Couple tries their success model

at Mattheessen’s White Street Grill



Hotel employees, restaurant owners, and even watersports booth attendants pay close attention to TripAdvisor, where tourists grade everything online from the cleanliness of their lodgings to the amount of sprinkles they receive on their ice cream cones.

Any bar or tavern would love to get the TripAdvisor comments Shots and Giggles, the tiny locals bar at 201 Anne St. (next to Old City Hall) recently earned from a customer:

“Tried this new place (and we never try new places). Probably the best wine selection in a bar. Super friendly, great selection of beers as well. Dogs welcome, which is always sweet. Went back a few times. Fun Times! “

The irony is that Shots and Giggles is decidedly a locals bar; in fact, owners Steve Kibbe (pronounced “Kibbie”) and Hannia Rivera don’t allow tourists in the bar during Fantasy Fest. They want a place where locals can feel at home without strangers crowding the place.

“If you’re not local you can’t get in,” Steve said. “It’s so local people can regroup with their friends. We do it for a couple days and it pissed of tourists, who have to come during off Fantasy Fest time. That’s how we pay honor to the people who come in during our slow nights.”

That’s not to say, of course, that they don’t want anyone but locals in their bar.

“We love everyone,” Hannia said. “We just have a special time for locals but we always love to meet new people and show them what Key West is really like.”

Three years after Shots and Giggles opened, the couple sought out another location to add to their success. They found it at Mattheessen’s 4th of July Restaurant & Ice Cream Parlor on White Street. They signed a lease agreement in mid-February with the Mattheessen Family, who have three other ice cream and cookie parlor locations — two on Duval Street and a third on Front Street.

The White Street Grill still has Mattheessen’s ice cream, but the couple has made that location something more. With expanded lunch and dinner menus, the couple renamed it “White Street Grill at the Fourth of July Grill.”

“It’s also a restaurant, with burgers, BBQ sandwiches, hot dogs, and other menu items,” Hannia said. “But we’ll be adding steak specials, seafood specials, pasta specials, all fresh. No joke.”

They have applied for a beer and wine license for the White Street location so customers can have a good wine or beer with their meals.

Steve came up in the restaurant business. He bartended in San Francisco in college, owned the former Blue Water Grill on Duval Street until about 1998 and bartended at the Half Shell Raw Bar. Yet, he’s had to learn a few things as he manages not only the dining room but the food delivery business out of the White Street Grill.

“We’re slowly creating a food delivery system,” he said. “The key is to coordinate the cooking with the availability of the drivers. If a driver is out by Searstown and we get a call-in order, we don’t start cooking the food right away. We have the driver call us on his way back so we don’t cook dinner too early and have it sit dying under the heat lamp.”

The two work the daytime at White Street Grill as employees — long-time friends they can trust run Shots and Giggles. When their new restaurant closes, they move to the Ann Street bar and work, socialize, and do the closing there.

“That’s a lot of hours but we love what we do,” Hannia said, who, like Steve, has been in Key West for decades.

That may seem anti-productive — banning non-locals during Fantasy Fest — but Kibbe and Rivera know something outsiders who open bars in Key West don’t: That if you don’t have relationships with people who work in other bars, restaurants or hotels, if you haven’t cut your teeth in the Key West hospitality industry, you’re likely to find yourself with an empty bar in off’-season.

“We’re old school Key West,” Steve said. “We remember the old PTs Late Night, where you could go in there at 3 a.m. and see friends and colleagues, get a bite to eat, have some drinks, and close out the night. We want to get the same response to the White Street Grill, where everyone who comes in there is a local, or feels like a local.”

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