children and I’m like “Try harder, man.” It’s the lesson, and it’s not about getting good grades. The lesson is, learn how to work hard. 

MARK:           Yes, it’s the trying hard and the effort that you put in that will catapult you into the future, not the A’s and B’s. 

ADAM:           Exactly. You know A’s and B’s don’t hinder at all either, but it’s all about learning work that, you know, we are thankful that we come with this good Midwest stock, we all work hard. But working hard as an artist to me, when I was at art school age, meant painting, design, printmaking, I hadn’t experienced a lot of 3-dimensional work and it is a different world. I love painting, I have a degree in painting and printmaking and I still do quite a bit of it, but there’s some fundamental difference. While we are, at least the type of work that I’m in, while we are painting and printmaking, we are essentially creating this illusion. We are creating a portal into the imagination and it’s awesome. With sculptural work, 3-dimensional work, this object actually exists in the real world with 3-dimensions so there’s a lot more to me, to think of and I still want it to be a portal into the imagination.

MARK:           Of course.

ADAM:           I still want that magic, but there’s a lot more components, you know what I mean? The materials and so on, and so forth, and it was daunting to me, but I think ceramics is a really great way to bridge that transition. Number one, it is a highly traditional, a lot of these formulas have been figured out. This history goes back arguably 20,000 years. At the same time, it remains undiscovered. There’s something really unique when you push the boundaries and there’s people in this field who have never before been seen, that are fantastic. It pushes me to go further, to reach further.

MARK:           And where do you see these people? Through social? 

ADAM:           Social a lot, but just art. The regular art channels. I’m a lover, we collect art, I take it very seriously and it is something that not even in a professional sense it is just something that I enjoy deeply. Both the history of art, but also art contemporaries. 

MARK:           Well, you are blessed that you can do it. 

ADAM:           Yeah. 

MARK:           To have that thing that you love to do that must happen. Then to actually do it and then not be struggling. That’s a blessing.

ADAM:           It is and we don’t take it for granted either. We have put in lots of hard work and we are now to the point where I’m realizing that there’s a transition, especially in this town and at this time. We are afforded the opportunity right now to actually create jobs in the arts on Key West, on Duval Street, on Stock Island out at a studio, we are actually creating positions and livelihoods for makers in this place that is so legendarily hard to live. Housing crisis and all this stuff, but you know what? When you connect with people in a meaningful way, the universe figures the rest out. It’s been my experience and I now that sounds a little “woo woo” but my saying is, “make the world, love the people.” 

MARK:           How are you doing that with other artists? 

ADAM:           One of the things that has become essential for us is that we have a volume of work that this originally started with my wife Kelly Lever and I making the work basically in the back of a 1950’s strip mall that was down on Grinnell Street.  It has grown now to the point where we are selling and I am guessing honestly, between 5 -7,000 pieces of art per year. It ranges from a coffee mug for $30 to a garden installation which could be $50,000.00.  But we run the whole gamut and, to do that at this point, we just need top help so we are working with other artists to help us create this work. So, the phenomena that has happened is that Key West Pottery itself has become a living, breathing thing. We have studio work that is signed Key West Pottery, ultimately probably it came from my desk, I designed it, or Kelly designed it, but it is being made by a whole team of us. We also have my work specifically that is somewhat sculptural and fine art work and then we have Kelly’s work that is specific. So, it is kinda like hers, mine and ours. We have been able to do that because the human species especially in Key West are brilliant little critters and the team that we have right now, I am so thankful for because they help us on all aspects. From retail, advertising, actually physically making this huge volume of work.

MARK:           That’s incredible, you’ve found a way to be able to scale which is typically the unscalable because if you are the artist, there’s only so many hours in the day and that’s it. 

ADAM:           It is a real crossroads there for us, they are real crossroads, and we are going to do everything absolutely handmade by Kelly and myself and this is how big it gets, and that is it. But the, and I hate to use the term like marketplace because I’m not a big time business man, but the base of people we have now the marketplace the collectors, and people coming into our location that we lovingly built. We are like, we need more (help) and that gives us a choice of either I farm it out or how do we do this? Or, do we bring people in and create meaningful positions in Key West? Which in some ways seemed like a harder way to do it? But we wanted to. So, we’ve got a team now. 

MARK:           Well that’s cool because Key West embraced you, right? When you were there trying to build for a gallery and now you are bracing it back.

ADAM:           Trying to, yeah! But it is actually a very happy story and a lot of hard work and there’s so many different skillsets that any other business owner on Wall Street can tell you, “Oh I’m a manager, I’m a janitor, I’m an electrician, you know they have to do everything.” But before my idea of an artist wasn’t as comprehensive as what has actually ended up being, but you know what? I have fallen deeply in love with it. It is something that I actually quite enjoy.

MARK:           The art of business you are starting to…

ADAM:           Yeah and it’s got its own words and sleepless nights.

MARK:           Of course, like anything. The people look and they think, “Oh this guy just showed up and drops some clay down and made this beautiful thing and became an overnight success.” But nobody does! It is a marathon out there and if you put in the time… this is the thing, if you love what you do, it’s easy to eat shit for 10 years. Because you love it! But if you hate it, that’s why you like doing other things to fill that void of pain of your 9 to 5’s. 

ADAM:           I think so. I think that even though that is absolutely 100% true and I totally agree with that, I think there’s another more obscured aspect to me. I get asked this a lot, how does it feel to do what you love? It’s like, “well it feels great.” But there is also an aspect of you have to procure the ability to fall in love with what you have to do as well.  There’s certain aspects of what is now I guess “my job” that I did not anticipate, I did not feel good at – at first, and what was very frustrating but if I can make myself fall in love with that part, if I can make myself at least embrace it as this is what normal looks like then it doesn’t feel like a craft. Then I can take on the next job and the next after that one. So, it is not only about doing what you love but it is loving what you do. And as dorky as that sounds, it is so true.

MARK:           It is and another layer on top of that is, that I talk to people who especially get bored in the thing that they do. I say, you have to take on a percentage and it is up to you to find out what that percentage is of stuff that you dislike to do for your job. If you are an artist and you love doing it all the time, what happens is that it becomes boring because you are doing the same thing all the time and there’s no “I have to get up or I have to do this” there’s too much ease that comes into it. If you are like, okay look I don’t like doing the books and we need to do them all the time then that’s a good thing. You need to keep that because that keeps you excited for growth and doing more. It’s like going to the gym and working out and not being sore. What’s the purpose of that? You need to have that pain, you need to have that frustration, you need anger, you need to have times – even as an artist in my opinion – where you’re like “I don’t want to do this today.” Not I don’t want to do this anymore, maybe I don’t want to do it today. That is healthy feeling. I feel because then you’re like, cool let me not do it and let me cultivate something else so that I miss that and I am super excited to get back to it. 

