If you want great food, made to order and served in a friendly, social environment, the Donut Gallery, 83 Harbor Drive, is the place for you. The Zambrano family has owned and operated the diner since 1972.
They have what Nelson Zambrano says is the lowest-priced menu on the island, and their goal is to get you in and out quick after enjoying a quality meal. The Donut Gallery prides itself on being your kitchen, says Ota Zambrano: “We cook in front of you. There is nothing fancy about the Donut Gallery, just consistent food served the same way since 1972. Come as you are!”
They’re open 5:30 a.m.-3 p.m. seven days a week. You can reach them at 305-361-9985.
Name: Nelson and Ota Zambrano, owners and operators
Question: Where were you born?
Answer: Nelson in White Plains, New York; and Ota on the big island of Hawaii.
Q: Where do you live now?
A: Key Biscayne, with daughter Kaleia, 15, who attends MAST.
Q: How did you get your start?
A: Smiling, Nelson states, “I grew into it! My dad, Benjamin, worked at the Westchester Country Club and always talked about moving to Miami. He heard about this from a friend and immediately came down, saw it and bought it in 1972.”
Q: Is there a secret to Donut Gallery’s success?
A: Tradition. Donut Gallery has been here for 47 years. Regular customer Captain Jim O’Neill chimed in, saying he had been coming to the Donut Gallery for 45 years and saw Nelson grow up. Nelson continued, “This is a friendly place; we take pride in knowing customers’ names, what they want. Most don’t have to order, we see them walk in and start preparing their meal. Ota and I met here! She was a customer and now helps me run the place.”
Q: What’s your proudest moment?
A: Without hesitation, Nelson says, “When my daughter was born!” He adds, “Not many places stay open this long with the same family ownership and loyal employees. For example, Lori has been with us 32 years working the counter and knows our customers by name.”
Q: Any funny or embarrassing stories?
A: At times, some of the regulars open the door and scream, “Not the usual,” if they want something different! We get our share of famous people. Andy Garcia is a frequent visitor. When the Orioles held spring training in Miami, they would stay at the Ritz and Jim Palmer (Hall of Fame pitcher) came often. Ed Pope, past sports editor of the Miami News and Miami Herald, resided in the Key and was a regular.
Q: What do you love most about your career?
A: For Ota, it’s the legacy and enjoyment customers get from interacting with them – it’s a very social place; a neighborhood place.
Q: If you had to choose one Donut Gallery meal, what is it?
A: Ted’s Special, an open-faced English muffin, bacon, ham, tomato and cheese topped off with a fried egg. Nelson makes his with scrambled eggs, sausage, hash browns and onions. Ota enjoys the “Glorified Ted’s Special” – same ingredients but with French toast instead of the muffin.
Q: What is your favorite junk food?
A: For Ota, ice cream, and Donut Gallery makes great chocolate and vanilla shakes. Nelson’s is Coca Cola.
Q: Is there any food you absolutely don’t like?
A: Ota likes pretty much everything; Nelson does not like spicy foods.
Q: What do you do in your free time?
A: Spending time with Kaleia, boating and outdoor activities. They enjoy traveling; New Zealand is a favorite.
Q: What’s your favorite part about living and working in Key Biscayne?
A: Ota enjoys the “flip-flop weather,” and Nelson loves riding his bike to the restaurant.
Q: What would people be surprised to know about you?
A: Laughing, Nelson says, “I’m almost 50! Being on the island for so long, everyone knows me, I am an open book.”
Q: What’s your advice for someone just starting in your profession?
A: Without hesitation, Ota laughs, “DON’T!” Nelson continued, “It takes a lot of dedication, but it does have its pleasures.”