August 7, 2019

THERESA JAVA/Free Press
Sharkey's co-owner Paul Steigerwald just renewed a 20-year lease at its Key Largo location. To mark the occasion, Steigerwald and partner Adam Muller contracted graffiti artist Jules Muck to paint a few murals on the building.

THERESA JAVA/Free Press Sharkey's co-owner Paul Steigerwald just renewed a 20-year lease at its Key Largo location. To mark the occasion, Steigerwald and partner Adam Muller contracted graffiti artist Jules Muck to paint a few murals on the building.

KEY LARGO — In today’s pollution-laden world, a local waterfront restaurant has taken the initiative to ban single-use plastics.

Sharkey’s Pub & Galley Restaurant has kicked a few habits. It hasn’t packed to-go orders in Styrofoam boxes and plastic bags in a few years, and now it no longer serves cocktails in plastic cups with straws.

“We were using thousands of cups a week,” said Paul Steigerwald, who co-owns the restaurant with partner Adam Muller.

THERESA JAVA/Free Press
Sharkey’s Pub & Galley bartender Amber Tarves and owner Paul Steigerwald mix up cocktails in glasses and serve them with paper straws last Saturday afternoon. Steigerwald has aligned his operation to be more eco-friendly.

Steigerwald and Muller began integrating the plastic cup ban, which is now in full swing, about six months ago.

Cups were being tossed in the trash during the restaurant hustle, he said. And the fate of the cups that successfully made it into the recycling bin was unclear.

“Who knows where it goes from here,” Steigerwald said referring to the Chinese government banning imports of nearly all of the Western world’s plastic waste. “I stopped selling bottled water and bottles of soda and Gatorades all together.”

He finds the chemical compound bisphenol A, or BPA, used in plastic food an beverage containers, and known to leach into people’s bloodstream as equally abhorrent as mountains of cups and Styrofoam containers.

“I don’t even like when it’s anywhere near me,” Steigerwald said of petroleum-based Styrofoam. The only thing worse, he said, is when he sees a Styrofoam box wrapped in plastic film and put in a plastic bag.

“All that plastic is going to end up in a landfill or in our ocean,” he said.

To battle BPA, Sharkey’s has installed a water filtration system at the main pipe. Epoxy resins containing BPA are often used to coat the inside of water supply lines.

“The water here tastes better than any bottle of water you can buy,” Steigerwald said.

Restaurant staff fills reusable tumblers or glassware at a higher price point than plastic cups. Steigerwald estimates he’ll spend a few hundred dollars more on glasses this year. Despite being in an industry with thin profit margins on most products, he says he won’t pass along those additional cost to customers.

“We don’t charge extra for to go boxes. Styrofoam boxes are about 10 cents per box and the bamboo boxes we use here can run up to 50 cents per box,” he said. “The bamboo utensils are three to five times more expensive, but it’s worth it to me. I think it’s worth it to most people. Bamboo is a super-fast-growing renewable source.”

Sharkey’s recently donated about $2,000 to Reef Environmental Education Foundation from its 18th annual “Rockin’ the Dock” party.

“It’s really just our yearly fundraiser,” Steigerwald said. “We like to support environmental causes, and do what we can. It’s goodwill and good business.”

Steigerwald and Muller just renewed a 20-year lease term to operate their business on the Port Largo canal. To mark the occasion, they contracted graffiti artist Jules Muck to paint a few murals on the building. Most notably is the shark for its commanding size and portraiture detail.

“We are committed to keeping this place the same. As this community becomes more and more upscale, we are committed to serving the locals. We offer fine cuisine in a flip-flop atmosphere,” Steigerwald said.

Sharkey’s Pub & Galley is located at 522 Caribbean Drive in Key Largo. Its hours are 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., and the bar is open to 2 a.m. daily. For more information, find them on Facebook or call 305-453-1905.

tjava@keysnews.com