Robert Stoky knows good cooking. Whether it’s preparing lobster fajitas at Señor Frijoles or all-you-can-eat stone crab at Ballyhoo’s, the Stoky family has been a major player in the flourishing Florida Keys restaurant scene since the 1980s.
The family actually moved to the Keys from Miami in 1973 — and quickly set their sights on cooking and restaurants.
“My father was a charterboat fisherman,” Robert said, “so we had to figure out a way to eat the fish that we were catching.”
By 1981 his parents had acquired Señor Frijoles in Key Largo from a family friend. Robert quickly embraced the family business and worked in his parents’ restaurants — beginning as a dishwasher. He eventually learned the in’s and out’s of food preparation and became a chef.
His adventures in the Keys, however, aren’t confined to the restaurant business. They began when he was growing up.
“We had a boat that was basically our car,” he said. “My younger brother and I would go from island to island, fishing and diving.”
Following his parents’ example, Robert became an entrepreneur at a young age.
“We got gas money from commercial fishing,” he explained. “We would catch fish and sell them — grouper, snapper, everything — then we would use that money, buy more bait and fuel, and go out again.
In 2012, Robert added “author” to his list of accomplishments when he decided to share some of his experiences and cooking techniques in his cookbook “Recipes and Tall Tales from the Legendary Restaurants of the Florida Keys.” The book features Keys essentials, from rum drinks and cocktails to learning how to make sea salt and prepare lionfish.
His favorite ingredients (true to Florida Keys form) are fresh Florida stone crab and Key lime. He draws inspiration for his cooking from locally sourced food.
“I want to take advantage of the fresh seafood and tropical fruits the Florida Keys have to offer,” Robert said.
As if his restaurant career and writing weren’t enough, he’s also an active member of the Upper Keys Business Group.
As such, he spearheads some of Key Largo’s leading events including the Stone Crab & Seafood Festival, the Anything That Floats Race and the annual New Year’s Eve fireworks display on Blackwater Sound. He also lends his skills to “Uncorked — The Key Largo & Islamorada Food & Wine Festival” and Key Largo Conch Republic Days.
In addition, Robert has plans to keep enhancing and developing the restaurants he and his family created.
“We want to refine the menus that we currently have,” he said. “We want them to be more chef-crafted.”
The restaurant industry may be constantly evolving, and food trends may come and go, but it’s clear that Robert Stoky will stick close to his family roots. His “recipe” for success and satisfaction is simple yet meaningful: provide his customers the freshest seafood, and some of the most delectable dishes, the Florida Keys can offer. It just doesn’t get any better than that!