So many restaurants come and go in South Florida that diners could use a scorecard to figure out what’s open from week to week.
High rents. Changing tastes. Chef boredom.
It all adds up to short restaurant life spans.
But if you look hard enough in the 305 and 954, several restaurants have stood for more than half century. And in always changing Miami-Dade, Broward and the Keys, that is a lifetime.
Here is a look through the Miami Herald archives at at some of the restaurants that have put down roots in South Florida.
JAXSON’S ICE CREAM
Jaxson’s Ice Cream Parlour, 128 S. Federal Hwy. in Dania Beach, is a restaurant and country store featuring ice cream made on the premises using recipes developed by founder Monroe Udell. It also offers homemade corned beef and pastrami sandwiches, salads, burgers, hot dogs, steaks, chicken and wraps.
Jaxson’s has a whimsical carnival atmosphere: The store’s interior sports hundreds of old license plates dating back to 1912, for instance, as well as photos and antiques. Found Monroe Udell died aboutfive years ago.
Linda Udell Zakheim, who took over from her father, explains how it all began: “Monroe Udell moved to South Florida in 1947 after learning to make ice cream in New York in order to work in the family business, a restaurant on Hollywood Beach. That year, a Category 4 hurricane struck Fort Lauderdale, and Monroe saw the storm surge flood as far west as U.S. 1 in Hollywood. He never forgot that sight, thus the location on the west side of U.S. 1.
“This happened before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and when Monroe opened for business, he was told not to hire any African Americans since the restaurant only had one set of restrooms. Monroe’s true character was revealed when he hired his first employee — a black woman who helped him prepare the food.
“When Monroe opened the door to Jaxson’s in 1956, the going rate for an ice cream cone was a nickel. Monroe had created a formula for his ice cream mix that was better than any he had tasted. While a dime was a lot to charge at the time, he was confident the quality of the product and the size of the portions would keep people coming back. He had something there, apparently, because we now have generations of customers who keep coming back for more.”
Jaxson’s was among the first small businesses to change its minimum wage to $10.10 — a move mentioned multiple times by President Barack Obama.
The Mai-Kai, which is actually just over the Fort Lauderdale city line in Oakland Park, retained its full kitschy charm nearly unaltered despite several expansions and an extensive renovation adecade ago necessitated by damage from Hurricane Wilma. Its Polynesian revue and large drinks, which reputedly use the same recipes devised by tiki-craze originator Don the Beachcomber in the 1930s, are enduring lures for tourists and locals.
The inclusion of Mai-Kai on the National Register of Historic Places reflects an iconic place in popular South Florida culture, and cements growing recognition of the abiding importance of Mid-Century tourist-oriented roadside architecture to the region’s development. It was designed by a prominent South Florida architect who worked in the style now known as Miami Modern, or MiMo. Though, to be sure, there’s nothing Bauhaus about the Polynesian-inspired, thatch-roofed Mai-Kai, its neon sign is very much in the tradition of the 1950s roadside South Florida attractions that so many people recall fondly.
“The architecture behind them has that sexy curb appeal to catch people as they’re driving by,” said Teri D’Amico, an interior designer and co-coiner of the term MiMo. “It’s American history when it’s down here because so many people traveled here and remember them. It was the adventure of getting away from home.”
The Mai-Kai, which advertises itself as the longest running tiki-theme restaurant in America, is also one of the last surviving originals from the decades when they were all the rage, D’Amico said.
“It is a classic,” she said. “That represents our tiki, and there’s very little left. And that one building can represent that whole era.”
The Mai-Kai, which opened in 1956, was designed by Fort Lauderdale MiMo master Charles McKirahan, who designed the Bay Harbor Islands apartment house, now under threat of demolition, that served as the main character’s home in the hit cableTV series Dexter. Serving as a Mai-Kai consultant was legendary Japanese-American woodworker and furniture maker George Nakashima, whose own home and studio in Pennsylvania is also on the National Register and is designated a National Historic Landmark, as well.
Frankie’s Pizza and Arbetter Hot Dogs
Opened: Frankie’s 1955, Arbetter 1959
Before Bird Road was Bird Road, it was just a dirt street with a few businesses. Two of those businesses have become official landmarks: Frankie’s Pizza on 9118 Bird Rd., and Arbetter Hot Dogs on 8747 Bird Rd. — about four blocks east.
The stretch of Bird Road from 89th Avenue to 92nd Avenue will be named “Pasquarella Way,” in honor of Frank Pasquarella, the namesake of Frankie’s Pizza. And the stretch from 87th to 89th Avenue will now be known as “Arbetter Way,” after Robert Arbetter, the founder of the popular hot-dog stand.