ADAM:           For real. You gotta scare yourself a little bit. I’m so lucky, I can’t sit here and ask, or act like – I know these business principles scare myself and it turns out that I have a partner. I’m in this with my wife.

MARK:           And that is a blessing, too.

ADAM:           It is, and we get along really well. Both in and out of the studio and I know we are on the right track when we look at each other, overworked or pissed, or smell bad and have been working in the sun or whatever it is, and we both look at each other and we’re like, “are we crazy? What the heck are we doing?” and that’s how I know, okay that friction you are talking about is still there. We are still pushing the rock up the hill. That is the rewarding work to me at least. I didn’t sign up to this to not work, I like to work actually. It’s that friction, you gotta show up and it keeps me sharp as a man, as a father, and I want achievement. This isn’t about TV or something like that. 

MARK:           It was funny, I was watching last night, Comedians in Cars, that Jerry Seinfeld.

ADAM:           Oh yeah, on Netflix.

MARK:           And he had Jamie Foxx on there and Jamie said “you know I was getting real soft because I was in all these movies and getting the Academy Award and stuff like that and I’m still doing stand-up. So I go do this stand-up and I’m about how about those Range Rovers, ya’ know, ah man it’s real hard when and like I’ve rented this house and we only had 5,000 square feet and it felt cramped in there. And like 2 people are clapping slowly, and he thinks he kills it and then goes outside and opens the door and hears everybody screaming and Chris Rock was comin’ in and then he’s like outside in the café and the girls come over and “I have to ask you something” and he’s like, “Yeah, I’m Jamie Foxx,” and they said, “Do you know Chris Rock?” And he needs to step my game up and I can’t get too soft doing this.” And it was funny because the funniest part was like when I won the Oscar they gave it to me and I gave it right to my manager because I feel like if I hold this thing long enough I’m going to start to have this English accent and I just needed to raw and dirty still and do these things that I love when I’m getting too high on my own air supply. 

ADAM:           It’s true, I actually heard him tell a similar story on Tim Ferriss podcast and I felt like he was such a class act, in the sense that obviously he is a man of some achievement, a polymath when it comes to anything interesting and he just gets it. I totally agree – if it gets too easy it starts to seem – boring to other people too – not just yourself. 

MARK:           Yeah, work looks boring, right?

ADAM:           Its gotta be fresh. I think that there’s some trap for success in there, I don’t even know how to measure success, really? But its like to me, I feel successful when I’m making stuff that is hard to make. When I can look at something and be like Okay, there’s only a couple of people maybe in the state, or in the country, or whatever, there’s only a couple of people that could even make this, but I feel confident in my resolve and this is my original idea that I came up with! And that is not the eureka moment. It is an ongoing process of putting layer on top of layer on top of layer and then on top of layer and practice. That to me is successful. Especially when our basic creature comforts are met for myself, my wife, and my family. So that is the thing but without that little spark, without heat, without the moments of being a pissy artist and you gotta sit down and pout for a little bit? Kinda work through something. After that, I’m not in this for the retail aspect but we are trying to push something real here. I’m not saying it is the most important thing in the world, but I think that people connect on that level and I think that. 

MARK:           Yeah. It’s nice to know, I can imagine that somebody – somewhere – is looking at your piece and they are loving it. They are feeling something and it is evoking some emotion. You know? That’s what is different about this kind of work than painting and stuff like that, it’s not just hanging on a wall somewhere, it’s incorporated in and part of the house. Or outside, or just the everyday part of the life, like landscaping. 

ADAM:           I love that. I love how we are really on this fine line between fun art, which I love, and there’s this stigma and it is so fine art is upper crusty and all conceptual and you know these people are snobs and some of that is true. It is. But if you can read that language and get into it, this meta cognizing on human existence, I dig it. It’s not for everyone, but then on the other scale it’s craft. And craft has a place in our life. I used to make these paintings and put a show up and I was fortunate to have a couple of shows and that was really exciting about and I mean they’re not at The Met. But as a young man, I was really hustling on the painting and I would put them up and more times than not, people were so kind. They would look and they loved the work, the colors, your designs, but I don’t get it. No one has ever told me that with the ceramics. Because it’s already integrated into their life, they already get it and that is the thing about craft is that it is colloquial to the region of the country you’re in and the region of the world, but the meaning is the same. You know? And it’s a nice bridge to a huge population of people that of course want beautiful accouterment in their life. But you don’t have to deal with all the pomp and circumstance that makes it artsy. 

MARK:           I think fine art people and I think it’s the specific people that can make it snobby, not the artist who made it because they were the furthest thing from wealthy or snobby when they were creating it.

ADAM:           The world is full of people. There are people in the craft community who are a bit off-putting too.

MARK:           Of course.

ADAM:           The only thing I mean by that is that I can see how people would feel intimidated by the art world if they are not educated. And educated in arts specifically. Since this whole pecking order, like anything else, but I love that ceramics invites people in. It says – you get this – you get this and this is for you. This is for us. This is about ideas, just a little bit more casual, natural or at least that is the way that I perceive it and that’s what we have embraced and it works. 

MARK:           How did you get into it? 

ADAM:           My wife. At the same time, I was working with the Arts Commission, my wife was helping to manage a non-profit pottery studio in Ohio and she had already been working in the field and making pots ever since she was little kid. When we were in arts school together, which is where we met, we were both studying painting but even during that time she was giving pottery classes at this non-profit in Ohio and she was in this picturesque, a beautiful studio and it was always there for us in that sense. We bought a used kiln and some used equipment mostly for her and had it in our basement and it was just this cute casual thing while we were pursuing this painting career.

MARK:           And she wanted to pursue that as well? 

ADAM:           Yeah.

MARK:           So, this was the hobby.

ADAM:           It kind of, well it seems like it was weirdly unconnected? I don’t know why? Then Kelly, and she’s a great artist and a great craftsperson really, and she started to get pretty serious about it and was doing some street fairs, and this and that trying to make a larger volume of work in a home studio. She brought home one day a box of colors and these things are called ____, and I’d never seen them before because I wasn’t making pots. This is many years ago. And I was like, what are these paints? Or what? And she said its actually liquid clay, a slip we call it, with pigment added in, so its like paint but its not paint, you actually have to fire it off. But you paint it onto the wet pots. And I was like, I want to paint on some pots, I’m bigger and so I started to paint on her pots and realized that there’s this really magical thing going on. So, you have this painterly 3-dimensional pot and they ended up selling better than both of my paintings and her pots. So, we were running down that road for a little bit and then she eventually got to where she’s like, you know man you gotta make your own pots. 

MARK:           Yeah, stop screwing up my pots. 

ADAM:           These are mine and you have yours and that’s ….

MARK:           And she taught you? 

