Thursday, October 15, 2009

The battle of Fleming Street - Green Republic vs Help Yourself!

In the last few months, Fleming Street has become a battle ground between competing veggie cafes.

Today we went into both veggie restaurants on Fleming Street:

Green Republic

('be lean, be green')
just off Duval
Opened a few months
All veggie but not organic
kitchen: total separation between front of house and kitchen, cannot see good being made
design: Minimalist, high design interior, lots of open wait space inside, air conditioned
Green Republic website

Help Yourself!

('delicious, nutritious, natural food')
a few more blocks north - but not that far (Margaret Street)
Opened just before Fantasy Fest 2008 (so almost a year) - was Bubba's (but no relation)
kitchen: right there by the till, watch your food being made
design: busy, carrots, experiential, wait space outside (shaded)
Help Yourself website

As you can read from the above they are quite different in style and menu (bearing in mind they are both veggie and after the same market).

Also both have set their sights on 'world veggie domination' with both having expansion plans for the future - although in both cases, Key West is currently their only outpost.

I really want both businesses to succeed, and have purchased from both this week (and there is no reason why they cannot as it's Key West after all - a diverse and busy eating out market).

But this week one of them has really annoyed me so time to get off sitting on the fence....

Green Republic

Fascinating menu
Really great 'chicken' (=i.e. veggie) nuggets
BUT... we asked on 3 different days for 'chicken' Marinara and they were out of it on every single occasion!!

I can deal with frustration in restaurants. Once. But this was 3 times!! And the third time there was no 'chicken' at all, knocking out several options.

And, worst really, the staff did not seem too bothered by the continued lack of this option.

Either have it, or remove it from the menu. It's all about expectation management!

Help Yourself!

So, unsatisfied and without purchase, we wandered up Fleming to Help Yourself!

We ordered pasta and a salad. Watched it being cooked in front of us by Charlie. Chatted to the new co-partner Annie who (is lovely and) has only been part of the partnership for a few days. Everything was fresh and delicious. It's more hectic experience (I liked at!) and the ladies are great folks, are committed to both the food and the community.

And the food was great.

End of round one: winners were....... Help Yourself!

But Green Republic will be strong competitors in the future I am sure.

My advice would be:

Green Rep: Guys...Be able to deliver what your menus says you can.

Help Yourself!: Ladies.. Slightly easier to navigate menu would be good and also have some things on the menu that are a bit naughty - remember that lots of your visitors are tourists and so don't care too much about being mega healthy.

Good luck to both!

(and, finally, how will they stand the test of time against that old timer, the Veggie Cafe?)

Here's Help Yourself's scarily good juice selection:

People of Key West - are you Happy?

I read an article in Newsweek about happiness and our current obsession with it.

According to Psychology Today, in 2000 50 books were written about happiness. In 2008 that number was a staggering 4,000.

I am reading one of those 4,000 books at the moment: The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. It's original, well written and very insightful.

He brings together in the book some of the thousands of studies and experiments done on happiness (the modern work as well as old theories, quoting Edgar Allen Poe, Buddha, Marcus Aurelius, Confucius, the Bible, and Stephen Hawking amongst others).

This got me thinking: are the people of Key West happier than average?

Or: if you move to Key West, on average will it make you happier?

To quote various section from the book:

Buddha preached... happiness comes from within, and it cannot be found from making the world conform to your desires. Buddhism teaches that attachment leads inevitably to suffering and offers tools for breaking attachments. Focus only on what you can fully control...which means primarily your own thoughts and reactions.


Let go, stop striving, and choose a new path.


A main determinant of happiness is the voluntary activities we do. The author recommends reducing noise and reducing commuting, being able to control your life and creating lots of time to devote to your main relationship.

The achievement of weath does not make people significantly more happy.

Nor does the acjivement of big career goals and other achievements.

It's the journey toewards goals (any goals, bot just big career goals) that is far, far more important that the achieement if that goal.

So, for all of that, I guess Key West is well placed to he a happy place.

Drop out = feel good.

My bigest take out from the book was about how we set outselves very high personal objectives and targets in this modern world. We have very high expectations of ourselves. The author describes how destructive this is.

My favourite quote is from wheelchair bound motor nurone disease-sufferer Stephen Hawking (the author of the best selling science book of all time):

How does he keep his spirits up?

'My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus.'

If Key West was a person would you like them?

What makes the tiny, tropical island of Key West both:


and also


#1 - OLD

Just old enough to be fascinating but not past it's prime. Key West has so much accumulated history to be staggering...

Heat, mosquitoes, swaps and mangroves; the Navy; cigars, Cuba; turtles; sponges; wreckers, Captains and widows; wrecks, treasures and divers; nature and architecture; artists and tourists.


It's beautiful (but so is Palm Beach, St Augustine, Sannibel or much of California). What makes Key West's beauty so great and different is its genuineness - reflecyed both in its nature and buildings but also its people. Are there so many artists here because they are trying to capture the beauty of the place or its people?


Many places have community. What is different about Key West's community is that it's built on diversity. So much of humanity is represented here. When you walk down a street towards Duval count how many times you can say 'hello' to your passing pedestrians.

#4 - "un-AMERICAN"

I mean this in the nicest way.... The sun reduces the energy levels. Even the biggest houses or gardens are small. It's a rebellious liberal town in conservative Florida. Bycicles are decorated by Fantasy Fest beads and boas. There are few cars and many people walk (this makes a big difference). Drop outs and failure are accepted and loved rather then rejected and cast out.


On an island 2 miles by 4 miles you just can't escape it. The ocean has a pervasive influence on Key West's past and present. And that's just great. Just like salt water its influence seeps into and corrupts everything about the island. You just can't fight it so go with the flow.

For me all this is true.

But is Key West getting less different or more different?

Key West is changing... but for the worse or better based on these criteria?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Touchdown Key West

We are here!

We've hit a heatwave with near record highs during the day and night at the moment. But it doesn't matter, we're back and it's great!

Even though we visit very often, even in the 3 days we have been here we've found two things to do which we've not visited before (the aquarium and Mel Fisher museum - isn't it strange that Mel's surname is Fisher which, in many respects, is what he did most of this life?!).

Mel Fisher's museum was great - it's a pity the museum does not devote more of its story to the man, rather than his find (the $450m of silver and gold on the bottom of the sea bed that he found on July 20 1985 after 16 years of full time searching).

His own personal story I found fascinating. How one man can be so obsessed and driven to hunt for 16 years, through great personal adversity, for something that he might never have found.

He was a true leader to keep him self and his team driven for all those years.

Here is the sign outside his office - his famous catchphrase which he used every day for those 16 years.

So what's changed about Key West in the 6 months since we've been away?

Well there are more closed, boarded up shops than I can every recall in the past confirming that Key West is suffering too.

But everyone seems as happy and friendly as ever though so there must be some vaccine in the air in KW protecting folks against the recession negativity.

Not too much else has changed much really. Which is a good thing. Positive to see no further horrendous condos or other building work. It will be interesting to see what the new mayor has in mind for the seafront development.