For Roxanne Pasquarella, who with her sister runs Frankie’s Pizza for their late parents, the street designation was a perfect fit to honor her father.
“Everything was always his way or no way at all,” she said. “He would always say, ‘There’s the right way, the wrong way, and Frank’s way.’ “
Frankie’s Pizza opened in 1955, after Pasquarella moved to Miami with his new wife Doreen, from Stuebenville, Ohio. After a short stint in front of the University of Miami on U.S. 1 for three years, the shop moved to its present location.
The sisters have kept their parents’ tradition, including putting a bonus slice on top of the pizza box.
“If my dad would be here, he’d say, ‘What are you doing? You are messing with a 55-year old tradition!’ “ Roxanne said. And the pizza slices are square. Apparently, Frank Pasquarella bought the square pans when he first opened the place, and they’ve remained ever since.
For Jill Arbetter, daughter of the late Robert Arbetter, the street name is fitting as well.
“People always wanted him to add hamburgers and chicken wings, and he never did,” said Jill Arbetter, who now runs the hot dog stand. That would have destroyed tradition, say longtime customers. One of those traditions was Robert Arbetter’s love of the Boston Red Sox.
When he opened the restaurant in 1960, he promised customers that he would give out free baked beans when the Red Sox won the World Series. In 2004, the Sox finally clinched the Series, 86 years after their previous World Series win in 1918. While Robert didn’t live to see the day, his two sons, Ronnie and Dave, proudly doled out the free beans to a long line of customers. (Ronnie has since passed away).
For many old-timers, Frankie’s and Arbetter’s, which first opened on Flagler Street in 1959 before moving to its current location in 1972, have been a spot where generations often come back for seconds.
Mirta Boyd, of Miller Heights, has been coming since Frankie’s opened. “Oh, my God, they are part of my family,” Boyd said between tears at the road-naming ceremony.
John Lynskey, a history teacher at nearby Christopher Columbus High and a Columbus graduate, class of 1978, said students would race over to Arbetter on their lunch break for some fresh dogs.
“In the ‘70s when I was at Columbus, we always heard about Arbetter from the older kids, so we would get on the cars and roar down there,” said Lynskey, who lives in Palmetto Bay. “My daughters are now in college, so whenever they come down from school we go.” The street-naming ceremonies happened just a day apart — a fitting tribute for the two families.
“They are very dear friends of ours,” said Roxanne Pasquarella. “There’s a lot of love and respect between the families over the years. “These two gentlemen dedicated their whole lives to the people. They’ve employed lots of young people and have been an active part of the community,” she said. “The only sad thing is I wish they would be here to see this.”
If you dined at Lester’s when it opened in Fort Lauderdale in 1967, there’s a chance you could be served by the same waitress if you went back there tonight.
“We still have some of the original girls working here,” manager Andrew Gregory said. You might also see customers you recognize. About 90 percent are regulars, Gregory said.
Patrons can relax in the retro bright-red booths, framed with neon lights and order anything from pancakes to pasta — and you can’t miss the homey desserts.
The 24-hour diner offers more than 600 menu items on a classic all-American diner menu accented with Greek dishes. The most popular menu item is the Greek-style chicken, Gregory said.
Ava Sahagian, 43, has been eating at Lester’s since she was 9 years old. She and her husband Ted now dine there about three times a week. She’s a big fan of the barbecue chicken dinner.
“It is large and delicious,” Ava said. “And tender,” chimed in Ted.
Lester’s is a favorite because the food is fresh, and the people friendly, said the couple.
“You always see somebody you know at Lester’s,” Ava said. “Everybody goes to Lester’s.”
Gregory said the restaurant is always busy — the kitchen uses about 5,000 eggs a day. He said the diner’s affordable prices have helped to make it a staple all these years.
“You can eat like a king for under $10,” he said. “Only at Lester’s.”
Joe’s Stone Crab
Oh, the faces she has seen.
Ol’ Blue Eyes Frank Sinatra. Muhammad Ali. Burn Notice co-star Sharon Gless. Woody Allen. President George W. Bush. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Al Pacino. Billy Joel. Movie and TV stars. Rock-and-rollers and jazz sophisticates. Gangsters and the fuzz. Bankers and lawyers. Royalty and their subjects. The rich and those who aspired to be.
Rose McDaniel was the face of the culinary landmark Miami Beach restaurant Joe’s Stone Crab. Just ask Joe’s owner Jo Ann Bass whose grandparents Joe and Jennie Weiss opened its doors in 1913.
