sir pizza

When incorporation became a reality for the Village of Key Biscayne in 1991, the population was 8,854 (it’s now 14,809), and the median house value was $312,500 (today, the averaged assessed value is about $1.2 million).

Yes, things have certainly changed over the years.

The drawbridge on the Rickenbacker Causeway is a mere memory; the Lipton-Ericsson-NASDAQ 100-Sony Ericsson-Itau Miami Open tennis tournament moved off Crandon Park after 31 years; and the 305 area code gave way to 786 (by the way, “Mr. 305,” Pitbull, was just 10 years old in 1991, 10 years before launching his reggaeton/hip hop career).

But some things have stayed the same — for the most part.

Take, for example, the 50-plus years of the Sir Pizza restaurant and the equally historic Donut Gallery, which, now in its 49th year, remains in the same Harbor Plaza location — but without doughnuts.

“We haven’t served doughnuts in 25 years,” said Ota Zambrano, who operates the business with her husband, Nelson. “There was a time when people (perceived) doughnuts as unhealthy. Plus they were being brought in from off the island. My father-in-law wanted a restaurant or diner where he could see all of his customers.”

They have served celebrities, such as resident Andy Garcia, a host of tennis professionals and visiting NBA stars (who stay at the Ritz-Carlton), and the late MIami Herald sports columnist, Edwin Pope, who used to be a regular --just like 90-year-old “Barney,” who still orders his “two eggs over easy” like he did last Saturday morning.

“We’ve seen the whole clientele change,” Ota said. “Unfortunately, some have passed away, and others have moved. A lot of development on the island changed the dynamics. The whole demographic has changed drastically. But change is going to happen.”

She said the restaurant is the last to close and the first to re-open during hurricanes.

“We’ve always provided for the community, a staple,” she said, remembering the times they used to open at 5:30 a.m. to serve those coming out of nearby Stefano's, a bar and lounge, which at one time would let out revelers at 5 a.m.

For an area that fondly refers to itself as an “island paradise,” many can recall life even in simpler times, before the traffic, the high-rises and tourists swarmed in.

Austin Tellam, one of the “Key Rats,” as homegrown kids on the island are known, remembers those days.

“We used to live a couple blocks from the elementary school; me and my sister would walk to school,” he said. “We had a golden retriever, Ashley, and one day she got out and I was probably in first grade, but she came into the classroom and sat under my chair. The teacher let her stay there. The next time it happened, the principal made us walk her back home. But you won’t see that happen (today).”

Tellam, who for eight years has served in some capacity as Master of Ceremonies for the island’s July 4 parade and festivities, vividly remembers the popular lunch counter (“It was like a Woolworth's”) and the phone booth at Vernon’s (“Everyone had to go there to make calls.”). Eventually, the pharmacy became a Blockbuster video store.

There was the old Kentucky Fried Chicken, the place to load up before fishing, and Sir Pizza became the nostalgic place to unwind after Little League games.

Tellam has recollections of the Village Green being a coconut field; when raccoons roamed freely; when the Crandon Park Zoo, once a hotspot, became a botanical garden.

There was the huge anchor and pirate scene in front of the Jamaica Inn Pub, where President Nixon held his first interview with Secretary of State Henry Kissinge, as well as shopping at the old Pantry Pride, and trying to outsmart the drawbridge as to when it would open.

For a while, Tellam’s family had box seats to the “Lipton” tennis event, as many still refer to it.

“Players used to rent houses for the tournament,” he said. “One year, one of the famous players, Yannick Noah, rented my grandparents’ house and left them a pair of signed shoes and full cases of champagne. He was known to have partied hard.”

Tellam said he wouldn’t change a thing about his younger days on Key Biscayne.

“No way, man,” he said. “It’s still a fantastic place to grow up. It’s just changed a lot.”

H. Frances Reaves, President of the Oceansound Condo Board, who first moved to the island in 1986 and came back 10 years ago after living in Baltimore, also has memories of the simpler times.

“I’d say the big difference, besides the traffic now, is pretty much everyone knew everyone and most went to church on Sunday,” she said. “People were not as diverse (the 1991 population included 4,998 non-Hispanic Whites, 3,790 Hispanics and 19 non-Hispanic Blacks), there weren’t that many restaurants, and all the Orioles would stay here during spring training.”

She recalled Key Colony then as “the cool place — the only big condo complex” and “Crandon (Boulevard) was the same, just not as landscaped as now.”

Reaves fondly refers to Betty Sime Conroy as the Village’s “Mother of Incorporation” because her incredible efforts led to other municipalities, such as Pinecrest, Doral and Cutler Bay, to follow suit.

“Without incorporation, we wouldn’t have all the beautification we have now, or the Community Center. We wouldn’t have our (Village Green) park, all the wonderful amenities we have now,” Sime Conroy said.

If only they could bring back that lunch counter and phone booth at Vernon’s Pharmacy.


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