This Badass Fruit and Milkshake Stand Started With the Best Sign Ever
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
This is how you build an empire from cucumbers.
By Terry Ward
There are many reasons to head southwest of Miami into the Everglades, the largest tropical wilderness in the United States, where you’ll almost certainly spot enormous alligators and all manner of wading birds just beyond the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center along the boardwalk of the Anhinga Trail. But less than 15 minutes (8 miles) before you arrive within the park’s borders, one unmissable roadside stop beckons.
There are many roadside fruit and vegetable stands around the country. And then, there is Robert is Here. You’ve likely never seen a spot like this. Located where it’s always been, since 1959 — south of Homestead and right there at the intersection of a country road where you turn south to make your way toward the national park — this is the most badass fruit stand in the U.S., and a tourist destination of its own. And it all started with its curious name, a marketing plan borne of desperation.
Depending on the season, you might see piles of locally grown papayas, mangoes, tomatoes and avocados flanked by baskets of rambutan and mangosteens sourced from farther afield to satisfy the diverse customers who descend. There are mamey sapote, sapodilla and all kinds of exotic fruit that Latin Americans know from their homelands and love. An interesting fact: The vast majority of the tropical fruit for sale is grown within 20 miles of the Robert is Here shop — even if you’d never see most of it for sale in a local grocery store.
It started off because my grandfather’s family couldn’t afford basic creature comforts.
Brandon Moehling, grandson of Robert “Bob” Moehling, who opened the original Robert is Here
“We’re just a product of our environment,” says Brandon Moehling, 35, whose grandfather, Robert “Bob” Moehling, opened the original Robert is Here back in 1959, naming it after his son (Brandon’s father, Robert). “A lot of people come and say ‘Wow this is a great idea,’ but none of this was an idea,” explains Moehling. “It started off because my grandfather’s family couldn’t afford basic creature comforts.”
When Moehling’s grandfather opened the stand, he was a struggling tenant farmer with a surplus of cucumbers he couldn’t sell to a broker due to a flooded market. Busy picking vegetables himself, the senior Robert put his 6-year-old son on the side of the road with a box of cukes and the words “Robert is Here” scrawled in red across a set of hurricane shutters. “My father sold all the cucumbers that day and walked home by lunchtime at 12 o’clock,” says Moehling about that 6-year-old boy. “That was the start of it. We’ve been there literally every day since, on the very same corner.”
Moehling says that while his grandfather never prospered selling vegetables, his decision to start selling things like papayas, mangoes and avocados in this part of South Florida where tropical plants flourish was a wise one. And what started as a fruit and vegetable stand has grown into an entire open-air shop with a canned goods section, a milkshake counter where the blenders are constantly buzzing up concoctions with key lime, mamey, guava and whatever else is in season and a small zoo of emus, goats, tortoises and other rescue animals.
There’s even live music on the weekends, says Moehling. And he and his father (Robert of the Robert is Here sign), 66, can almost always be found in the shop, greeting customers and making sure the pyramids of fruit are worthy of a magazine spread.
But even more important than the colorful aesthetics, says Moehling, is the fact that nothing goes to waste. Excess fruits are used to make shakes and on-the-cusp tomatoes and avocados are reborn as salsas. And people come from far and wide to dig in. “We’ve probably had every country in the world walk through these doors,” says Moehling. “But we consider people from as far away as Palm Beach (two hours north) local since they’ve driven here to get their mangoes or their vegetables.”
Local Jill Martin, who lives within a few minutes of Robert is Here, says she visits every few weeks for a fix. “The strawberry milkshakes are my favorite, but I really go there for the freshly made guacamole and hot boiled peanuts. There’s even barbecue in the back now,” says Martin. “This is where you can get a taste of old South Florida.”
And that’s the taste of mangoes, avocados and papaya, freshly plucked from local trees.