“She definitely had a presence,” Bass said. “She was like the face of Joe’s. She would stand at the cash register — a tunnel we call it, a walkway between the main room and the garden room. You’d have to pass that area to get to the table and that’s where she would stand and greet everybody. She was just amazing. She never had her hair out of place. Dressed beautifully. She was a grand dame.”
McDaniel died Wednesday at her daughter’s home in Orlando at 85. But her spirit remains with the staff and clientele of the tony eatery on the southern tip of Washington Avenue.
Her desire was to have her ashes spread at Joe’s so she will rest in Joe’s garden, alongside other Joe’s dignitaries like retired waiter Phil Grier, WPLG anchor Ann Bishop and Bass’ late husband.
“Me? I’m heading in another direction,” Bass quipped. And perhaps the spirit of that tall woman, with the equally regal blond bouffant ‘do and “dragon lady nails” and impeccable style, resonates with no one more than Bass.
“We were sister friends for 60 years. She was bawdy and elegant and one of the funniest women. I’m a teetotaler by choice. I can’t stand the taste. But Rosie was a very good drinker and loved socializing at bars and people would mix us up.”
Bass didn’t mind if people mistook McDaniel for Joe’s owner.
“But I hate for them to think I’m the one at the bar every night,” she said, chuckling. “She was closer than a sister. She was my mother’s favorite daughter.” “
Mother” was the late Grace Weiss, Joe’s chairman of the board and the woman who married Bass’ father Jesse Weiss after her own mother died when she was 16 months old. For decades the two women, Weiss, who died at 98 in 2013, and McDaniel, who started out at Joe’s decades ago as a cashier and earned the title of Joe’s “daytime manager,” hit the road every summer bound for California.
There were stops along the way. Las Vegas, in particular, where the duo played the slots, and, for a time, schmoozed with Weiss’ old pal, popular song stylist Frankie Laine.
McDaniel, born in Cranston, Kentucky on June 18, 1929, met Bass through a mutual friend. The initial meeting was, well, off to a bumpy start according to author Deeny Kaplan Lorber’s 2013 book, Waiting at Joe’s (Seaside Publishing; $17.96).
“When she met me, Jo Ann told me I looked like the ‘50s movie actress Jan Sterling. I told Jo Ann I didn’t like Jan Sterling, ‘So I’m not sure I’m going to like you!’ “
But like each other, they did.
From Lorber’s book: “I was divorced, and Jo Ann was afraid I didn’t have enough money. She’d come to visit me in Hollywood, where I lived, and she’d put food in my refrigerator. One day she said, ‘Why don’t you come in to help mother at night and be a cashier?’ I told her that it sounded as if it could be fun, and before I knew it, I became a fixture at Joe’s.”
The stars who visited Joe’s loved her back — even when they were bounced out on their rear.
“She threw out Lenny Kravitz,” recalls Joe’s general manager Brian Johnson. “He got a brand new tattoo and was wearing a tank top. We don’t allow tank tops. He borrowed a friend’s sweat shirt and put it on to sit down and eat. Fifteen minutes into the service he took off his sweat shirt, it was rubbing against his tattoo. She said, none so gingerly, ‘You have to leave!’”
And, after heading out on a tour, he marveled at how many people came up to him to note how McDaniel threw him out. He was charmed.
Cap’s Place Island Restaurant is the antithesis of a theme park experience.
Everything — from the 200-year-old carved wooden figurehead from the bow of a Spanish galleon to the 350-pound tuna to the framed photographs of the famous and infamous — is authentic.
Opened in 1928 by Eugene “Cap” Knight and his partner, Al Hasis, the restaurant was once a casino, a haven for rumrunners, a speakeasy and restaurant. Broward County’s oldest restaurant, it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and can only be reached by the restaurant’s boat. It’s owned and operated by Tom, Talle, Ted and Maureen Hasis, the children of Al and Pat Hasis.
Over the decades, the restaurant has been frequented by celebrities including gangsters Al Capone and Meyer Lansky, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, President Franklin Roosevelt, actress Susan Hayward, Beatle George Harrison, singer Gloria Estefan and President Bill Clinton with his daughter, Chelsea.
Having grown up at the restaurant, Talle Hasis has enough stories to fill volumes. One of her favorites is the time George Harrison and his wife came for dinner during the Beatles’ heyday.
There is a formal rule that staff is never to bother celebrities, originally imposed by Pat Hasis. Anyone who breaks it can be instantly fired. When the staff got word that Harrison was coming, they were very excited but knew they couldn’t tell anyone.