ADAM:           She had a lot to do with it you know? We are in this generation now where its like, I’m a YouTube fan. I was going on and trying to figure out the mechanics of how to do this because, and there’s probably some listeners out there who have tried pottery, and it’s pretty daunting and pretty tough. But for one reason or another, I was afforded the time, the space, the equipment, to just keep on trying and I saw its potential and its commercial potential even. I could see that and I said, I have to get this. Eventually it started clicking. The thing is, with anyone taking classes, if you are struggling out there right now, you make progress rapidly, and its cumulative. So again, you are building these layers and they build up a lot quicker than you realize. It’s also a plateau learning system where you stay at the same spot for a long time and then all of a sudden you just rocket forward.

MARK:           It’s like anything physical, its weird how that happens. Its like Tony Robbins talks about this with tennis as an example. You first start and you buy the racket, the gear, you get out there and you start practicing and of course, your volume of growth is super-fast and then all of a sudden, you hit a plateau, and most people quit at that time and then they pick up golf and they do the same thing all over again. Whereas what happens is, you hit that plateau and you find somebody – a teacher – and they go “oh look you gotta just turn the racket like a quarter inch this way.” And then what happens is that you get worse, not better, because you are used to doing it one way, and it’s in the net, in the net and then all of a sudden you swing and it’s like Vavoom! And it goes over like a rocketship and then you go to that next level. 

ADAM:           It’s the same way, I think probably any acquired skill but pottery especially. People now check me on Instagram or something and I like to make really big stuff cause it just works with my body shape, my ergonomics and I just enjoy making it. I don’t think that it makes me a better potter than anyone else, I just like to make it a bit bigger. And people write and they’re like, “what’s your secret?” and I hate that word. Oh boy, I wish it was that easy. It is exactly what you think and that’s what the answer is. You have to make such a ridiculous amount of work that fails. It is a disappointment and makes you want to scream.

MARK:           Because it’s bigger?

ADAM:           Or just any mistake. Especially in the big work in my experience.

MARK:           But it just costs more that you fail with.

ADAM:           And you just have to ruin so much stuff and learn about the myriad of different ways that things get ruined. 

MARK:           But you can reuse it right? 

ADAM:           Yeah.

MARK:           Like you are making it and I’m sure you can add water or whatever you add to it and smoosh it back.

ADAM:           To a certain phase and that’s what is so amazing about this material. We are the ones adding the value. It is a natural material and at this point the clay is mixed by a chemist and that guarantees that safe for the consumer, guarantees the temperature within a couple of degrees of accuracy. So, what we are actually doing here is creating a chemical reaction with clay called vitrification. At first, when we make the pot its this clay that we have, like a mug and we let that dry out, and while its drying out if it were to rain in here or whatever, then that would turn back to clay, nothing has really changed, it has just become dry. But we put it in the kiln for the initial firing and we go to about 1,800-1,900 degrees and just as a point of reference that’s the temperature at which a bronze statute would melt totally. So, this initial firings the cooler one is quite hot and that initializes this vitrification process. When the pots come out you can never turn them back into clay, there’s no recycling in that way they are rigid and we glaze them. And then we glaze them. Have you ever heard the term glaze in architecture and its absolutely glass it’s a synonym, so what we are doing is applying all the constituents for glass in a powder on the outside of the pot and we fire the glass on and that firing ranges but we do about 2,300 degrees or so.

MARK:           So, it’s the same place that you put it but you turn the dial to the different degree.

ADAM:           We just go a lot hotter. So, this natural material, even the glass, now we are so sophisticated in this day and age, in terms of being a potter and its so easy. An ancient potter, you know you can’t fire glass onto the outside of the pot they are unlike materials and expand and contrast at different rates and this kind of chemistry is so advanced that it does not happen by accident. For them to be able to pull shards of glazed pottery, not just regular pottery, glazed pottery sealed pottery, 15-20,000 years old can be radio carbon dated and actually a great candidate for that. So, it is super accurate. That doesn’t happen by accident. It shows you how clever the human species have been and I really love that.

MARK:           How did they even get it that hot? That’s question one. 

ADAM:           They were building kilns up hills and putting the fire up because already aware that heat rises. If you took one of these ancient potters or ancient craftsman and brought them here together right now in street clothes, they were completely modern homo sapiens and completely modern people its just like that they lived with deep antiquity and were doing super advanced things based on all the basic principles that we still know. They were also refining the clay, digging it up and all this kind of stuff that we don’t have to do now. 

MARK:           When you mentioned working with the chemist is that so that there’s no lead or? They may have had that, and not even known and that may have gave them some edge but not healthy interests.

ADAM:           That’s one of the things that I think is always relevant conversation is that we continue to evolve as a culture, as a species, as organisms and I hope this happens, we are getting closer to optimizing our life on earth. Right? So of course, lead, barium, arsenic, all of these great colorants in paint or in glaze or glass or whatever were not so good for your brain and your organs. But now what we are discovering and I saw a potter online and I cannot remember the name, he had a t-shirt that said pottery not plastic because that’s the thing now. This plastic thing is out of control. 

MARK:           It’s everywhere. 

ADAM:           We are already more sophisticated than eating plastic and drinking plastic and poisoning our food and we were already more sophisticated back then

MARK:           Yes, I know.

ADAM:           What we are trying to do now is just use our art, use our science, use cross disciplines and the knowledge we have today, that we have to optimize. If we are optimizing and its beautiful and that’s kind of where we come from. When we started to make the pots professionally, really out – no safety net – like this is what we do for a living – here we go… the most comfort that I had in that moment which would be otherwise pretty scary, is that this is not really about doing something new. This is not about doing something new. Where as a young artist, maybe ignorantly back in the days when I was painting, I was trying to search my psyche, search my mind, search everything for this new idea and I regret to tell you that I have not thought of it yet! But what we do now, and this is an ancient continuity, this is where we came from, this is the storyteller on the side of the pot. You are an ancient farmer and have this warm, basically a sacred pot in your home to hold whatever – 6 months of rice, that pot is so important and your job is so dangerous that when you leave and your children know where the food is, when you leave everyday to go do something dangerous you write your history there. The history of the people there and you write it on the pot because the kids have to encounter it there. It’s the same reason why my little boy gets an A in English class and where does it go, right on the refrigerator. Everyone has to encounter it there. Its where we celebrate and keep our history and that’s what the to-do list is. That was the ancient story. When we are throwing these pots, that’s how I think of it. Not that its an original idea, in fact it is the opposite of that, we are just carrying this on. This is the way its always been. 

MARK:           And you can tell that it comes out in the art that you do. 

ADAM:           I hope so. We have wins and losses too. There is always a design aesthetic that is hot, like people are really looking for this one color or whatever, and it’s like, ____ but at its purest what I’m really trying to do is trying to keep this ancient craftsman continuity going in this place, at this time, because there’s a lot of schlock in tourist towns. To really be representing, in good company with other great artists, in Key West.  

MARK:           It’s nice to not be adding things for the commercial bang. Yeah, these are CBD infused right here. I make these in the back, come on!

