99 Years of Joe's Stone Crab
by dan sweeney
Back in 1998, Joe’s also hired an executive chef for the first time. “Chef André [Bienvenu] has upgraded the menu by leaps and bounds, and taken some of the pressure off the stone crabs,” Sawitz reports.
|Lunch regulars usually opt for aisle tables|
That movement away from stone crabs as the beall and end-all of the place has meant a much more successful off-season. “This summer we experienced a significant spike in business from our Mexican and South American visitors, as well as a lot of locals who don’t usually eat at Joe’s during the summer,” Sawitz says. “Breakfast at the takeaway has spiked, too.” The breakfast options reflect that move away from a crab centric menu, with omelets, cornflake French toast and a crab-free breakfast wrap all among the specialties. Crab lovers will still find plenty, however, such as Joe’s egg supreme—toasted brioche with layers of poached eggs and crab cakes, all dripping with a lemon hollandaise sauce. Given that variety and the reasonable prices, with most takeaway breakfast options costing less than $10, the demand is hardly surprising. A major part of Joe’s legacy is its staff: There just isn’t the kind of turnover emblematic of Miami’s more transient service industry. One waiter, Nat Allen, has been there since 1968, and 20-year stints are not uncommon. The average is about 13 years. “My niece’s husband has been with Joe’s since the early ’80s,” Sawitz says. “James Jones—we call him ‘Bones’—has been at Joe’s since the ’70s. He’s our seating captain. He got the nickname because he used to be a tall, skinny guy. Used to be. The name doesn’t really apply anymore, but it stuck.”
Opening day this October will mark the restaurant’s 99th season. In anticipation of the centennial, they’re working on a website dedicated to Joe’s memories. “We’ll have customers participate and contribute their own stories,” says Sawitz. “I have some friends who’ve worked with the historical society who can help.”
Indeed, Sawitz seems to have friends in all sorts of high places—just like his mother and his grandfather. But when asked which big name he’d like to see in the place who has yet to show up, he begs off. “I really love it when people come in with their families, and with the kids— you know, the average Joes.”