August 6, 2017

BRIAN BASHAM/The Citizen
Damian DeAngelis also owns the 915 restaurant and wine bar at 915 Duval St.

BRIAN BASHAM/The Citizen Damian DeAngelis also owns the 915 restaurant and wine bar at 915 Duval St.

Damian DeAngelis — and his Key West restaurant career — have come full circle. Both are back where they started in 2003 at the historic corner of Whitehead and Caroline streets, though DeAngelis’s job title has changed significantly.

“Kelly’s was not only my first job in Key West in 2003, but it was also my very first job in the restaurant industry, anywhere. I was as green as they come in this business and I started there as a server,” said DeAngelis, who, as of Tuesday, is the proud and successful owner of three Key West restaurants.

On Tuesday, he and two business partners bought the building that had housed Kelly’s Caribbean Bar and Grill until owner Fred Tillman closed it about six weeks ago. 

But decades before anyone had heard of actress Kelly McGillis (call sign Charlie in the blockbuster movie “Top Gun,”) the corner building had already achieved aviation infamy as the first headquarters of Pan American World Airways when the airline started in 1927.

DeAngelis, along with partners Tom Boles and Jessica Marco, plans to highlight the building’s aviation history and the island’s fresh ingredients in a brand new restaurant called First Flight Island Restaurant. 

“We’re doing some cleaning, painting, renovating and redecorating for the next few weeks, and then we’ll be open and welcoming guests to a great spot that will combine a gastro pub on the inside, with a tropical courtyard outside under a gorgeous canopy and plenty of amazing local seafood, and the freshest ingredients possible.”

And DeAngelis is no longer the new kid in the industry. He and Boles have owned the popular Bagatelle, 115 Duval St., since October 2014, and a year later the pair added 915, at 915 Duval St., to their restaurant repertoire, the stately old structures standing like bookends on Duval Street. 

“I had had an eye on Kelly’s for awhile,” DeAngelis said. “And Fred Tillman and I have been close friends ever since I worked for him at Kelly’s and at Duval Beach Club when he had the restaurant on Key West’s South Beach.” 

Kelly’s closed about six weeks ago, and First Flight Island Restaurant will open in a grand unveiling in the coming weeks, DeAngelis said, reluctant to name a specific date for the opening. “I won’t make any promises that could get delayed and disappoint people.”

First Flight Island Restaurant will feature dinner and a bar menu when it first opens, but lunch will soon follow “as soon as we get the kinks worked out,” DeAngelis said, promising something for everyone on a brand new menu that’s accessible and exciting for both locals and visitors. “And we’re going to have a lot of fun with the aviation history of the building and things like flights of wine and craft beers. We’re really having fun with this and we’re excited for people to see what we’ve put together in terms of food, drink and history. So stay tuned for a few weeks.”

Though he may be back where it all started in Old Town, DeAngelis’s career has truly taken off.

mmiles@keysnews.com