From gangsters to glamor girls, presidents to princesses and actors to athletes, Joe’s Stone Crab restaurant has run the gamut of diners over its 100 years in operation.
On October 15, the legendary South Beach restaurant opened the doors for dinner service – the first of the stone crab season.
In 1913, Joe’s began as Joe’s Seafood Restaurant, serving fish sandwiches and fries, after Joe and Jennie Weiss relocated from New York to Miami Beach because of Joe’s asthma.
Joe was a waiter and Jennie was the cook.
These days, it’s their granddaughter, Jo Ann Bass and great grandson, Stephen Sawitz, who are the primary faces of the restaurant, although other family is involved as well.
Sawitz says the crabs that made them famous are a happy accident.
“A Harvard ichthyologist – a marine biologist -- was studying the marine life in Biscayne Bay. He saw these kids taunting a crab with a stick – an as of yet unnamed variety of crab. He brought them over to my great-grandfather to see if they could be cooked.”
It wasn’t until 40 years later they discovered the crab claws can regenerate. So now, only one claw can be taken during the October to May season, allowing for a new one to grow over the summer months.
For its 100th year, Joe’s is tweaking the menu just a bit, but Sawitz says the old favorites will remain – like creamed spinach, hash browns and Key lime pie.
But the bulk of the sales -- 60 percent -- still come from those icy cold stone crabs and that addictive mustard dipping sauce.
And with an especially bleak catch last year and fairly dismal the year before, Joe’s is looking for ways to remain at the top of the food chain when it comes to South Florida restaurants.
As for this year’s crabbing?
“You never know until those traps go into the water.”