ADAM:           We are trying to make an actual expression in this place and an expression that will fit into your life wherever you take it back to. We don’t paint fish because they really sell in some tropical Florida place, it’s because this is where I live. This is what my surroundings look like.

MARK:           Right, fish is everywhere.

ADAM:           I am deeply inspired and when you come off the reef especially being a person that is not deeply steeped in marine biology, when I go down on the reef and look, I see stripes and polka dots and bright _____ and that’s what it looks like. 

MARK:           Right, nature is inspiring you.

ADAM:           I want to bring that back onto the land and try and make it honest, dare I say childlike expression of it. That’s where the joy is and people connect with it. I’m into it without stopping. We are going to keep it going.

MARK:           Tell me your first big piece, not in size, but where you looked at your wife and you’re like; they said how much for this? And you just threw a number out there and you’re like, I cannot believe we got that!

ADAM:           You know what? I’ve had a number of them, and I’m fortunate, but I’ve had a number of moments like that, but I’ll twist it just a little bit. One of the things I will never forget is that one of our mentors and his name is Aaron Shipley and obviously he was a longtime Key West’er and he has since moved away, but he owned Island Bicycles for a long time. When I moved to the island I actually moved here partially for the art, the inspiration, and so on, but I’m also a reggae musician.

MARK:           Oh nice.

ADAM:           And at that time, I had (dread)locks that I could put in my back pocket and Aaron was an awesome man and owned a red bicycle, hence the red golden and green, the whole deal and anyone who remembers it back in the day is like, when you walked into this bike shop you basically couldn’t hear anything going on because the reggae was pounding, it was great, an awesome environment and he was very kind. But he also helped mentor me in a very fiery way. I won’t forget the time he came in and I was singing the blues a little bit, and I was like, it was tough man to figure out business. I had worked in non-profit, I had been to school, I had never worked in retail and never really run my own business, especially with a brick and mortar overhead. He came into the shop one time and I was hard up on money, 

MARK:           In this shop here?

ADAM:           No, not on Duval, back on Truman, it was probably the first six months. I was hard up and feeling a little blue. And he said, “Now listen man, what’s the most expensive thing in here?” And when he asked me that, I realized all of a sudden, I didn’t know. I was just making to make. And then I realized and it just hit me like a gong. He was being serious and he was like listen, I want to help you with your pricing, let’s talk about this. And I didn’t have an adequate response. He’s like, look this is why you struggle. You have got to figure this stuff out and make a system. And then once we did which took a while, it took weeks of hard work really structuring things to make sure to make sure that A + B = C, and C is your ______. After we got that, that was the moment for me. We sold plenty of expensive works since then, plenty of volume, and all this good stuff, but that was the critical moment you’re getting at. 

MARK:           Because that is an important lesson for anybody listening in whatever you’re doing is that, you have to understand your worth and price things out and how to plan. 

ADAM:           And it’s the hardest part. But it is so essential especially if you want to make a living, “a living” you want to make money off of your passion. That ultimately was a moment that I had to admit to myself that this is a commercial venture. I can be altruistic as I want about the passion parts and the fire burning in my soul on everything, but ultimately and actually trying to make a living with this as well. That’s far more pragmatic than this emotional stuff. 

MARK:           And we don’t have to fool anybody either, there’s a huge layer of talent that comes into this, too. The first and foremost is you gotta go for it because you don’t want to have regret and then if you’re not getting a response 1, 2, 3, 4 years in then could start making it a decision on staying in the art world if you love it, or maybe doing something else you know? Or, how many of those stories where they quit but if they stayed work a week later then they would have had their big break, so you just don’t know. You never know.

ADAM:           And that’s my thing, you mentioned something earlier and I will always have a super steady diet of people who have taught me good self-talk. I am really fortunate that my mother is the absolute eternal optimist regardless of dire situation we may find ourselves in, it’s like, would you weigh it out? Which way is better? It’s not just about the escape, it’s about getting it. But you have to be bright upstairs.

MARK:           Yeah, for sure.

ADAM:           And you have to be right in the heart and if you’ve got those things down, then the rest of it kinda falls into place, but it is a lot of hard work. 

MARK:           One of the things that I heard you say earlier, which makes a lot of sense, is that you have to have a healthy combination of ego and empathy. 

ADAM:           Yeah. 

MARK:           Because you have to know, wow, I made this or I created this or I work on this and it is awesome.

ADAM:           Yeah. 

MARK:           And then you have to have the empathy so that you’re not getting too high on your ________ supply, for sure. Having that combination of both, like I’m in sales and the best salesman are like that. The best salesman are the ones where, you are trying to be a consultant and you give them this big spiel and they are like, what I’m hearing, doesn’t sound like you’re right for this. And then you’re like, maybe you need to listen better, because I’m perfect for this, right? So that’s the ego part, but then being empathetic to the person that you’re trying to sell or work with and those are the important things to know that this isn’t a fit. Even though I can make money, this isn’t a fit and knowing that is like part of the sauce. 

ADAM:           And it’s an art. I think it is an art and not a science. You know what I mean? Otherwise we would have all these successful artists around and being an artist can be a struggle, you know what I mean? But it’s like you have to meet people half way and I heard another person, and sorry to keep recycling all these anecdotes but it’s like they stick with me, right? It’s gonna maximize. As an artist, you have to be both unrealistically optimistic and you know, completely negative, too. You have to continue to get better. You see the worst side of something and it could have been better, oh it could have been… 

MARK:           We don’t have time machines, so when people are like, what should I do, this or that? It’s like pick one and don’t look back because you’ll never know. And you may have done this other thing, became successful, get on a plane and then crashed in a car and be dead. You just don’t know, you just gotta pick it and you gotta go for it.

ADAM:           And be objective.

MARK:           Listen, we have drinking water, we have toilets, so like we can look at those things too. People that have it a lot worse, than we do. Let’s switch gears and talk about social media. When did you get into, I mean obviously because this is what I do for a living, too. This is the easiest way to get to the most amount of people, especially if it is beautiful work or artistic stuff and a video is good, so everything you’re doing is the perfect recipe, but when did you first start that? 

ADAM:           You know, well I’m trying to think, I was a My Space guy, back in the day. 

MARK:           Yeah, top five friends and you don’t want to lose that position.

ADAM:           Right, you go back and check, and oh I see what it is. 

MARK:           I’m friends with Tia tequila, or whatever. 

ADAM:           I think that it is so brilliant the way, especially in the art world, only because that’s the only thing I’m looking at. In the art world it’s like exposure really matters. Even though 98% of the people who admire Kelly and I’s work, and comment and support us, probably will never be an owner of the work, but their influence and their word of mouth, even just their good energy it’s like… that’s what is really makes our business run. 

MARK:           And that’s how it was 200 years ago. Right?

