By Jeff Klinkenberg
An Everglades traveler needs sustenance. As I approach the national park’s main entrance in Florida City, that means a stop at Robert Is Here.
Florida’s most famous produce stand was started when Robert’s dad, a farmer, set up a coffee table on the side of the road, loaded it with cucumbers, and erected a sign pointing in the direction of a small boy. “Robert Is Here,’’ said the sign. The year was 1959. Robert was 7. In the 21st century, Robert is here still.
Robert Moehling’s stand is now a huge barn-like building. An enormous Robert Is Here sign beckons from the roof. Robert’s is one of those places you truly can’t miss, and you shouldn’t.
That’s not a Glock behind the counter – it’s a power drill he uses to pierce the hard covering of a coconut to open a hole for a straw for sipping the milk. He sells dragonfruit, lychee and sapodilla. He sells guavas, eggfruit and passionfruit. Yes, you can buy tomatoes, squash and lettuce, too. But Robert Is Here is something like the Disney World of tropical fruit. Robert grows most of what he sells.
He will sell you mangoes, papayas and avocados. He will sell you Monstera deliciosa, the delicious monster, a tropical fruit that resembles a cucumber but tastes like a cross between a banana and pineapple. In the summer, he sells jackfruit that can weigh 80 pounds. He’ll set you up with a strapping helper to carry the giant fruit to your car. But don’t leave yet. You’ll want to come back inside and order a milkshake made with any tropical fruit in the house.
Robert is a big, friendly man who will talk your ear off. He wears shorts, a T-shirt, and an apron. Tools hang from his belt. Sometimes a pencil is wedged behind his ear. By the way, you won’t see a computer at Robert’s. He adds up your bill in dependable pencil on a paper bag while the caged parrots near him squawk out their amusement.
About a million travelers drive through Everglades National Park’s main gate every year, which means Robert gets a crack at them first. He doesn’t get a million customers, but he gets a lot, and he stays busy from November through August before taking a couple of months off. Everybody in his immediate family works with him, including his kids and their kids.
The famous television chef, Emeril, shops at Robert’s during his South Florida visits. Robert’s autobiography, written with the historian Cesar Becerra, was published in 2015. The book tells quite a tale.
Robert was making enough money by age 9 that he hired a neighborhood kid to help him. When he was 14, he’d saved enough money to buy a couple of acres on which he planted mangoes. When he was 24, he converted the little fruit stand into a huge market crammed to the rafters with edibles.
In 1992, he lost everything to Hurricane Andrew, from his giant building to hundreds of acres of fruit groves. He rebuilt and replanted. In the same month, his mother was murdered in her home in Homestead. Her killer is still at large.
He will never stop grieving, of course. But he still says “Have a nice day’’ as you stand at the counter with a sack of mamey sapotes. While you’re walking out, he still says, “You’re going to like the mamey. It tastes something like a strawberry-pumpkin cheesecake.”
When you go…
Robert is Here
19200 SW 344 St.
Homestead, FL 33034
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