Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Rich Pollack
Grab a seat toward the end of the bar at Boynton Beach’s landmark Hurricane Alley Raw Bar and Restaurant and you might discover a small plaque, often obscured by ketchup and mustard bottles, honoring the memory of Harvey Oyer, a longtime and well-known real estate man with pioneer roots. (His great-uncle, Charlie Pierce, was one of the legendary Barefoot Mailmen.)
“He helped me get started and he didn’t give up on me,” says owner Kim Kelly, who first opened the doors to the place in 1996, with Oyer as her landlord. “He’s one of the reasons we’re successful.”
In exchange for giving Kelly an occasional pass on the rent, Oyer would daily commandeer his reserved seat at the bar and after lunch be handed a bill for just $4, no matter what he ordered.
While Oyer’s generosity is one of the reasons Hurricane Alley is still here after 20 years, another has to be Kelly herself, a self-described gale force of action behind the hurricane in the restaurant’s name.
On July 30, Kelly and Hurricane Alley — now a destination restaurant near where Ocean Avenue meets U.S. 1 — will be honoring the restaurant’s 20th anniversary with its “Summer Sizzle” celebration.
Set to take Boynton by storm, the party from 3 to 11 p.m. will feature three bands, lots of food and a variety of vendors.
“It’s been 20 years and I’ve survived,” Kelly says. “There’s nothing better than surviving a hurricane.”
It’s not only Kelly and the restaurant that have survived, it’s also the historic 1919 building housing Hurricane Alley that has survived.
Over the years the space has been everything from a pharmacy to a restaurant and soda shop.
But it had been vacant for more than a decade when Kelly, a bartender with a business degree, decided to become her own boss.
With lots of drive but little money, Kelly approached Oyer and asked if she could rent the vacant restaurant space.
“We gutted the place,” she said, adding that she was doing a lot of the work herself, learning to use circular saws and drills.
To make ends meet, Kelly tended bar in West Palm Beach until 4 a.m., then after just a couple of hours of sleep, she got ready to open what was then Café Barista.
Following six months of hammering and sawing, Kelly’s dream came to life when the cafe opened— but it wasn’t smooth sailing.
“There were a lot of tears on the back steps,” she says.
Back then, Kelly did just about everything herself, including working a tiny kitchen — a challenge since she had no idea how to cook.
“I once called my mom and asked her how to bake a potato,” she said.
Following four years of struggling, Kelly and two friends — both surfers — sat out back beside the alley and came up with a new name and a new concept.
After coming close to closing the doors of what had evolved into a renamed raw bar and seafood restaurant, Kelly landed a loan to expand the kitchen.
Over the years Hurricane Alley has expanded twice, and last year Kelly added a food truck that she takes on the road. The restaurant, which started with two employees, now has 43.
She was also part of an important merger of sorts — marrying steady customer Burt Garnsey, whose family has operated the Sea Mist drift-fishing boat for four generations. Now Hurricane Alley offers a “You hook ’em, we cook ’em” deal to folks who bring in their catches from the Sea Mist.
Kelly says one reason the restaurant has lasted so long is that she is never far away. She works seven days a week and is known to duck into the kitchen and start cooking if orders back up.
“You can’t own it and walk away,” says Kelly, 53. “That’s how the vision gets lost.”
Another way to preserve a vision is to make sure the people who supported it through thick and thin are not forgotten.
So there, at the top of Hurricane Alley’s sandwich menu, you’ll find the Hurricane Harvey, a rare roast beef sandwich that Harvey Oyer would order from his seat by the end of the bar.
And no, you won’t get it for just $4 (it’s now $9.95), no matter who you are.