Restaurant News & Reviews

Remember Lums? The hot dog and beer chain may be gone, but two things remain

Lums on Collins Avenue in Miami Beach.
Lums on Collins Avenue in Miami Beach.

Feel like having a hot dog steamed in beer?

If you were living in South Florida from the 1950s through the ‘70s, you’d know exactly where to go.

Lums.

The chain had dozens of locations on what seemed like every main street. Biscayne Boulevard. Lincoln Road. Collins Avenue. State Road 441.

READ MORE: Waffle House coming to Miami Gardens

The last Lums, in Davie, shut down to make way for a 24-hour diner almost 10 years ago. Other restaurants have taken over former Lums buildings: a Latin cafe on 36th Street near the airport, a Thai restaurant on the 79th Street Causeway. In many cases, the white decorative railing remains, as does the faux brick roof (although the red color scheme is gone).

Now, a former Lums location in Miami Gardens that became a Jamaican restaurant will be reinvented once again as a Waffle House sometime next year.

Lums may be gone from the South Florida restaurant scene, but two things remain: the memories and the buildings.

MORE: See photos of old South Florida at Flashback Miami

If you’re yearning for an Ollieburger or a frosted schooner of beer, here is a look back at Lums from the Miami Herald archive.

THE LAST LUMS

April 10, 2005: At the last Lums, they still steam hot dogs in Bud and wash down Ollie Burgers with frosty schooners of draft beer. Old-fashioned signs and decorations still cluster the red brick walls.

The humble family diner on Davie Road north of Orange Drive, open since 1978, is the sole survivor of a once-mighty chain that had hundreds of franchises along the U.S. Eastern seaboard.

Now a footnote in food history, Lums draws pilgrims from around the state and across the country. Some just want to taste the traditional dishes, stopping in on their way to the airport.

"People come from all over just to eat with us, " said Marie Myers, a ponytailed waitress who dishes out coffee and sass in equal measures on her morning shifts.

"Lums was Florida, " said Ernst Unterecker, who has owned the Davie Lums since 1981. Every day, diners come in and share their Lums memories with the wait staff and managers, he said.

"They can't believe there's a Lums left."

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The last Lums, in Davie, became the site of the Flashback Diner. Miami Herald File

But to most of the regulars who visit the humble Davie diner four, five and six times a week, Lums is just Lums: a clean, friendly place for a good meal.

"You ask them to fix you something, they'll fix it any way you want it, " said David Bill, a Davie resident who drops by for coffee or eggs and toast six times a week.

Bob Van Landingham, 69, also lives in Davie and comes to Lums five or six times a week, usually for his regular order - two eggs over easy, twin sausage patties, hash browns and toast. For lunch, he prefers liver and onions.

The homey feeling, and not the novelty of the last Lums, makes the restaurant stand out, said Van Landingham as waitress Nadine Licastro set down his plate of eggs.

"There's a nucleus of waitresses who have been here a long time, " he said. "It's like Cheers, when you go there, everybody knows your name."

Many of today's regulars were Lums customers in their youth.

When his family moved from Massachusetts to Pembroke Pines in the 1970s, Duane Piccicuto's parents took him to eat clam strips and hot dogs at the Lums at U.S. 441 and Hollywood Boulevard, now a bridal store.

Now, 30 years later, he brings his own family to the Davie eatery.

"They do the extra little things for you that are special, " Piccicuto said as Myers brought extra whipped cream for his 13-year-old daughter's hot chocolate. "It makes being here so nice."

Other restaurants may still carry the Lums name, but food aficionados who post raves on web sites like roadfood.com say only the Davie Lums has kept the traditional menu items and decor.

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Waitress Kim Gentile serves customers coffee at the Davie Lums in 2005. CANDACE WEST Miami Herald File/2005

Unterecker and other staff members say they've dined at a former Lums in Nassau, Bahamas. But the restaurant, now called Lums Iguana Cafe, bears little resemblance to the original.

"It doesn't show too much of Lums anymore. It's just an island restaurant, " said Unterecker. The Davie Lums has changed to keep pace with current eating habits, expanding the menu to include salads and wraps.

During his 23-year tenure, Unterecker has imported foods from his native Austria, making Lums an unexpected destination for Viennese cuisine. Beer-steamed hot dogs now share menu space with schnitzel and bratwurst, plus Wienerwald chicken, a rotisserie bird that takes its name from a chain of Austrian family restaurants owned by Lums' last corporate chief.

