At the southernmost point of Florida, 90 miles from Cuba, sits Key West, often referred to as a paradise on Earth. In the mid-nineteenth century this most tolerant and laid-back city in the United States boasted the highest income per capita in the country.
According to contemporary treasure divers, the main source of income came from shipwrecking or plundering of the sunken ships at the coral reefs. Key West charmed Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway, whose house is one of the biggest attractions on the island. “This is the best piece of land that I was given to find,” he wrote in letters to a friend in 1929. In this remote, sunny part of the world, two Poles also found a home. They live in the midst of a Polish community several hundred strong, and turned their passion into thriving businesses.
Paweł Płuciennik made the pages of the largest magazines in the United States when he opened one of the world’s first nightboarding centres, where visitors enjoy a form of night-time recreational paddling, standing on a highlighted surf board. The Ibis Bay Paddle Sports company, led by Paweł, offers a unique opportunity to see the underwater world of the ocean, which, after sunset turns into a veritable symphony of colours, full of exotic life. You can see the fabulous world of crabs, sponges, fish or enjoy the view of glittering in the light plankton.
Paweł is a great lover of water sports. When settling on Key West his passion for kitesurfing, led him to open a school where with a friend he taught newcomers to the sport. However, as he emphasizes, kitesurfing can be practised only on windy days, which significantly limits hopes for a regular income and so the idea to opening a professional water sports centre was born. He introduced several innovative measures, setting it apart from traditional forms of commonly promoted sports.
The company base was originally located at the rear of the exclusive resort of Ibis Bay, which – as Paweł says – made attracting customers using the hotel-restaurant complex much more difficult. However, the owner of the resort spotted the entrepreneurial spirit of the Pole. He asked Paweł to transfer the base to the front part, so that the joint co-operation benefited both Płuciennik’s company and the entire complex, which became one of the best water sports centres on Key West.
These days, Ibis Bay Paddle Sports sets out every evening, just after sunset, with a group of excited tourists who – thanks to the unconventional idea to install waterproof LED lamps on the bottoms of kayaks and surfboards – have a unique opportunity to observe the oceanic world at night.
Paweł also offers a luxury boat expedition, which can carry up to six people out to the most beautiful deserted islands and fabulous beaches. And everything is carried out with the utmost attention to detail, so vacations spent in Key West lead to a lifetime of memories.
In harmony with the world
Robert Konopka is a walking example of the phrase “nothing is impossible”. He is living the dream, in harmony with life. He does not chase money, which he considers as only a reward for the work he has done with heart and passion.
Robert was born in Radom, a city which, he says, is the polar opposite of Key West in terms of ease of life and socio-economic considerations. Experience has steeled his spirit and inspired him to map out his life story in such a way it could be a candidate for the Pulitzer Prize.
Arriving 11 years ago at Key West, he revelled at the beauty of the place, the sun, the azure ocean and laid-back lifestyle. He took on a series of menial jobs that quickly enabled him to amass sufficient capital to start his own business. Having no experience in introducing a completely new company to the market, but having tremendous knowledge of running restaurants, he decided to open a French restaurant, Le Petit Paris, which offered a unique and healthy organic cuisine, as well as the most sophisticated dishes from various parts of the world.
The restaurant is located on Key West’s famous Duval Street, in a place that had never been associated with gastronomy, which – as stressed by Robert – was an extra hurdle in gaining customers. He hired the best chefs and he cared personally that each dish, leaving the kitchen, was a work of art and a gourmet treat.
He recalls that several years ago he was completely unable to cook, but today, thanks to the determination and attention to the customer, he prepares wonderful dishes that were once the privilege of the great masters of kitchen. Robert’s culinary artistry is highly valued by tourists from all around the world on Trip Advisor.
Keeping a restaurant in a tourist resort as popular as Key West is a great challenge that calls for a lifetime of commitment. However, not wishing to be a slave to the business, Robert is careful to preserve the balance and development of both spiritual and physical every day. He enjoys life in the here and now, as if every minute might be the last.
Both Paweł Płuciennik and Robert Konopka are great examples of Poles, who – despite the different fates – have been successful on a small piece of paradise on earth which has become their home, and the recipe for their success.
Kinga Eva Plich