Italian Summers in the Keys

Seven-year-old Tony Wright stepped back from the edge of the boulder. Taking one last breath, he lunged forward and launched himself into the air. He felt momentarily weightless before plunging into the Ionian Sea. He surfaced with the taste of saltwater on his smile, his family cheering him on from the shore.

Forty years later, Tony’s daughter, Siena, experienced the same exhilaration leaping from the same boulder off the Taormina shore. Tony spent every Summer Sunday of his childhood with his family at this beach club and now returns every year from the Keys with his own family.

Unlike the imagery of American beach clubs, Taormina’s is focused on family, friends, food, and service. Large umbrellas dot the shores in closely spaced rows, shading loungers and tables that host multi-generations of friends and family. Waiters casually yet continuously bring food and drinks on trays filled with extra olives, nuts, and other complimentary treats. It’s the epitome of Italian summers well-spent.

Taormina is a small Italian hilltop town that sits near Mount Etna, an active volcano. Despite its looming risk, the volcano serves as a strong backdrop to a tight-knit community of generational tradesmen and artisans.

In many ways, Tony’s home in the Keys mirrors that of his childhood home in Italy. The beauty and danger of the Atlantic Ocean reflect that of the volcano, yet the sense of community in both places makes the risk seem uncircumstantial. Knowing you have the support of a community gives you unmatched courage.

That community-fueled courage has led Tony and his wife, Isis, to achieve unprecedented business success and growth. In the past 3 years, they opened the Italian Food Company in Key Largo, quickly followed by a second location in Islamorada, and now a third express location in Tavernier.

“We never intended to expand beyond our first location,” Tony says, “but the Keys community craves the family atmosphere and traditional homemade food that Italy is known for.”

Isis adds, “Since introducing it to the Keys, it’s as if we’ve been moved to the passenger seat as the community drives us toward a new opportunity to expand, encouraging us to fill a void in different locations.” An Italian Food Company Express certainly wasn’t in the plan, but after the tragic loss of Chad Gardner and his Deli and Bakery in Tavernier, Tony and Isis were called to fill the void.

“We, like everyone in that neighborhood, frequented Chads for a quick, delicious bite to eat,” Isis says, “The community felt the loss, and we realized we could help repair it.” Tony and Isis thought their community-led journey would stop at the Express location; however, a new opportunity was presented to them that they could not pass up.

Tom Timmerman, owner of the Florida Keys Dive Center for 40 years, reached out to Tony. He was ready to retire but wanted the property to stay local and be used to bring the community even closer together.

Tony says, “How could we say no, especially when memories of my childhood in Taormina flashed in my mind the moment I stepped onto the property?”

Ideally located with boat access from Tavernier Creek, Tony envisioned the dive shop and oceanfront property transformed into an image of Taormina’s beach club. A place where generations of families and friends could come together to soak in the beauty of the Keys while enjoying Italian-inspired family favorites, from pizza and burgers to salads and pastas.

Lido 73 is going to bring Italian summers to the Keys. Despite the looming risk of expanding once more, Tony and Isis have found the courage through the support of the community. Lido 73 is set to kick off the first Italian Summer in the Keys in the coming months.

Jerrica Mah is a writer, Army wife, and freelance book editor who loves to travel vicariously through stories.


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