ADAM:           Yeah, oh totally.

MARK:           You have a butcher shop and you’re at a party and you’re telling this friend and all these people and none of them come into there, but they will refer if somebody is sitting and say, “Hey I need a good piece of meat. Oh, talk to John the butcher.” 

ADAM:           It even comes down to having a good time. Having a good location. This is what business is, especially in the arts. If you are well regarded amongst the people who others for some reason think are in the know, then it’s like the value of your work is greatly brought up. But in social media it is democratized in a way, and of course there’s a conventional aspect to this too, but in the day, people could really monetize not the art work itself but just the exposure of the artwork. 

MARK:           Yes, of course.

ADAM:           Then it became the middle man. And with social media it’s, I don’t know in some ways there’s still some of that that goes on, but it’s like the people have spoken. When people are subscribing and they are actively making the choice to be a part of this thing, it’s great. 

MARK:           Do you sell more to people outside of the Keys because of that?

ADAM:           Yeah, without a doubt. And I’m really thankful for it and if I am honest, we have just gotten really lucky with the tube. I think that the basic tenet of social media that is optimist but I think people overlook too much is all of the content. 

MARK:           Of course, absolutely. 

ADAM:           Anyone who, especially an artist, but if you are promoting anything, you gotta learn how to take a decent photograph. It is not rocket science, you don’t have to be a professional, better if you are, but if you can learn how even just the basics of composition, color, photo touching, so and so forth, basically how a camera works. If think that if you figure out how a camera works it will unlock so much. 

MARK:           And it can be on your iPhone, too. And how that works. 

ADAM:           Without a doubt, and there ya’ go. When you take a photograph, it becomes an average of you are actually seeing. The camera will grey out to kinda of a lowest common denominator and it’s like, I was fortunate to go to art school and we were taught that, but I now can see when a photograph needs to be lightened or darkened or tweaked just a little bit to be able to get the right contrast that illustrates what you are trying to illustrate. 

MARK:           Do you, I didn’t mean to interrupt, do you find yourself, well you do a video and you a number of different videos and then you see that okay this one is getting more engagement than this one, do you then go, okay I’m going to shoot them like this? Or are you more, I don’t care I’m doing it this way no matter what? 

ADAM:           You know what? Maybe a little bit of both because there’s nothing like looking for a patten where there may or may not be a pattern. It’s like the social media thing it is a moving target. It’s changed a lot and we joined Instagram only a few years ago and it was at the behest of a collector who and I don’t remember this person’s name, very fun name, but he’s like you gotta get on Instagram! It’s a visual platform. Then I came up with every excuse, like I’m so analog and I work in mud all day. So we started one and at first it was like…

MARK:           Pictures of the art.

ADAM:           Yeah, pictures of the art and it was very exactly what you would expect. There’s a picture of this.

MARK:           Like a scrapbook, whatever, or a catalogue.

ADAM:           Exactly, which is only going to get you so far. But once I started to include people in the creative process then it was just like, okay if I show myself making the work which feels a little self-conscious about that sometimes, I’m making the work and I’m not thinking about what the expression my face is, you know what I mean? 

MARK:           But you do that cool dropping the ball thing. 

ADAM:           And that’s the thing, I couldn’t just make a boring a video out of this. It was a bit of showbiz.

MARK:           I like that, all right we are ready!

ADAM:           It is and it gets me psyched and it just binds the whole system. So inviting people into that process is where, I think it’s part of our spirit or mind, our brain, or I don’t know what it is, but there’s a part of us as human beings that wants to be creative. I think that on a deep level, and I hope everyone realizes we are supposed to be creative. We are just supposed to be. 

MARK:           to me it looks so primal because it is so ancient. If I saw you doing that with a paint brush I would not feel as connected to it.

ADAM:           Well, I think it probably depends on how it is presented. You know what I mean? I’ve watched some pretty great painting videos as well, but what I loved about the Instagram platform originally and it’s changed over time, is that you have the square format and it can only be one minute long otherwise it is just cut off. Which is really challenging because some of these pots can take me 45 minutes to make. 

MARK:           Right, but now you are doing Instagram, the TV.

ADAM:           Yeah, the TV. Which is longer.

MARK:           And those are great because you can still put it as a regular video and if someone wants to watch more, then they can.

ADAM:           But what it forced me to do was to cut the crap. You know what I mean? You don’t have to watch me put my hands in a bucket of water 40 times because you know it must be happening. But what I want to do is show the sequence of actions so we can actually see this art work come to life in shorter amount of time than it actually would have taken in real life and it’s so comprehensive to do into the creation of this work and people just went nuts over it. I’m so thankful for that.

MARK:           Actually, posting the first video of you doing it and then it was like a ba-boom? 

ADAM:           Well, it wasn’t ba-boom right away but it definitely got a good reaction and the first video I took was like my camera leaned up against some soda cans in my dirty studio. It wasn’t much to look at. I’m sure I actually took it down at some point. I should repost it just because I got into it. I have this type-A personality and if I’m going to do something, I want to be best! 

MARK:           It should be a throwback Thursday video. 

ADAM:           Yeah, for real. It’s funny because I remember it was like Christmas Eve or something and I was talking about the demand at the time, which is hilarious compared to where we are now. But this was a couple of years ago and what happens is that these things travel. They travel in both good and bad ways. There was a time last year where a lot of my content had been co-opted by some kind of mysterious Chinese company that was selling cheap t-shirts and I discovered more than 50 accounts that had exclusively my content on it, as though I was the one peddling cheap t-shirts with terrible misspellings on them. And it was like pictures of my kids and stuff, too. It was really one of my first wake-up calls and like, oh man once you put this out there, you can’t get it back. I went to Instagram and this and that and I think we’ve got it resolved for the moment, but it’s like on the flip side and on the positive side, we were picked up by “People are Awesome” it’s a great website or YouTube and go check out “People are Awesome” we got picked up by various media sites.

MARK:           And you mentioned HGTV.

ADAM:           Yeah, HGTV has been in the gallery. But local media has been great to us. And we love to be involved with local media because once, well you know a raising tide raises all boats, or however you say that, it’s like let’s all come up together and it is a great place to live and work. But Design Milk put us on at one point with the videos and that really, for some reason, the first 2,000 followers on Instagram took me forever to get. I was scrimping and trying to get there. But we went from 30-60 in three weeks. It’s just crazy the way the growth is exponential. 

MARK:           Yeah it is. Its just percentages, so if you grow 10% for a time and you’re bigger, growth is quicker. 

ADAM:           Around that time, I started to really feel conflicted because I just feel like I don’t want to be utterly commercial about this. I do this as a privilege and I really think it’s about art. It’s about making art, inviting people into the creative process without being didactically instructional.

MARK:           Yes.

ADAM:           And not instructional videos.

MARK:           Right.

