Longtime local businessman Tim Henshaw is changing things up in the 700 block of Duval Street, where his new restaurant serves breakfast and lunch, his expanded liquor store keeps the island quenched and the unmistakably savory scent of late-night fried chicken lures people from the sidewalk to the shop.
KWest Liquor doubled in size last May when Henshaw demolished the interior wall that separated it from KWest Men, the adjacent erotic male strip bar.
"The liquor store was carrying the bar," Henshaw said. "The dancers made money, but the bar didn't."
On the other side of the wall, however, KWest Liquor was doing well, nestled between the popular Aqua nightclub, which Henshaw owned a decade ago when it was called Diva's, and a woebegone cafe that had been the original location of Camille's restaurant. The restaurant had struggled for years under various owners and attempts after Camille's moved to its current home on Simonton Street.
"The liquor store was doing well, but it was such a narrow space with refrigerators down the right side, and we had to keep all the liquor on shelves behind the counter, so you had to ask an employee to get it for you. It just wasn't convenient," said Henshaw.
So the wall came down, the bar closed and the liquor store grew. The expansion also provided enough space for Henshaw to install a fried chicken display in the liquor store.
"It comes fresh and marinated, it's never frozen," he said. "We cook the chicken in the restaurant next door and serve it after 4 p.m. every night, only because right now there's not enough room in the kitchen to be cooking the chicken for next door while also making meals for the restaurant patrons," he said.
The take-out options include chicken tenders, wings, breasts, thighs, honey biscuits and enough side orders to give Dion's a run for their money.
"The construction of the expanded liquor store took 10 days, but we only closed for three," said Henshaw, who came to Key West in 1982 with almost no money. He worked at a guesthouse in exchange for room and board, then waited tables at Louie's Backyard before getting his real estate license in the 1990s.
"I hit my 30s and realized I wanted to do something other than wait tables for the rest of my life," he said. "I needed a career, so I got my real estate license."
The real estate license evolved into ownership of Key West Realty and Historic Hideaways, which specializes in vacation rentals. Henshaw's partner of 18 years, Bill Stofko, runs the real estate side of their businesses.
"We met at Bourbon Street Pub 19 years ago and I couldn't have managed anything without him by my side," said Henshaw, who always remained in touch with the restaurant industry, and owned Old Town Mexican Cafe for awhile on Duval Street.
"To be honest, I couldn't stand looking at the restaurant next door that was never doing well and wasn't being done right," he said. "I realized that a good and successful cafe in that space would help my business next door."
Henshaw opened Havana Key West in October, offering a combination of Cuban and American fare for breakfast and lunch.
"Dinner will be coming," Henshaw said. "We have a little bit of everything for reasonable prices."
French toast is made with Cuban bread, daily specials include Cuban roast pork and black beans and the coffee is the inimitable Cafe Bustelo Cuban coffee.
Havana Key West serves homemade soups, sandwiches, fried fish, burgers, you name it -- and cocktails.
"I extended the liquor license from next door, so we can offer cocktails and a full liquor bar," Henshaw said.
Manager Zoey Isakova is at the restaurant by 7 a.m. daily. She makes the coffee and flips the "Open" sign.
"Tim just loved this place when it was Camille's," Isakova said, recalling a line out the door every morning as people waited for a table at Camille's.
"We'll get there. Word is really spreading about us, and I'll happily serve coffee to anyone outside while they wait for a table," Isakova said. "We've been getting a great mix of locals and tourists."