PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — The former head chef and a pioneer of Captain Anderson’s Restaurant has passed away at the age of 85.

Alonzo Keys spent almost seven decades with the Patronis family, building the restaurant to what it is today.

To the Patronis family, Keys is known as an integral part of their restaurant and legacy.

Johnny Patronis remembers the first time he and Keys met in 1953.

“I was 25, he was 17. He decided to migrate south from Malone,” Patronis said. “He got tired of picking cotton, so he came to Panama City on a Trailways bus.”

In the early 1960s, Patronis and his brother Jimmy left their jobs at a local restaurant and decided to start their own— with Alonzo by their sides.

In 1967, the trio took over and created what is known today as Captain Anderson’s Restaurant in the Upper Grand Lagoon of Panama City.

“It’s just a beautiful relationship you can only wish for,” Patronis said. “Of course, we had a few ups and downs, but not too many, and he was an employee you could be real proud of. We just had a good friends-working relationship, which doesn’t happen [often]. I was lucky it happened with my brother and Alonzo. We had hardships together, we had good times together. We’re just like brothers.”

Keys ended up working with the Patronis family for 66 years, and he was Captain Anderson’s head chef until his retirement. He experienced first-hand how successful the business had become.

“We used to run a restaurant, but we don’t run a restaurant anymore… We run a food factory.” Keys said at Captain Anderson’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2017. “What made me feel so good, I’ve got a part of all of this.”

Even after Keys retired from Captain Anderson’s, he still stayed close with the Patronis family.

“Really and truly, he’s like a brother,” Patronis said. “I lost my brother [Jimmy] two years ago, and now I’ve lost the other one.”

Patronis said the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the two from seeing each other for over a year before Keys’ death, but their friendship will be everlasting.

“I hate to lose him, but it was time… He was suffering for a long, long time,” Patronis said. “I’m very fortunate to have had a friend like Alonzo. I just wish other people could have the same experience. I guess I’m just one of the luckiest people around.”

Keys leaves behind two grown sons.