There are precious few things in life that happen with regularity, with true certainty. However, when you walked into Joe’s Stone Crab during “power lunch time” you could always count on the stately presence of Anthony Arneson, in his tux and greeting you warmly, looking directly into your eyes through his signature eyeglasses — he had 47 pairs of them.
I tend to arrive early, and Anthony and I had our regular routine. He would ask whom I was meeting — someone he invariably knew — and he would assure me that he would send the person back to my table. Many times, I would put my elbows on his podium, have a brief conversation on any number of issues and ask him who was at the restaurant today.
We won’t have that chat ever again. Anthony died last week in Wellington. He was 73. He had stood tall at Joe’s podium at lunch for 32 years.
If you are thinking that Anthony sounds like a throwback to a maître d’ at an elegant restaurant in Manhattan during the “Mad Men” era, you have it wrong. Anthony was a Renaissance man. He was always current on the news, from world events to sports, although one had the feeling he enjoyed politics and politicians most of all. Maybe that’s why so many showed up for lunch at Joe’s.
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Anthony’s photographic memory of his loyal customers was legendary, but it was his palpable and sincere warmth that made entering Joe’s an experience from another time. Once you arrived at Anthony’s podium, the consistency of his presence relieved the day’s tensions and you were ready for the Joe’s experience.
How did he do that? Simply by making you feel important and wanted. And when it happens over and over again, you know it is real. This couldn’t be faked. As my colleague and Joe’s regular, Justin Sayfie told me: “He was one of those rare and special people you looked forward to being greeted by and greeting in return.”
I am sure Anthony helped make noon at Joe’s the power lunch time and place to be in Miami. However, I am not powerful, Anthony just made me feel that way. What a gift. To his many loyal followers, Anthony was the epitome the of Joe’s culture of excellence and a credit to the entire restaurant industry. Joe’s has a deep bench, and the power lunch will continue, but Anthony will be missed so very much.
Mike Abrams is former chairman of the Dade Democratic Party, a former state legislator and currently a policy adviser to Ballard Partners.