Celebration of life is Monday for beloved Upper Keys coach, restaurant owner

The lights will stay on at Chad's Deli and Bakery in Tavernier.

The popular restaurant at mile marker 92.3 will remain open to honor founder Chad Gardner's memory, said his mother, Ginger Gardner.

"The community expects it," she said Tuesday. "Chad absolutely loved and respected his employees, some of whom were with him for 18 years. The family is pitching in and we're going on."

Chad Gardner died last Thursday, four days after suffering a major heart attack. He was 48.

A celebration of life open to the public will be held at 6 p.m. Monday at the Coral Shores High School gym in Tavernier.

Chad Gardner, who attended Coral Shores, served as head coach of the Lady Hurricane varsity and junior-varsity volleyball teams in addition to running his namesake business.

"I don't know how he did it all," Ginger Gardner said. "He worked 120 hours a week at the restaurant."

The celebration of life will emphasize the positive, says his mother. "We want it to be a light-hearted event." 

"He was an organ donor and four different people have received his organs," Ginger Gardner said. 

Coca-Cola, a company featured prominently in the deli's decor, will provide refreshments.

Gardner was born at a military base in Texas but largely grew up in the Florida Keys. His grandfather built the Holiday Isle Resort and Marina. 

Chad Gardner learned the restaurant business through work at local restaurants, including Cheeca Lodge in Islamorada.

"The outpouring from the community has been amazing and appreciated," Ginger Gardner said. "We've heard from groups that Chad supported, and we didn't even know about it."

Survivors in addition to his mother include sister Brandi Gardner Wolf, aunt Judy Debolt, uncle Greg Goebel, nieces Alicia Jensen and Caitlin Wolf, and nephews Devin Wolf and Casey Gardner.