“George Harrison was the thinnest man I ever saw,” said Hasis. “When he finished dinner, he thanked me and said it was the first time in years he had dinner without being mobbed. My mom’s law is still in effect, and celebrities appreciate it.”
At the laid-back restaurant, every dish is cooked to order and takes some time.
“If you’re in a hurry, you are in the wrong restaurant,” Hasis said.
One of the more unusual dishes has been on the menu since the restaurant opened: fresh hearts of palm salad. Taken from the center of the sabal palm tree, the delicacy grows in the Everglades and has been brought to the restaurant by members of the same Seminole family for 80 years. Hurricane Wilma significantly depleted the supply, so it isn’t always available, but the trees grow fast and will come back.
The restaurant doesn’t advertise much. Business is primarily by word of mouth.
“My mom used to say if you have good food, they’ll come,” Hasis said. “We have a more interesting clientele because people really have to look for us. We aren’t just another restaurant on Federal Highway.”
“This is a wonderful place,” said Chris McKnight of Pompano Beach. “I’m a chef, so I know good food. Chefs only eat at the best places.”
Under the drop ceilings and panel walls of Broward County’s oldest steakhouse, its owners have discovered a rare gem — thanks in part to a fire that nearly destroyed the landmark Dania Beach restaurant. Construction workers on Monday will begin demolishing and rebuilding Tropical Acres on Griffin Road, which was gutted by fire and smoke almost six weeks ago.
The fire has temporarily closed the restaurant that featured linen-covered tables, but it also will help contractors to return more bygone charm to the 62-year-old eatery. The popular family-owned restaurant, located at 2500 Griffin Rd., was closed down Aug. 29, after a piece of laundry equipment sparked a blaze that destroyed the kitchen.
Smoke and water damage spread throughout the 17,000-square-foot banquet hall and dining areas — which has had a loyal customer following for more than six decades.
Since the fire, owner Jack Studiale said the restaurant has received more than 1,000 notes and emails from customers who miss the place. Studiale still has no estimate on the cost of damage, but is moving forward with rebuilding, nonetheless. He is purchasing new kitchen equipment and dining furnishings, meeting with interior decorators and engineers.
But don’t look for the restaurant, known for its old Florida charm, to go modern. In fact, if anything, the owners plan to restore some of the charm that it lost during various expansions and renovations over the years.
One wonderful find as a result of the fire is the fact that the restaurant, under its dropped ceilings, has a beautiful wooden tongue-and-groove ceiling that they plan to restore. Similar wood carvings have been discovered in other areas of the building, Studiale said.
“We’ve removed paneling and found wonderful tongue-and-grove planking. We started as a small steakhouse in 1949 and it’s grown and, as it’s grown, we sometimes forgot some of the old Florida charm, so we’re going to enhance that design,’‘ he said.
Studiale is aiming for reopening by mid-December. During the closing, Studiale has tried to keep as many of his 65 employees on his payroll as possible. Most of them have worked there for years and are as much a part of the restaurant’s fabric as its steak and seafood menu.
Studiale, also known as “the Maestro,’‘ started working at the restaurant, owned by his late father, Salvatore “Sam” Studiale, at an early age. Most all of the family has worked the grill or served food at one time or another. His wait staff can often recognize customers simply by where they sit. They know how they like their steak cooked or how their favorite dish should be prepared.
“With our customers, there’s a relationship,’‘ Studiale said. “They aren’t just coming in for food and beverages, it’s like they are in your home and they come back.’‘
Gov. Jeb Bush, heeding the request of antismoking groups, on Friday vetoed a measure that would have allowed the famed Key West bar of Sloppy Joe’s to get around the state’s ban on smoking in restaurants.
State lawmakers had passed the legislation to aid the Duval Street institution that advertises itself as Ernest Hemingway’s one-time haunt, saying it deserved special treatment because of its place in Florida history. Voters in 2002 banned smoking in restaurants. Smoking in stand-alone bars is allowed, but not if more than 10 percent of sales come from food.
Sloppy Joe’s owners said they could not build a smoking deck to comply with the new law because of their unique location in Key West’s historic district.
Sen. Steve Geller, D-Hallandale Beach, sponsored the bill that would ease the restrictions on food sales for bars that are currently on the National Register for Historic Places. Bush said that while he understood the plight of historic buildings, he can’t support creating new exemptions to the state’s smoking ban.
