Florida Keys Business
Sunday, May 4, 2014
Welcome to White Street
White Street Grill at 4th of July Cafe is part of the White Street reawakening

Asubtle but sure shift is taking place along Key West midtown corridor.

White Street is welcoming new businesses by the handful, and with ample parking and family friendly menus, locals are clearly embracing the new offerings.

And things will only get better when the new city hall opens at the United Street intersection -- a fact that hasn't been lost on the restaurateurs who have started heating things up.

Hania Rivera and Steve Kibbe, longtime veterans of the Old Town bar/restaurant scene, are enjoying the different clientele that the neighborhood draws, and they've rolled out the White Street welcome mat at their newest venture, White Street Grill at 4th of July Cafe.

Rivera and Kibbe bought the restaurant from building owners Christina and Brent Mattheesen, who are known for their Duval Street ice cream and sweet treats that fill Duval Street with the alluring scent of chocolate from their three downtown locations.

"They wanted to focus on their ice cream and sweets, and wanted to get out of the restaurant business," said Kibbe, who emphasized that the Mattheesens are still hand-making the ice cream that lines the counter at White Street Grill.

"We struck a deal with them," Kibbe said. "They're still making the ice cream and we're still selling it here, so nothing has changed as far as the ice cream goes."

But Rivera and Kibbe have expanded the lunch and dinner menu at White Street Grill to highlight Kibbe's specialty of "suck it to the bone" ribs, hand-cut steaks and all manner of chops.

"Think about it," Kibbe said. "No one in town delivers steak and pork chop dinners, but we're offering full dinner entrees starting at 5 p.m."

The full, casual menu is also available all day, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and includes favorites such as sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, wings, mozzarella sticks, salads and shoestring fries.

"But we've also introduced daily comfort-food specials, such as meatloaf, truffle mac and cheese and shepherd's pie," Rivera said, adding that Chef Tony Walker, who formerly opened Sweet Tea's on Duval Street, joined the White Street Grill staff and is concocting his popular comfort food specials, which are posted daily on Facebook.

Chef Jorge Angel is also working alongside Kibbe and Walker in the kitchen. Angel has been cooking in Key West for 22 years, and spent four years in the same kitchen when the Mattheesens operated 4th of July Cafe.

Kibbe, meanwhile, is also back in the kitchen hand cutting ribeye steaks, and dreaming up all sorts of rubs, sauces and marinades for pork chops.

"Everything is made fresh to order," he said. "There's nothing but ice cream in our freezer."

"It's like a whole different world out here," said Rivera, who also owns Shots and Giggles, the tiny locals' favorite watering hole downtown on Ann Street. "It's a local, quaint neighborhood bar in the heart of Old Town.

"And actually, the local clientele we get at Shots and Giggles is one of the reasons we wanted to cater to locals in this White Street neighborhood," she said. "We've been in town for 17 years, and 23 years, and yet every day people we've never seen before come into this cafe and tell us they've been here for 20 years. We truly are loving this neighborhood."

And the pair, who laugh when they say they've been engaged for 11 years, are making sure they're catering to that clientele.

"With all the gyms and yoga studios around here, we'll be offering weight-loss shakes and fitness smoothies," said Rivera, who emphasized that the cafe's trademark malts, shakes and banana splits -- which aren't for the calorie counters -- aren't going anywhere.

And while the Mattheesen's name disappeared from the marquee, the building's history is irreplaceable.

The property at 1110 White St. was built around the 1930s, Kibbe estimated. It was initially owned by Blackie Valdez, he said.

"But Blackie Valdez was a communist from Cuba, so no one would eat in his little Cuban sandwich shop," Kibbe said. "So as a marketing, business decision, he renamed it the 4th of July Cafe to ensure people of its Americana."

Apparently, it worked, as the building has been known as 4th of July since the 1960s.

"We took over on Feb 17, and now it's really starting to be fun," Kibbe said. "We have our own identity; people are getting to know who we are, and it's becoming ours."

White Street Grill currently serves dinner until 9 p.m. and ice cream until 10, but those hours are likely to change when the restaurant receives approval in the coming months to serve beer and wine.

"Plus, we offer free delivery anywhere in Key West, and our specials are always posted on our Facebook page," Rivera said.

The Key West pair is clearly excited with their new venture -- and can't wait for Old Town and New Town to meet in the middle -- on White Street, of course.

mmiles@keysnews.com

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