‘Zero Beach’ No More on Florida’s East Coast

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Boris Gonzalez was born in Cuba, raised in Spain, schooled in New England and now runs a hotel and many other businesses in Vero Beach Florida. He’s the son of winemakers in Spain, but after younger days of partying, eighteen years ago he gave up the drink, and now rents out large houses here to people in need of recovery. “We turn away thousands,” he said. “Quitting drinking was the best thing I ever did.”

Gonzalez is the proprietor of the Caribbean Court, a boutique hotel with 18 rooms on “The Beach.” It’s actually a barrier island known as Orchid Island, but everybody calls it the beach. This city of 21,000 was once known as “Zero Beach,” since it was a bit dull here. But nobody calls it that anymore, said Gonzalez’ attractive partner, Elizabeth Kennedy. She’s a successful local caterer, running 10 weddings a night for parties from eight to 800. We talked about Vero Beach’s evolution from Zero Beach to ‘Miami’s Hamptons’ over Cuban coffee in the upstairs bar of the restaurant at the hotel called Havana Nights. When we met, joined by Chamber head Lori Burns, they were about to fly off to Virginia, where Boris has a property in need of work. “When we first met, I spent most of the time following him around Home Depot,” joked Elizabeth.

I asked them what Vero was like. “It’s not a cookie cutter town,” Boris replied. He told me about the Indian River, winding its way back into the lush countryside, and showed me a photo of his house, surrounded by wildness on all sides, facing the water. “Last January we had a thousand birds, pelicans, cormorants, others, all gathered there right in front, it was magical!”

He said that Vero had become popular spot for snowbirds, and that the population swells to 60,000 during the big months January till May. But it’s the opposite of South Florida, especially this part of Vero the barrier island where the beach is so easy to get to. It’s just across the street from this hotel, a wide, luxuriously uncrowded flat long space, and when I took a walk there I found a young surfer, a family tossing a football, a man looking for crabs and some joggers.

I’ll find out tomorrow more about what there is to do here and what the food is like. I look forward to trying a Mojito at the upstairs bar and hearing the piano player on the baby grand.