This Fruit Stand is a South Florida Icon
In South Florida's forgotten farmlands, the Robert Is Here stand has survived several hurricanes and countless tourists to remain a beloved local landmark and a wacky national treasure.
Alex Fernandez waved off Robert Moehling when he offered to bag a plump, spiky soursop she bought at Robert Is Here fruit stand in Homestead, Florida. Instead, she immediately asked him to slice it into wedges. She popped the milky-sweet flesh into her mouth right at the counter, even as a line formed behind her at the low-roofed barn, among several wooden crates overflowing with passion fruits, mamey sapotes, jackfruits, and mangoes.
"Oh, my gosh—thank you so much," she mumbled through a mouthful before feeding a chunk of the Latin American fruit to a friend visiting from Gainesville. "That first bite, it's like a memory," said Fernandez, who was born in Cuba and raised in Miami on this exotic fruit, locally called guanabana (gwah-nah-BAH-nah).
Everyone in line understood. A couple from Canada's Yukon Territory flew for three days to board their South Florida cruise only to venture almost an hour south to a fruit stand people raved about online. "So this is what fresh fruit tastes like," Steve Smith said.
Another couple from Shallote, North Carolina, who travel annually to the Florida Keys, knew about Robert Is Here too. "Our vacation doesn't start until we've come to this place," Polly Russ said.
Even Boy Scout Troop 650, on its way to camp at nearby Everglades National Park, stopped off for strawberry-Key lime milkshakes. "Oh, they're the best: smooth, creamy, and exotic," scoutmaster Robert Murphy said. "I added tamarind because you hardly ever find it fresh. It's these flavors that make it." And that is what makes Robert Is Here special.
A fruit stand becoming an icon in South Florida, where delicious tropical produce is available year-round, may seem unlikely. But what's even more exceptional is that it has remained a local favorite long after being discovered by the tourists. "I take more pride in my community than a lot of other people do," Moehling says. "I understand the importance of living up to the hype."
Drive about 40 minutes southwest from the Miami International Airport, and the low-lying city fades from office buildings to suburban homes to South Florida's farm country. People on their way to the Florida Keys and the Everglades will often take the 15-minute detour down a two-lane road to the squat barn at the rural intersection. White letters mounted on the roof proclaim Robert Is Here.
Courtesy of Heather Moehling
It's been that way since the second day Moehling set up on this corner in 1959 at age 6. His father, a farmer also named Robert, sent him out to sell surplus cucumbers. He didn't have a single customer. The next day, his dad painted "Robert is Here" on a plywood hurricane shutter, and young Robert sold his entire crop. From then on, his mother, Mary, who later became his right hand at the fruit stand, had the school bus drop him off at the corner.
Moehling hired his first employee by age 9 and bought 10 acres (where the property still sits) by age 14. Now, his entire family works at the stand, including his four college-educated children and two daughters-in-law.
Tourists happen upon a line of cars parked on an otherwise desolate road and meander in to find the aroma of tropical fruits next to marmalades and preserves made using Mary's recipes. Off to the side are the milkshakes—sweet guanabana, sapodilla, dragon fruit, Key lime (the specialty), and more—which draw groups of Miami cyclists on Saturday mornings.
Families can sit beneath the chikee-style huts out back and take in the view of Moehling's animal farm/petting zoo, complete with goats, chickens, African spurred tortoises, and emus (he sells the birds' teal blue eggs at the stand). There is also an aviary for rescue birds, where parrots will greet you by saying hello in a handful of different languages.
In a state known for its wackiness, Robert Is Here offers just the right mix of roadside oddity and Old Florida.
Robert Is Here is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week (except Thanksgiving and Christmas)