The Green Turtle Inn is celebrating its 75th year as an iconic destination for tourists and a mainstay for locals.
Its neon sign of a turtle flapping its flippers has long served as a beacon for those looking to escape the daily grind and enter into the Keys lifestyle. The inn itself has been unflappable, surviving hurricanes and changing times. The Green Turtle Inn, often referred to by locals as the Turtle, was originally opened as the Rustic Inn. It offered passersby and locals green turtle steaks, gasoline, and, during the Prohibition years, libations. “It’s really not much different today,” Terry Nickels, the senior manager, laughs. “We don’t sell gasoline, but you can still fuel up on good food and good drinks.”
During the infamous Labor Day Hurricane in 1935, the Rustic Inn was badly damaged but was one of the few buildings that remained standing. It was later purchased, improved, and reopened as Sid & Roxie’s Green Turtle Inn on October 24, 1947. The new owners also operated Sid & Roxie’s Seafood Cannery, which at the time processed turtles, making it easy for the inn to continue to serve the turtle dishes the location has always been known for.
The Green Turtle Inn has changed hands a few times since its inception, with Sid and Roxie first selling in 1966. In 2004, the longest-standing owner, Henry Rosenthal, passed the keys to Bob and Mindy Rich, who still own it today.
They had been longtime patrons and admirers of the Turtle and jumped at the opportunity to continue its local legacy. The Riches entrusted the Green Turtle Inn to an amazing team, including a friend of theirs, Terry Nickels. Terry had been living in the Keys since 1985, and the Riches knew she would be the perfect fit as manager.
Terry had a background in finances, a fun-loving personality, and was a hard worker. She enjoyed the Keys lifestyle with her family, raised her son and daughter in the community, and would certainly excel at the job. So, they made the offer. Terry gladly accepted the position, and the Riches were proven right. She has been managing the Green Turtle Inn and its sister restaurant, Kaiyo Grill, for nearly 20 years now. It has been a big part of her life in the Keys, as it has for so many others.
“The Turtle has been a part of the Keys for so long that it feels like the Keys,” Terry says, “You can see it on customers’ faces every time they walk in. It’s like they’re relaxed and excited at the same time.” Just as it had in 1935, the inn survived another Category 5 hurricane, Wilma, in 2005. Two years later, the Green Turtle Inn went under its biggest renovation yet, replacing the old building with a new one on its original footprint.
In many ways, the Turtle has changed over the years, but as much as it has changed, it has also stayed the same. It still serves its specialty turtle chowder that is ethically sourced. The iconic sign still honors its founders with their names prominently highlighted. And its walls are still filled with photographs of its long history and connection with the Keys community.
The Green Turtle Inn proudly acknowledged its 75th anniversary on October 25th this year. However, they postponed formal celebrations on account of Hurricane Ian, which was the deadliest hurricane in Florida’s history since the Labor Day hurricane that the Green Turtle Inn rose from. The Turtle, perhaps unsurprisingly at this point, survived Hurricane Ian but has been helping in recovery efforts. They plan to celebrate their milestone anniversary and will welcome the public to join their festivities when the time comes.
Located at MM 81.2
Oceanside, Islamorada, FL 33036
(Click here for directions)
– Jerrica Mah is a writer, Army wife, and freelance book editor, who loves to travel with her family.