At the Eighth Annual Miami Gardens Jazz in the Gardens this weekend, one man steals the show.
Thousands of festival-goers stand shoulder to shoulder to see Keith Reed, the owner of Reed’s Catering and Concessions. Reed’s seafood offerings are so enticing, concertgoers have missed headline acts like singers Mary J. Blige and Patti LaBelle to get a taste of his Bahamian and African-American fusion creations.
His signature dish: fresh conch salad overflowing in a pineapple shell topped with two skewers of spicy fried conch fritters.
“If you can use a pineapple for piña colada, why can’t I use it for a tropical conch salad? It took off,” said Reed, 40.
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By far, festival organizers agree Reed has the most popular tent in the Food Village. Organizers have to put Reed at the end of the concession row to create a roped-off section for crowd control. The average wait is about an hour.
“I have vendors who prefer I not place him next to them,” said Vannis Lopez, vendor coordinator for Jazz in the Gardens. “He is just the one. People from New York, locals, everyone wants to know about the guy with the conch in the pineapple shells.”
Reed, a self-taught chef who has been selling his food at Jazz in the Gardens since 2006, built his reputation at smaller events. He would cater family functions and sell his fare at Liberty City’s Martin Luther King parade as a side gig. During the days and some nights, he balanced two jobs working in the kitchens of different local restaurants.
“I would always run into problems with my supervisor because I always wanted to mess with the recipes and do my own stuff,” he said. “I was a good worker, but I was too creative for those jobs.’’
In 2005, after losing yet another restaurant job, Reed’s family encouraged him to make his side job a full-time business. He purchased a 15-foot concession trailer, hitched it to the back of his truck and parked daily on the corner off Northwest 122nd Street and Northwest 27th Avenue. There, he dished out fried whole crabs, his signature conch salad and steamed garlic crabs to regulars and curious passersby.
“Sometimes it’s hard to say what all of this means to me. It’s hard work that paid off,” said Reed. “I enjoy people liking my food; I can’t explain how much I love it.”
Marjorie Williams, a North Miami resident, attends Jazz in the Gardens every year.
“Because he has such a following and the unique conch product, people don’t mind standing in line for two hours because it’s so good,” said Williams, 65. “It’s not like we’re in line and we’re angry. We laugh and make friends in line. We have a good time.”
The concert’s performers are also fans of Reed’s conch salad.
“Babyface requested it and Jonathan Butler would not leave until we delivered his conch to his limo after the performance,” Lopez said.
Reed said he is convinced that some people go to the music fest as much for the food as they do to hear the likes of Ne-Yo, Fantasia and Earth Wind & Fire.
“I don’t even get to hear the music,” he said. “I put on my show. My kitchen is my stage.”