As long as his public hungers for hot dogs, lumberjack burgers, sausage and eggs, Unterecker and his staff say they have no plans to move.

"Everybody comes up and it's like, oh my God, you're the last Lums. How long are you gonna be?" said Myers. She tells them, "forever, we're gonna stay forever."

THE FOUNDER

Jan. 6, 1988: Stuart Perlman, who with his brother Clifford parlayed a Miami Beach hotdog stand into the original Lums restaurants and the nation's premier gaming enterprise, Caesars World, died of a heart attack Monday at North Miami Medical Center. He was 60.

The more reticent of the two brothers, Stuart Perlman also was the key to the family business.

"It was a very strong family bond, " said Clifford Perlman. "When he came down, it was really he that determined that the family should be in business together. It was his inspiration that bonded us."

When the Philadelphia-born Perlman brothers brought their enterprise skills to Miami, they brought with them a winning recipe. By the time they got out of the food business, there were 450 restaurants bearing the name

Lums.

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A couple entering a restaurant in 1981. Miami Herald File

It all started with a man who wanted to make a simple $100- a-week living.

I was 1955. Stuart Perlman was a door-to-door salesman up north. His brother had moved to Miami earlier and become a lawyer. Mr. Perlman asked Clifford to find him a business to buy. There were two options, a Laundromat or a 16-seat diner that specialized in hot dogs steamed in beer and hamburgers. He settled on the hot dog stand, on 41st Street. With $9,000 and a little help from his brother, Mr. Perlman bought the diner, paying half down and the remainder over two years. In 1961, the company went public. Shares were sold for $1. Six years later, that $1 investment was worth $180.

Mr. Perlman once recalled the time in 1961 when a stranger walked into Lums and asked the man behind the counter what he knew of the company and its prospects. Unknowingly, the man he asked was Stuart Perlman.

"I just bought a hundred shares of stock in this company, " the customer said, "and I'd like to know something about the management."

Said Mr. Perlman: "I didn't have the courage to tell him that the guy handing him his hot dog was the president of the company he had just bought stock in. He might have gone right out and sold his shares. And I know he would not have left me the quarter tip."

The Perlman brothers later expanded their holdings to include Gold Seal Meats and Eagle Army surplus stores.

In 1969, Stuart and Clifford Perlman entered the gaming industry with the purchase of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. For $58 million they bought the 3-year-old, 680-room hotel and turned into the flagship of their new enterprise, Caesars World.

Caesars World eventually included Caesars Tahoe, Caesars Boardwalk Regency in Atlantic City, plus nongambling resorts in the Poconos and other interests.

They became interested in Caesars Palace through the restaurant business. The brothers had met a broker for the Denny's restaurant chain who was involved in negotiations for Denny's purchase of the hotel. When that deal fell through, the Perlmans took up the negotiations and bought the hotel.

By 1982, Stuart and Clifford Perlman, vice chairman and chairman respectively of Caesars World, had divested themselves of the company and all gambling interests.

In 1980, the New Jersey Casino Control Commission voted to deny a permanent casino operating license to the brothers because of alleged ties to unsavory characters.

A New Jersey appellate court concluded that they were rejected not for any criminal activity, but because of "their apparent continuing insensitivity to the potential impact of (their) associations on this sensitive industry." Though they argued to the Supreme Court that they were the victims of "guilt by association with a vengeance, " the ruling stood, and the Perlmans severed their connection with Caesars World. The buyout brought them a reported $98.2 million.

Clifford Perlman said his brother was a dreamer. "One of the lucky ones, the dreams came true."

LUMS HISTORY

▪  1956: Founder Burnett Carvin sells Lums to Stuart and Clifford Pearlman, who expand Lums to a national chain. At its height, nearly 400 Lums operate across the country.

▪  1971: The Pearlmans sell the chain to John Y. Brown Jr., a founding owner of Kentucky Fried Chicken and later governor of Kentucky.

▪  1978: Austrian restaurant magnate Friedrich Jahn buys Lums, along with International House of Pancakes.

▪ 1982: Lums files for bankruptcy.

▪ 1983: Lums No. 1 closes, two weeks after the death of founder Burnett Carvin.

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