ADAM:           They are not instructional photographs, this is about art, and it’s about why I love it. I think that a lot of people can just resonate with me on that. So, I tried to get creative with some of the writing I do, I try to not be commercial. And you know, people get it. The stuff is for Adam, its what I do for therapy. But that has given us kind of an angle. I follow some other cats that are doing impressive work but after the fifth and sixth commercial appeal, I’m like, Oh dude! You know what I mean? Just make it about the work. It’s so exhausting. And that’s easy for me to say.

MARK:           It’s the long-run and you’re doing things, not for the quick sale and that is the problem that other people have. All right there’s a timer on what I’m doing and if it doesn’t succeed with this particular thing then I’m changing it. Do you do any paid advertising at all with Instagram?
ADAM:           I have before, only because…

MARK:           Well, you should because with those numbers…

ADAM:           Nah, we, well to build up on what we have now is more of an organic thing.

MARK:           No, I didn’t mean buying it, I meant advertising it and marketing to other people around the world who love pottery, right? Because it is easier to pick that demographic and then show these videos to them and now would be like…

ADAM:           Yeah, I have done some of that but it’s been if I’m honest, it’s been less results-oriented than what I kinda had thought. You know what I mean? 

MARK:           And that’s an art, too. That’s my art. 

ADAM:           It’s like, I didn’t use it to its full potential. 

MARK:           Well for the people at home for when it comes to marketing and doing stuff on Instagram or Facebook, because Facebook owns them, it’s primarily like you split it into two camps. You do your marketing to get a return on your investment by spending $100 and I want to make $200, or $101. And then the other is a percentage goes to straight brand. There’s a reason why you wear Nike’s. Right? It’s not like the shoes fit that well, sorry, but it’s because of brand. And when we are getting more into a voice atmosphere and in the next ten years and our kids, we like and there are two things that are most important as humans at this point and time; it’s our health and it’s time. And that’s it. And that’s the reason why video blogs, like if you had a 45-minute thing, I don’t think it would do as well. But this quick thing is perfect because time is important. You don’t need to stop your car; you can just watch this quickly and be done with it. This is the reason why podcasting and audio is so much bigger now than video. Video blogging was immense and now it’s audio because net time, no extra time, you can be driving, walking, or on the toilet and you can be working. 

ADAM:           I listen to podcasts while I’m throwing pots. I can’t type, I can’t read during that time, I’m focused on what I’m doing but it’s like you can only listen to so much music and I’m a non-fiction guy and I love to get this information. 

MARK:           I listen to them all the time. Me too. Audiobooks, all of it. So, making sure that the work you are doing and the stuff you are putting out is tailored toward some of the new techniques and stuff like that. You’re doing these things naturally which is good. Long-form on Instagram, the actual writing is great. A lot of people don’t do that anymore. So having tons of text in there and people read that and people if they are looking at the 1,000th pot you are doing it’s like, okay, but when you are also writing stuff to it, it’s like wow. That adds an extra element of what’s going into this whole thing. What’s he thinking when he’s making this? What’s the inspiration? People like, I want to tap into my art. Or, wow this is primal and getting dirty and getting in there and all these other things that make it appealing to humans. So, it’s like taking the time to learn the platforms if you’re just not naturally good at it and take advantage of the fact that the platforms are free and the fact that you can market for such underpriced amounts right now that people are building multi-million businesses on social alone. There’s an App called Wish, which is the #1 competitor right now of Amazon. It’s like a $5 billion business and they’ve only done advertising and marketing on Instagram and Facebook. And that’s it. 

ADAM:           Wow. 

MARK:           And, here’s a funny fact is that Jeff Bezos, who owns Amazon, when Google Ad Words were out, the #1 spender on Google Ad Words was Amazon at the time. Because it was underpriced. He went all in on all this money on something where he could get the biggest bang for his buck and look what happened. 

ADAM:           Right, it’s basically other than buying Google stock or whatever…

MARK:           Yeah and now he’s buying Whole Foods.

ADAM:           It’s crazy and the whole world of business thing is, that it really has become very fascinating to me because inevitably you start to learn about it just by wanting to throw your hat in the ring and talk about Jeff Bezos and then Key West Pottery in the next breath is hilarious. But what’s funny is that I feel a part of this business community. We have a really have a wonderful thing going on and it’s like why was this a brick and mortar? We do business from this place that we are in right now and if I’m honest then that’s enough for us. We do all right. But to be online and to be connecting with people, and what I’m loving about that, is that we are making friends all over the world based on common interests, based on things that we can show each other. So, Kelly and I are teaching a workshop in San Francisco next month and that was all social media connections. For a long time I felt a little sheepish, like I felt like some kind of dorky millennial talking about social media all the time, but I’m telling you that if we can take a couple of good photographs and put it out and a couple of hours later, there may be 100,000 people saw it and it’s a major part of what we are doing. We are trying to take it seriously and give it the due respect. 

MARK:           That’s what I love about the videos too. Because of the fact that it’s not as much vanity metrics as the likes. It’s just views and you know the likes, but nobody else knows behind the scenes and that’s great about that because you put I out there and you have to worry less about, oh hey this didn’t get a lot of likes. But you are putting it out there.

ADAM:           It is easy to get caught up in that, too. You know what I mean? I’ve gotten caught up before and I’m like, what happened? People stopped liking it. And then it’s like, wait a minute, let me just do my work. 

MARK:           You want to put out stuff that people like for sure, but you don’t want to get caught up in it because you have to be true to you and you have to put out material. You never know what material you are going to put out that can change the course of your life. It could be something that was liked the least. The one person liked it and that’s all that matters. 

ADAM:           If you are putting things out that are going to change the course of your life, then you better be sure that you are putting things out that will change the course of your life in the way you want it to be. Of course, your life could be a drag. But I don’t want to put out this fake design junk that I know is hot right now because in two years it will be something different. I’m putting out what is honest for me. And it’s tactic. I know what the colors of the season are, I have to say what is right for me because now that we have run into a decent amount of exposure, we have to realize how powerful that is. And I don’t want to get pigeon-holed and everyone thinks, “Oh you go there and they’ve got the color of the season.” This is an expression that, and I don’t want to say any better than that, but our thing is different and that is based on qualities of life that we want. So, this thing is driving our lives forward but we are still trying to steer it. 

MARK:           My advice would be, because we know you are working this account, so for me it’s like, this is both of your personalities, it’s not the business. 

ADAM:           Right. 

MARK:           It’s you as human beings. When you get into some other art as well, please put it here and it may not get the most likes because you just may have pottery fans but it doesn’t matter because this is you as the artist.

ADAM:           That’s great advice. 

MARK:           And put all that out there because it shows more of the humanity. Think of it like when we talked about the tennis analogy, you may get worse at first but then they explode. You make take one step back but four forward because you are showing you the artist. So keep that. 

