After 54 years, Robert is Here is still packing in people for shakes, fruits and baked goods

The South Dade farmstand Robert is Here is still a favorite spot for shakes, baked goods and tropical fruits like soursop, mamey and canistel.

06/27/2014 11:12 AM

06/30/2014 9:04 AM

Whether you’re in South Florida for a day or have lived here for decades, chances are you’ve visited or plan to visit Robert is Here.

The South Dade farmstand is an institution of sunny South Florida weekends and to-do lists, equal parts tourist attraction and the gateway to agricultural Miami-Dade. And although customers stop to examine the spiky maroon lychees or the sunrise-stained mangoes, Robert is Here is best known for one thing: its milkshakes.

Customers have been known to wait an hour for the fresh fruit milkshakes — their signature texture a blend of soft-serve ice cream, low-fat yogurt and milk —standing on a line that wraps around a basin of watermelons and deliberating the long menu. Maybe the much-heralded strawberry key lime? The soursop? Or perhaps founder Robert Moehling’s personal favorite, canistel-strawberry? The stand sells about 500 milkshakes a day, although at peak season the number climbs up to 1,400.

An open-air, one-story farmstand with a corrugated roof, Robert is Here has 54 years crammed into its small space. Family photos line every spare inch of wall space; many of the faces can be recognized in the store restocking the canned jellies or adding up a customer’s order on a brown paper bag. Robert does not allow calculators.

A world apart from the sleek development of downtown Miami, here family and farm reign.

Customers mill around the stacks of magenta dragonfruit and sloth-sized jackfruit, sipping milkshakes at picnic tables in the front where the stand first started half a century ago. Antique farm equipment and a stable of goats, emu and iguana are in a petting zoo out back. It’s hard to imagine a time Robert wasn’t here. But back in 1959, Moehling’s father was a struggling farmer with a harvest of cucumbers the broker couldn’t sell and no money to buy boxes for the latest harvest.

He sent Robert — then, a first-grader — to sell the surplus cucumbers by the side of the road, propped on a makeshift table. Robert didn’t sell a single one. The next time, Robert put up a big sign, script painted on some spare hurricane shutters, “telling the world I was here,” Robert explains. The cucumbers sold out.

The stand is still in the same place and has the same name. No longer a piece of plywood and some crates, the stand has expanded in size and selection — scaly fuchsia dragonfruit alongside plump beefsteak tomatoes. Moehling, who has worked at the stand since he was 6 — the schoolbus dropped him there after school — can still be found behind the counter. He met his wife, Tracey, there; his four children, as well as two daughters-in-law, all work at the stand. They built the Splash Pad, a sprinkler for children, in the back because Moehling — who works more than a hundred hours a week — wanted to spend more time with his grandchildren.

Moehling himself grew up at a young age: he hired his first employee at the age of 9; at 14, he bought 10 acres of land complete with a house, a car and a lawnmower. By the time he got his driver’s license, Moehling was helping broker produce sales for other farmers.

“I didn’t have a normal childhood like a lot of people might grow up doing. Laying around watching cartoons on weekends is something I’ve never done,” Moehling said. “Even today I can’t watch television — usually I fall asleep.”

Robert is Here has both longtime and first-time customers. Rod Richards of Cutler Bay, who ordered a strawberry milkshake for his young son, said he’d passed by many times and always meant to stop. Having finally checked it off his to-do list, he said he’d be back.

Linnell Truchon, a Philadelphia native who works at a summer camp down the road from the stand, comes by frequently for smoothies. She enjoys the flavored honeys and tropical fruits.

“I’m from up North so I don’t know what these things are,” she said. “They’re really cool.”

Though the stand’s immense popularity is not a recent development — Moehling says he couldn’t handle the number of visitors in 1964 and that it has been “growing equally insane every day” — he is still awed by the number of customers who come in.

“It’s just amazing. I grow fruit and sell fruit and have a family. That’s all I do. I don’t operate on people, don’t change people’s lives for good, don’t fight for you in the courtroom,” he said. “It’s so much responsibility — getting all this for doing just my life.”

Now pushing 62, Moehling says he’ll probably be working at the stand until the day he dies.

“This is not a retirement job,” he said.

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