Why Robert is Here is Worth the Drive
by hunter braithwait
A riot of fruits, jams, and quirky Florida nostalgia make Homestead's Robert Is Here an unusual staple, and that’s just the way we like it.
A cornucopia of tropical fruits at Robert Is Here.
Once you pass Krome Avenue on your way out of Miami, things get a lot less chromed, unless you count the engine block of a vintage tractor. But the rural land about 45 minutes southwest of downtown is the best place to score garden-fresh fruits and vegetables, and when you finally get to Robert Is Here in Homestead, you’ll be glad you made the drive.
Around since 1959, the phenomenon known as Robert Is Here began when 6-year-old Robert Moehling’s parents stationed him on the corner of SW 344th Street (the same corner where the business stands today) with 400 bushels of cucumbers. First, Moehling got a sign that, like the name of this iconic fruit stand, simply announced his presence. And then people came, again and again, any time they were in need of produce, exotic fruits, live entertainment, or some quality tortoise time at the petting zoo that sprang up out back.
The welcome sign at Robert Is Here.
Robert is definitely still here—even though the stand’s been on the Today Show, the subject of two PBS documentaries, two New York Times articles, and has been the destination for 54 years’ worth of mango-milkshake-craving visitors. He fills me in on all of this history while we’re standing out back, behind the stand itself, near the macaw cage and a jackfruit tree, as a swarm of worker bees buzz the air and an even more frantic swarm of teenagers unload bananas, wash mangos and jujubes, tame the anaconda-length queue, and, most frustratingly, says Moehling, attempt to tally up customers’ purchases by hand, using a ballpoint pen. “I make them add,” he says, uncapping a grin that reveals his views on the virtues of low-tech versus high.
This South Florida landmark has all of the same local flavor as any other fruit stand, yet a glance at the produce signs sends you off to some pantropical jungle outpost: Homegrown Asian guavas, sapodilla, black sapote, and jackfruit ripen next to their commoner cousins, bananas, Florida avocados, and bundles of collard greens stacked like fresh tobacco leaves.
Robert Moehling has been working his namesake farm stand since 1959.
But Robert Is Here is much more than just a fruit stand. Ancient vehicles surround the place, some busted down, others, like a cherry-red ’55 Ford F-150 out front, in showroom condition. And then there’s the panoply of canned and jarred goodness—orange blossom honey, vidalia onion-jalapeño salsa, pickled dilly beans—and the outlandishly good (and exotic) milkshakes and smoothies.
Moehling’s favorite milkshake flavor is canistel-strawberry. His favorite fruit is the “magnificent” guanabana, also called soursop, which has a flavor that at first floats on the tongue like cotton candy but has the citrusy notes of pineapple. (Soursop also fights cancer—so well, in fact, that big pharmaceutical companies have spent millions to synthesize it, and failed.) And although you can’t go wrong with any flavor of milkshake here, everyone has his or her own version of right. Miami artist Christy Gast lists her discoveries: “Sapote, canistel, tiny bananas, so many varieties of avocados, loquat, carambola, dragonfruit, sugar apple... so many new flavors.” But when push comes to shove, she goes for a Florida classic—Key lime.
Visitors browse the variety of produce on offer.
Once people have their shakes, they can take them and sit at one of the tables out front. Or they can sip them out back—as long as they’re aware that the petting zoo smells like, well, a petting zoo, thanks to the emus, goats, geese, roosters, burro, and the watermelon-eating tortoises that call it home.
Robert Is Here has always been busy, but people really started rolling in around 2008. “It’s a good thing I have my family,” Moehling says, turning around to silently count all of his offspring who work in the building. With luck, Robert Is Here will be here for a while. 19200 SW 344th St., Homestead, 305-246-1592
photography by mary beth koeth
Cover shoot: Behind the scenes with Pitbull for the October 2014 issue of Ocean Drive magazine.