ADAM:           I think that is #1 great advice and it sounds really fun but also, social media, yeah, I can use it pretty selfishly and put myself out there and oh it’s gotten out there and whatever, and that’s good. But the other thing that I’ve loved about it is that it has taught me to look at artwork in a totally different way. It may be that I’m getting older and maturing at the same time, I hope, but I feel like it’s only recently that I’ve been able to greatly expand the way I look at work as simply appreciating it as someone else’s work. As a craftsman, I’m always deconstructing how was it done? I’m always and that’s always the way that I’ve been. But now that I have a massive amount of work that I’m attracted to out there, I guess I basically don’t have the time to anymore. It’s like I’m looking at this work and I just admire it and realize it is utterly different than mine, I’m not going to make something like it, or imitate it or whatever, that’s not the point. The point is to enjoy it. I’ve gotten better at that and I have really truly think that social media has been great in that regard and there are so many great artists out there right now that I’m looking at and I’m deeply inspiring and I don’t need that from a technical perspective of, “oh he does this one thing so well.” I just mean the art is moving.  

MARK:           Yes. 

ADAM:           I think that would be a great idea to share that out there. It’s like influence, although not in some direct aesthetic way, but I’m looking at this dude and he’s off the hook. This woman is making this work that is touching and look at this guy. 

MARK:           It’s starting and you just never know the stuff that you put out how it can move people and that’s what this is about. That’s from going full circle what we started with and that’s why you’re doing this.

ADAM:           Yeah! It’s the continuity and I think it’s worth it and I think that in time when we have all the bad things in the world that we all know about, and have to repeat endlessly, there are a lot of really wonderful things going on and it’s not on the news for some reason. 

MARK:           Yeah, I know. 

ADAM:           But there are places where it does exist and we’ve got to make that as visible as possible. Yeah, I want to make a living. I want to raise our kids and I want them to be safe, I want to be aware of the threats in my environment, of course. That’s just being a responsible person, but after that, it’s like man there’s just so much good stuff happenin’ out there. 

MARK:           People generally love people; it’s just how it is. You know why we know that? Because we can kill each other so easily. It’s real easy to bring some bomb into Times Square and blow it up, all the time, it’s just not happening because we generally love people and you can see it when there’s, and you see videos of accidents on the road and someone’s arm gets caught in a train, and everybody bands together, there’s this humane thing that we have about that and yes, there’s a few seeds that are just messed up maybe, but as a species, it is really easy for us to do away with each other. We are making some bad mistakes here and there with certain things but in the end, I think we are going to work itself out. 

ADAM:           I don’t know, I feel like in a time and especially from an environmental perspective or something like that, there are some really crazy things, but to get the good news out there and I mean the good news that people are creative, highly intelligent and more sophisticated than ever in many regards, and if we could just bring that back to the ancient philosophy of looking out for each other because ultimately you’re looking for yourself that way, you know what I mean? 

MARK:           To shine the light on that a little bit more.

ADAM:           Exactly. That’s, yeah, it’s that time now. But that is actually what you see. That’s why there’s some kind of, and I don’t want social media to change too much as we go along in terms of monetizing, I know they are running a business but I love free exchange of ideas and of course, there’s people subverting it and whatever. 

MARK:           Of course, but they would be doing that at a party, it bleaches. 

ADAM:           That’s what information really is. 

MARK:           Social media just exposes who you really are quicker. That’s all it is.

ADAM:           But a lot of good things are coming through it right now. A lot of things I’m paying attention to that, for no other reason than, you know what? They teach me how to raise my teenager better. They teach me how to whatever, how to put things into context. How to see my own existence from a 10,000-foot perspective. Highly important. You can’t operate in a vacuum, and as we know, being on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean sometimes, I joke a lot with people that you now, we moved to Key West to get away from it all. Boy oh boy, did it work. 

MARK:           Yeah, right?

ADAM:           Now sometimes I want a flight back and see what’s happening in larger art world and everything. But luckily, you know, we are able to do that virtually many times and it helps us decide where we go physically and what we check out when we are there. Is that some big surprise that I don’t have to go off the tourist pamphlet. I have already contacted these people and we’re going. Which I love. 

MARK:           Yeah, that’s awesome. 

ADAM:           I’m always stoked when people come in and sought us out beforehand and I always try to take good care of those people and in the gallery too. Yeah, man I’m stoked. We are just very lucky, and I’m very lucky that the quality content got seen by the right people and it got bigger than what I had thought, and I hope it continues in that direction and if not, then I’m thankful for the opportunity to be in that platform as it is. 

MARK:           You are doing a great job, so keep that up for sure. Well, let’s go to a couple of parting questions, which are the personal questions here. Your favorite event to attend in Key West? 

ADAM:           My favorite event to attend in Key West and this is me racing through my brain and try not to say what everyone else says.

MARK:           Everyone else is like, the local parade.

ADAM:           Oh, I do love the local parade actually. You know what? I have done a lot of non-profit work since I’ve been in Key West and just mostly arts advocacy. And I really love children. I love kids. I think they are such a worldly investment and whether it’s sports, arts, anything, so if we do some galas and some things like that, I always love to see people gathered around for one unobstructed purpose. Whether it’s Studios of Key West, or Key West Art & Historical Society and things like that, and I think they are meaningful and fun. 

MARK:           Yes, of course. 

ADAM:           And there’s champagne and all that but generally it is going to something meaningful. We supported the Montessori school for many, many years in that regard so we really like those, and if I can tell you the truth, I talk with so many people just in the shop on Duval Street and I am not on the hard sell. We are just BS’ing with good people about the world in this shop and then at the end of the day, I want to go home and be quiet. 

MARK:           Your day-to-day is your event.

ADAM:           I’m happily married and I’m not the social creature that so many people know Key West for, but I still love it just the same. 

MARK:           What about for music if you and your wife want to go out and listen to some music, where do you go? 

ADAM:           Music, I have a great love for, the Green Parrot.

MARK:           Yeah, that is the go-to for everybody. And it’s great, the music is awesome there. 

ADAM:           You know raising, my kids are getting to the age now where we are arranging less babysitters, but for a long time we had little kids so for us to go out is not super common unless we go out for specific purpose and I love the bands that John (Vagnoni) brings in and, if you know about them far enough in advance, then you know Suenalo is gonna be there.

MARK:           I get that email that says “X is gonna be there.” And you’re like, perfect. 

ADAM:           I think there’s a good variety there. I am like so many others, I think one of my favorite spots is Point Five. And I know it’s not this live music mecca, but when the DJ is up there and just getting’ down on the vinyl, it’s like a little funk soul and it reminds me of where I came from and I appreciate it so much. It’s an actual record playing and the DJ booth is like ridiculously small but this huge sound comes out and I just love it. That’s the whole cocktail bar kind of event which I love. 

MARK:           What about favorite thing to do with the kids?

