For Craig, it’s always been about the food – from the time he was a boy in his aunt’s ice cream shop to his ownership of Craig’s Restaurant.
It started as a boy living in Miami where he returned each summer to his Mom’s hometown of Grundy, VA to Aunt Sue’s “Dotson’s Drive-in,” a small ice cream shop. As the summers went by, the restaurant got bigger, the house got bigger, the cars got nicer and then there was a swimming pool. Seeing that growth over several years and watching them at the end of night count the money was a major lesson for young Craig. Owning his own shop would definitely be the way to go.
While in school in Miami he cut grass for neighbors to earn money to run his boat in Key Largo at the family’s weekend trailer home. The weekends in the Keys gave him a lifelong deep affection for the Keys and the Keys lifestyle.
Finally at age 16 with his own car that gave him freedom of movement but also the responsibility of paying for that freedom, he understood that if he wanted more he would have to work for it. It was a fundamental life lesson that still guides his life and his outlook on life today.
Prior to graduating from high school, young Craig held various jobs at several restaurants – giving him a resume that included a five-star-restaurant, experience in cooking breakfast at an IHOP and making pizzas at a pizzeria. But he knew he needed and he wanted a more formal education. And he knew he wanted to be a chef.
The most logical school for Craig was The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, the most prestigious and respected school of its kind in the country.
At the Culinary Institute, Craig formally learned every facet of the food industry from purchasing and sanitation, baking, sous-chef to all the different stages of the kitchen. He learned production cooking, ordering, receiving and storeroom management – literally everything that a senior restaurateur needs to know.
Craig made his way back to Miami where he worked for a gourmet restaurant near the airport before finally returning to the place where his heart was pulling him — the Florida Keys. First stop was a restaurant at Plantation Yacht Harbor, now better known as Founders Park.
Craig moved on to the Pilot House where under his leadership as manager it became Key Largo’s most successful and popular restaurant. It was there that Craig created his superfish sandwiches using the recipe that he still uses today – fresh fish, on grilled whole wheat bread with American cheese, a generous slice of tomato and Craig’s own tarter sauce. The sandwiches were not just a huge hit, they quickly became famous. He clearly was on to something really special. At that point, it was time for Craig to make his move.
At Mile Marker 90 was the Pop Shop, a penny arcade kind of place with limited food. It turned out to be an ideal opportunity for an ambitious 26-year-old chef who wanted his own restaurant. His opening day in 1981 was a major success and so it’s been, for over 30 years. One meal at a time. One success at a time. One satisfied customer at a time.
Today, Craig’s Restaurant is legendary for the thousands of meals that have been served to thousands of customers. It’s become a must stop for tourists passing through on their way to and from Key West. It’s also a favorite with locals. His menu still features the Famous Fish Sandwich, but it is also filled with plenty of other tasty offerings from sandwiches to fish, chicken and steaks, breakfast always, a great selection of wines and cold, we mean really cold, beer.
The friendly attentive service and reasonable prices make Craig’s an ongoing favorite. There is no charge for sharing an interesting and continuing element of Florida Keys history.
Craig is also an avid sailor and has won numerous races, which he is happy to talk about. Just ask him.