6. Stephen Sawitz: Stone Crab Legacy
New Times' Best of Miami 2014 issue arrives June 19. To celebrate, Short Order is paying tribute to Miami's culinary all-stars. These people forged our city's food scene into what it is today -- a thriving amalgam of tastes and cultures. Through their insight and talent, they've given the city a unique flavor and paved the way for bright new chefs and restaurateurs to follow their lead and take the Miami food scene into the future.
Joe's Stone Crab is known the world over. Presidents, celebrities, and heads of state have dined at Joe's. Two percenters fly in for a quick dinner; people without jets have stone crabs flown to them. The restaurant is the scene of countless birthdays, anniversaries, engagements, and other celebrations. So what makes Joe's so special?
It could be the longevity. In a world where so many things lack substance and history, Joe's Stone Crab has been around longer than just about anyone on the planet. The restaurant, which recently celebrated its centennial, started as a lunch counter on Miami Beach.
Back in 1913, long before towering condos, Art Deco neon, the Miami Heat, and the Kardashians, Joe Weiss opened up shop at Smith's bathing casino on Collins Avenue. After some years, Joe and his wife, Jennie, opened up a small restaurant on the front porch of their bungalow. The first incarnation of Joe's Restaurant sat less than a dozen people and served snapper, pompano, mackerel, and a few meat dishes -- but no stone crabs.
In fact, Joe's wouldn't start serving the claws they've become famous for until 1921, when Weiss discovered the native crustacean was both edible -- and delicious.
Even then, the restaurant attracted the famous and infamous. Al Capone was a regular, at one point even sharing the dining room with J. Edgar Hoover. Over the years, the next generation took over, with Weiss' son Jesse at the helm. By then, Miami Beach was in full growth mode and Joe's was no longer the only restaurant in town -- but it might as well have been to the regulars who called the restaurant a home away from home.
Times changed, and Joe's changed with it. Joe's introduced its now-famous key lime pie in the late 1960s and started serving lunch in the 1970s. Once again, a new generation stepped in, with Weiss' great-grandson Stephen Sawitz and his mother, Jo Ann Bass, taking the helm. Joe's Takeaway opened in the 1980s and in the '90s the restaurant started shipping claws to hungry diners across the country yearning for a taste of Miami Beach. Executive chef André Bienvenu came on board and the brand expanded to Las Vegas, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.
But with all the changes, one thing remains constant: Joe's Stone Crab is part of the history of both Miami Beach and everyone who ever sat down with a plate of sweet, sweet claws.
It's no secret that a job at Joe's Stone Crab can be one for life. Some waiters have been with the restaurant for decades, starting out as young men and women, and retiring from a long career that pays well and provides benefits. But, while working at Joe's can prove to be a lifelong commitment, some people take it a step further. According to the book Waiting at Joe's, some staff have requested to have their remains buried in the front courtyard.
In His Own Words
"I don't know whether we were the first to serve them. History was a different thing back then. There wasn't widespread communication, so it's possible that people were already eating them elsewhere. But we were probably the first place to really put them on the map."
- Stephen Sawitz to Ocean Drive Magazine
Miami Food All-Stars
25. Dewey LoSasso
24. Mark Soyka
23. Jason Starkman
22. Lorena Garcia
21. Barton G.
20. Mike Hampton
19. Chef Creole
18. Jeremiah Bullfrog
17. Cindy Hutson
16. Jack Homes
15. Shareef Malnik
14. Bruce Ozga
13. Robert Is Here
12. Julio Cabrera
11. The Garcia Family
10. Norman Van Aken
9. Lee Schrager
7. Allen Susser