ADAM:           My favorite thing to do with the kids and my oldest boy has rapidly become an accomplished young sailor. So we go over to the Key West Sailing Club which is down in the Bight and its super crazy affordable for family membership for a year. And I don’t want to misquote it, but it is something ridiculously affordable and you can basically go there and rent a boat and it’s like …

MARK:           Like a catamaran? 

ADAM:           You can do a Hobie Cat. But there’s a youth racing team that just starting and my soon-to-be 13-year-old is solo navigating these boats across the harbor! I don’t even know how to do that yet! It’s really cool and it’s got you outside and it’s invigorating and it’s got that little taste of danger of some kind. 

MARK:           Which is good for the kids to have that because you’re like, you are on your own kind of a thing. A problem comes and you must navigate it and there’s no Dad to help you out. 

ADAM:           So, I love that with the kids. There’s a lot of great things and we really live that kinda cool neighborhood life. Our neighborhood has a couple of kids from the boys at school within bike proximity and we live in a closer neighborhood that a lot of people don’t know about and it’

s right on the islands and we were super fortunate to buy an old beater house that was in foreclosure and we put all our love, sweat and tears into it and it is our little joint. So the boys are rockin’ the longboard up and down and there’s a skate park and I love how you can still have that old school life. 

MARK:           I love that about neighborhoods that strive here and I love that. 

ADAM:           It’s amazing. It’s like how I grew up and even though to me that doesn’t seem like a long time ago, the world is a much different place. 

MARK:           Well it’s nostalgic for us because we had two dead-end streets and driving my bike to school, climbing trees, my parents and think about it now, right? It’s like my parents would be like, it’s Saturday and it’s 10 o’clock – go and come back when it’s dark. And there’s no phone, there’s nothing. 

ADAM:           Yeah, right. You called your friend and they weren’t home, and you just had to call over there.

MARK:           Imagine if you’re like, meet me at the fountain at 2. And you show up and they’re not there because they like, their mom is running late. What do you do? You leave. 

ADAM:           Exactly. 

MARK:           I couldn’t imagine my kid at 11 years old leaving and coming home and there’s no way they can get in touch with you. I would be like, uggh! I was climbing trees and my parents are watching me climb these trees that are like 50 feet high and if I fall I’d be dead. And they are just waiving at me. I’d be like Holy Shit! 

ADAM:           Pop, I’m actually scared. 

MARK:           This is just wild now. 

ADAM:           But you know what? We have a good team so the kids and I think that the kids have a great life down here. You know, everything is a little islandy’s and it’s a little bit rickety and it’s a little bit you know? And I always feel like you know. 

MARK:           We look out for each other here. 

ADAM:           For sure. 

MARK:           That’s what’s important. 

ADAM:           People see the kids and they are like, “You’re Adam and Kelly’s boy,” and I appreciate that because I feel like that about others. We have had a good run of it in Key West.

MARK:           That is awesome. Where can people find you on social media? And I’ll put it in all the show notes. 

ADAM:           We are: @KeyWestPottery on Facebook, Instagram, maybe a couple of other stray ones out there. The best way is Instagram, that one is the easiest for me. I don’t want my job to become about constantly searching for visibility. I want my job to be making the work. Sometimes I make things and people were discussing earlier, don’t resonate on it until later on. But Instagram, I literally am running that my personal self and my personal stamp on it. 

MARK:           You responded to me, so you are very responsive on there. 

ADAM:           I try to be as responsive as I can. We get a lot of messages on there and I really respect people and sometimes it takes me a second to get back and I feel bad. So people have gotten pissed off about it and it’s just like, it’s not our full-time job to be on Instagram, but I do try to represent it very honestly. 

MARK:           Well, there’s always toilet time. That’s the best time for a response. 

ADAM:           Some infographic about that the other day. Do not borrow someone’s phone. But we are at www.KeyWestPottery.com is a very basic website and shows some of our work and gives you links to the online store which we have done well with and just try to keep it clean and functional. It’s impossible to represent the entire breadth of work that we have in the gallery on the online store because we have such a quick turnover. If anyone is out there listening, one of the best ways to get a hold of us is just to call the gallery and say, “Hey, which fish do you have right now?” And we can take a picture and send it to you on the phone. Because otherwise…

MARK:           I’m sorry, that fish came and went! 

ADAM:           Yeah, otherwise it’s too hard. We just can’t.

MARK:           You have a full-time job uploading your pictures to eCommerce.

ADAM:           And maybe one day we’ll get there. 

MARK:           I don’t see you mass producing 100 fish in the back the same exact way. 

ADAM:           These are one-of-a-kinds and we have some things that we can never, and we make this bird that’s become very popular and we can just never run out of them. But the work is not formulaic in that way and you come in this year and then next year it might look totally different. I don’t know either.

MARK:           Well, come in, that was my last comment is: 1201 Duval Street on the quieter end. If you are here, please come by, stop in and say hi, you are easily approachable and look at the art. 

ADAM:           That’s the thing, this stuff is meant to be in your hands and you have to pick it up and feel it and that’s how you really feel the maker on these objects and what’s cool to think about and maybe it’s self-indulgent as it is, but you can feel the hand of the person who made it. As long as it’s not destroyed or doesn’t hit the floor by accident, that lives up for as long as the pot is there. So even after I’m long gone, this hand and the sensitivity with which we are trying to make this work at least, I think is detectable. It’s there and it’s meant to be in people’s lives. I encourage you to stop by!

MARK:           Yes, for sure. And the last question, I always like to end with is: Give us a tip of the day and it could be a new gadget, a new website, a book you are reading, anything. 

ADAM:           I’ve been really into this author for a long time, his name is Graham Hancock. He just came out with a new book called America Before and his read on history and he’s not a researcher, but he’s more of a reporter and like he synthesizes with leading experts in a variety of different subjects, but basically getting to the point of giving us some context for the human species on this earth right now. His claim to fame is that he has coined the term that we are a species with amnesia. He’s a very compelling author and the only reason that I even mentioned it here is because when you said books you are reading and I think that what I love about his work the most is not that you can take it hook-line-and sinker, but that it compels you to look more objectively into the past. I think that that gives us so much context for what we are doing now. Some of the things are so obviously giant mistakes that are happening right now with a historical perspective, we can correct course, we don’t have to even be fans of the same politician to correct course. 

MARK:           Of course. 

ADAM:           It’s really so much about personal responsibility and I think that history, if you can fall in love with it, if it’s not boring to you, can really give you perspective. So, I have been on and off with deep history studies for a long time, but I’m back on it right now. 

MARK:           Nice. So, we are back on it, get your history and your History Channel and you can do, How the Men have Made America, that’s a pretty good special on the History Chanel. Well, Adam it was really great talking to you and I know you have to get back to the beauty that you have here at Key West Pottery and I really appreciate you and your time. 

ADAM:           Most honored. 

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.

TRICIA:         Penny? 

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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. 

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