Kevin Kehoe, cofounder of Sparky's Roadside Barbecue and one of Miami's most beloved pit masters, died Sunday, February 21, at the age of 56 after a prolonged battle with lung cancer.
The New York native graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in 1993, after having found his passion for cooking working with chef Michael Moran at Who's in the Grove. It was in the kitchen of that Coconut Grove eatery that he met his Sparky's cofounder, Hans Seitz.
It's also where Kehoe earned his nickname, Sparky.
Seitz tells New Times that the moniker didn't start out as a flattering one. "I was sous chef at the time. Mike, Kevin, and I were just entering the restaurant business and the name came out of a friendly frustration, like, 'Damn it, Sparky, you burned the croutons!' Or, 'Come on Sparky, speed it up!'"
Kehoe worked at some of the best restaurants in New York City, including Brooklyn's landmark River Café, before opening Sparky's Roadside Barbecue in 2010 after reconnecting with Seitz at a party and rekindling their friendship. The pair got serious about barbecue and decided to open a food truck but found that renting a brick-and-mortar space in downtown Miami at the time cost about the same.
"We put our two shekels together and went for it," Seitz says.
Sparky's quickly became a hit, earning numerous accolades including Best Restaurant in Downtown Miami honors from New Times in 2011 and one of the best barbecue restaurants in America by Time Out in 2017.
Seitz said Sparky's retained that magic mainly because of Kevin and his spirit.
"He was a guy that you wanted to know and that you wanted to love. He touched so many people in so many different ways. He was just so likable. That was his superpower."
Though running a successful restaurant can be all-consuming, Kehoe had many interests outside of barbecue. He was an avid diver, motorcyclist, and beekeeper. In 2019, he married Riza Mallari-Kehoe, the love of his life. Kehoe was also active in various Miami organizations, donating time and food to Lotus House, the Palace Senior Living Facility in Coral Gables, and the South Beach Wine & Food Festival.
The family will hold a small family memorial service, with a celebration of Kehoe's life on hold until it's safe for family and friends to gather. Kehoe's cremains will be placed on the Neptune Memorial Reef off Key Biscayne, in honor of his love of the ocean and diving.
Donations can be made in his memory to Diveheart, an organization that helps children, adults, and veterans with disabilities to build confidence through scuba diving.
Seitz says Sparky's will remain open, but something will be missing.
"There's definitely going to be a hole left. But we certainly had a wild, great ride."