Dreaming Big in Paradise

by Capt. Marlin Scott

Dreaming Big in Paradise

Low Key FisheriesIt was an all American story. Two brothers came together and decided to acquire and build a business which just so happened to be located in an American paradise. This was not an easy business, but then again, nothing that requires hard work is ever easy - especially in the lower Florida Keys. They decided to name the business Low Key Fisheries and concentrate on both wholesale and retail seafood, a double duty. As the seasons rolled by, commercial fisherman and retail customers started to realize that Low Key Fisheries had something special, something rare. The brothers were in it to win, to succeed. Soon the customer base grew to include fine dining restaurants throughout the country that wanted the freshest Florida Keys seafood shipped to them on a consistent basis, and retail customers that trusted the quality of the products.

Then came the magic bullet, smoked fish dip. A signature Low Key Fisheries product that started in house as a retail item and soon graduated to the restaurant menus, charming the crowds and restaurant owners. The fish dip became legendary, allowing both brothers to financially provide for their families. Then there was Irma………...

Low Key Fisheries-Hurricane Irma DamageIRMA DELIVERS THE BIG BLOW
The forecast was not good, frightening actually. Hurricane Irma was going to hit the middle and lower Florida Keys as a category 5 storm with the possibility of a downgrade to category 4. Either way, there was going to be a mandatory evacuation and severe damage. A seafood business depends heavily on electricity. From the ice machines to the walk-in coolers and freezers to the retail display cases, everything needs power; so the plan was to consolidate all of the product inventory into one walk-in cooler space. A generator would be employed to hold the perishable inventory until power was restored. The best possible plan for the worst possible scenario,. If the buildings make it through, the business assets will be saved. The brothers then loaded all of their highest priority personal items and evacuated with their families to Port St. Lucie, Florida. All they they could do at that point was to wait for the storm to pass and pick up the pieces when they returned.

I had no choice but to look at it and go through it. It was the only way to get back to Key West. Helicopter Mike and his crew picked me up in West Palm Beach on their way to the Florida Keys to perform search and rescue. They were seasoned Hurricane Harvey veterans with military experience who were used to saving lives and property.

The first checkpoint in Homestead was heavy on traffic but simple to pass for most. The check point at MM83 was much more stringent. As a FEMA contractor, Helicopter Mike and the convoy were allowed to proceed but warned by the Sheriff ’s Deputy that making it down to Key West was going to be a problem. The roads were blocked by storm debris. That wasn’t the worst news. The deputy also said nobody else would be allowed into the middle and lower Keys unless they had government clearance or journalist credentials. All of the safety issues needed to be addressed before the locals could gain access. For property and business owners, this news would prove to be catastrophic - especially for two brothers and their families that had their entire business inventory sitting in a space with no power and no access.

The damage to the Low Keys Fisheries buildings was severe but not catastrophic. A trailer donning signage had toppled and a portion of the retail building roof had been peeled back. A lucky situation compared to many who had lost everything. If the brothers could get back into the Keys all they had to do was fire up the generator, save the product and repair the roof. Their houses faired better than expected so the business would be the priority. Time was of the essence……

Nine days in the Florida Keys September heat was too long. That’s how long the access interruption lasted before Scott and Cory Speicker could get back to their business to take action on their future which now included the discarding of over $60,000 of rotting seafood. A dismal task but with insurance they would be able to replace the inventory right? Not so fast. Due to a minor technicality on the insurance policy, the loss of inventory would not be covered. A huge setback for the brothers and their families. The only option left was to start over, rebuild and restock. With complete support from their landlord, including out of pocket expenses for repairs, the brothers figured they would be back in business in less than 60 days. In a perfect world maybe, but this was Hurricane Irma, one of the most damaging weather events the Florida Keys and Key West had ever experienced.

The first reports were that an estimated 11,000 properties were damaged within the Florida Keys and Monroe Country due to Hurricane Irma. The number was later revised down but even half of the original estimate is overwhelming for a county with such stringent building codes and limited personnel familiar with the red tape. It’s not easy being a plans examiner here in the Florida Keys especially when the permit requests have exploded. The work load is overwhelming and causing a delay in the Low Key Fisheries buildings permit approval. As expected, Scott and Cory are still optimistic about their future regardless of the difficulties. Then again that’s how they succeeded in the first place…….

Capt. Marlin Scott
Capt. Marlin Scott