In South Florida, the power lunch at Joe’s Stone Crab on South Beach rivals New York’s ‘21’ Club.
For 32 years, to gain entry into the famed eatery, you had to pass muster with Joe’s day maitre d’ Anthony Arneson, the sartorially eloquent man who owned 47 pairs of glasses to go just-so with his tux.
Arneson also had such a huge collection of Trafalgar suspenders that his daughter, Christina Arneson, says she plans to donate them to Trafalgar for an auction.
It had been noted that no employee leaves Joe’s except for the few who started their own business or died. Deeny Kaplan Lorber’s book “Waiting at Joe’s” recounts the tale of a waiter who requested that his ashes be buried at Joe’s. They are. In the front garden.
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“He never wanted to leave Joe’s. He wanted to die at the podium. That was his goal,” Arneson’s daughter said.
Alas, Joe’s closes in the summer and Arneson died Aug. 28 at the Wellington home of his ex-wife Monica Arneson. The two remained close, she said. Arneson had a tumor on his liver. He was 73.
The pair met in high school in Spokane, Washington. “He was a bad boy,” Monica Arneson said of their initial attraction, chuckling through tears. “He was just a character. So funny. Eccentric. Everybody knows that down at Joe’s.”
“The man was an artistic genius, no matter what he did,” Christina Arneson added. From the Monster Truck he tricked out to his work apparel, “he could take some things that seemed mundane and make it spectacular. He was going to do the New York version of power lunches. He used to say the tourists come at dinner but the true Miamians come for lunch. Power lunch was his whole thing and he loved it.”
Her dad and former CNN news talk show host Larry King had a competitive thing going at the Neiman Marcus men’s wear counter over who could get the latest Trafalgar.
“He was always fighting with Larry King over who got the first-edition suspenders — they are all numbered — and it was always fun when he beat out Larry King,” his daughter said as she sorted through her father’s things at his home in Miami’s Biscayne Park.
He had different bowties he wore every day, he must have had 200 of them. He had just as many suspenders. Always looked his best whenever he was at the door. A great man all around…an example to everyone there.
Ed Witte, Joe’s Stone Crab night maitre d’
There are framed Joe’s pictures in tony frames. His tuxes. Glasses. Suspenders. Bow ties.
“Everything is customized,” Christina Arneson said. “He got a taste of Joe’s and made it his life. The whole house is a tribute to Joe’s. I’m dying to find his book,” she adds, referencing his notebook that he kept with him at the dining room podium he had graced since his hiring date — Jan. 14, 1984.
In its pages, the Copenhagen, Denmark-born Arneson kept handwritten notes on nearly every customer he’d served. The goal was to provide a personal touch for their next visit. “Once we know someone’s name, we call them by name,” he said in a 2011 Miami Herald article. “We get more important people at lunch.”
He really didn’t need the book, not often anyway. “He had a photographic memory,” Christina Arneson said.
“He would read the newspaper so diligently about any information and he remembered it and he would recognize somebody that came in that maybe had never been there or been there once and he would know their names,” Monica Arneson said. “People were sometimes flabbergasted he knew who they were.”
In 1991, Arneson hired Joe’s night maitre d’ Ed Witte: “He was the consummate professional. The biggest guy in the power lunch game at Joe’s and he took care of everyone.’’
Arneson is also survived by his son Cary, five grandchildren and two half-brothers, Timothy Mark Arneson and Louis Herson. The family plans “a good old-fashioned Joe’s picnic” in his honor at a later date.