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The Making of a Landmark

In 1935 the Rustic Inn offered passersby and locals green turtle steaks, gasoline and, during the Prohibition years, libations. Built by Berlin Felton, O.D. King was operating the Inn when it was destroyed in the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane. During the Category 5 hurricane that took nearly 500 lives, Edney and Edna Parker sought shelter at the Inn. Edney Parker remembered, “We were south of the hotel (Hotel Matecumbe—the locale of MA’s Fish Camp today), about three-quarters of a mile, and I didn’t know who was left. I didn’t see a sign of a house anywhere, and no trees… There was a little piece of Mr. King’s filing station left, and Mr. King was in it. We went there and got under shelter, standing in water to our ankles all day.”

After the hurricane destroyed Flagler’s Overseas Railroad, work began on the Overseas Highway to Key West, which gave way to the first motoring tourists in the early 1940’s as well as new cafes, inns and restaurants in Islamorada.

The property was purchased by Sid and Roxy Siderius, improved, and opened as the Green Turtle Inn on October 25, 1947. Green turtles, by the way, are not named for the color of their shells, but for the layer of fat found beneath their shells. The opening of this now iconic location was first announced in the Florida Keys Weekly News: “Sid and Roxy Siderius who previously operated the Seabreeze Bar and Restaurant will have the formal opening of the Green Turtle at Islamorada, Saturday evening, October 25th. Free drinks and eats from 7 to 9. The public is cordially invited.”

The “Turtle” became known for great food and a comfortable night’s rest. True to its name, the restaurant served fare featuring sea turtles, a popular delicacy harvested from local waters and served in turtle steaks, soups and chowders.

Word of its great food traveled fast and the restaurant gained popularity as revelers flocked to the Turtle. After dinner, guests often cleared the tables from the floor, ushering in music, dancing and a celebration of the Keys’ lifestyle that ran long into the night. 

The couple also operated Sid & Roxie’s Seafood Cannery where, at one time, 200-500 live green turtles were trucked up from Key West weekly to be processed. The Green Turtle and the cannery were sold to Ruth and Lenny Hoffman in 1966. While being associated with the Green Turtle for 35 years in total, Henry Rosenthal purchased the locale from Hoffman on March 1, 1976. In addition to scores of other celebrities, during his time at the Turtle Rosenthal welcomed football and baseball elites like Joe Namath and Mickey Mantle as well as Saturday Night Live veterans Gilda Radner and John Belushi with Belushi even spending a little bit of time acting as an impromptu host. Other notable celebrity visitors include Jack Paar, Buddy Hackett, Bear Bryant, and former World Middleweight Champion Boxer Jake LaMotta. In 2004, Bob Rich, Jr. purchased the Green Turtle Inn. The old building was demolished and a new building with the same footprint is home to The Green Turtle Restaurant, our Wine and Spirits Shop and the Florida Keys Outfitters. The new Green Turtle Restaurant embraces the past while keeping up with the times.

Historic photo at Green Turtle Inn
Signage outside Green Turtle Inn with palm tree

The Turtle of Today

Today, after another metamorphosis following Hurricane Wilma, guests can still experience Islamorada’s most authentic Florida Keys cooking at the Green Turtle Inn. The original roadside cafe and inn is still casual, but more sophisticated. The Turtle is one of the few Islamorada restaurants open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and is still host to inspired fare including our famous Turtle chowder, fresh salads, steaks and seafood. The full menu is composed of modern Keys classics and Southern staples all prepared and served to the highest standards.

The Turtle personifies the casual and laid back comfort of the islands. The welcoming interior is infused with tranquil colors and warm woods with nostalgic Green Turtle memorabilia adorning the walls.