“I am troubled by the precedent this sets,” Bush wrote in his veto message. “I do not want to encourage a precedent for creating carve-outs to the current statewide smoking laws.”
Chris Mullins, president and CEO of Sloppy Joe’s, was stunned to learn of Bush’s veto late Friday from a reporter. “We are getting a raw deal and we tried to do this the right way,” Mullins said. Mullins said he would now have to make some “tough decisions” that could include cutting staff and curbing food sales so that patrons can smoke at Sloppy’s.
“They are going to lose their jobs, they are going to lose their benefits,” he said of some of his employees, “and we are still going to smoke.” Mullins - who said the establishment is losing about $1.2 million a year because of the ban — argued that Florida’s smoking restrictions already include “carve-outs.”
“If you are [in a] stand-alone bar, you can smoke-there are carve-outs already,” he said. The bar is one of Key West’s best-known tourist spots and hosts many of the city’s annual events, including the Ernest Hemingway look-a-like contest.
It’s 9 a.m. at Jack’s Hollywood Diner, and Ray King has found himself a counter seat. That sometimes takes a while, even when he comes in at dawn.
King, 78, peers at the menu through metal-rimmed glasses. He tugs his light-blue fisherman’s hat and decides on a sweet roll, toast and coffee.
A few seats down, a young man in a white T-shirt and work pants orders coffee, poached eggs and toast before unfolding the morning newspaper.
These are the morning regulars who make up the early birds at Jack’s Diner, a family-run business that has carved its own niche among the hundreds of eateries in South Broward.
Above the clatter of dishes, a steady hum of early morning conversation permeates the 35-year-old diner that was shipped from New Jersey to Hollywood in 1952. It passed through the hands of three owners before Jack Garner bought it from a man named Freddie in 1967.
Garner renamed it — from Freddie’s Diner to Jack’s Hollywood Diner. The diner, at 1031 N. Federal Highway, is known by regulars as a family restaurant with a cozy atmosphere and great coffee.
Jack Garner does the shopping. Sons Jack Jr. and Bill cook the food. A daughter-in-law, Terri, serves it, and Garner’s wife Waneta collects the money.
The Garners have hired additional help to keep up with business. A stainless-steel dining car, with a counter and eight blue vinyl-covered booths, constitutes the main eating area. A new wing, built last year, raised seating capacity from 60 to about 95, Garner said.
Blue and white dominate the booths, curtains and floor tiles, accenting the friendly atmosphere customers have come to expect from Jack’s. Two ceiling fans help cool the main car. iami Dolphins pennants cover a wall panel over the counter.
King, a retired air conditioning installer, has been eating at the diner for 35 years, long before Garner took over. About 12 years ago, a local television reporter took a camera crew to Jack’s for a short feature on the neighborhood eatery.
“From then on, this place has been jammed every day,” King said.
A mix of tourists, many from Canada, and regulars crowd Jack’s daily. Sunday seems to be the busiest day, said Don Brown, 68, a retired Eastman Kodak worker who eats a late breakfast there almost every day.
And there’s the “diner junkie,” Madeleine Hubert, a retiree who has been a faithful breakfast and lunch customer for 15 years. Her favorites are poached eggs and grits, fried chicken and spaghetti with meat sauce.
“I like a family place. They work harder if it’s a family place,” said Hubert. “They treat me like a little princess.”
But that would not be the business strategy of Shorty’s Inc., a four-member partnership that bought the original restaurant from founder E. L. “Shorty” Allen in 1980. While there are plans to expand the number of restaurants, the company does a lot of research before deciding on a location.
“Three and a half years ago when we decided to expand, we hired a national company [Michigan-based Thompson & Associates], which does site selections for Burger King, Home Depot and other big companies,” explains Mark Vasturo, 43, CEO of Shorty’s. “They developed a sophisticated computer model showing the demographics of the area, the number of daytime and nighttime employees in the area, the residential makeup, the traffic count.”
After identifying 20 specific locations, Thompson & Associates recommended the Doral area for Shorty’s fourth restaurant, which opened in 2002, because there is a lot of daytime business.
“Carnival Cruise Lines, Ryder System are located there and there’s a big residential area going up,” says Vasturo. “There are good traffic counts, a good corridor for transportation.” Vasturo says the company is negotiating on sites in South Miami, South Beach, North Miami Beach and Deerfield Beach and will select a fifth location within six months.
Whether Shorty’s builds new or retrofits an existing site, at least 5,000 to 6,000 square feet of space are needed per store. And there must be at least 10 miles between two Shorty’s. “We pull customers from a much greater area than lots of restaurants,” says Vasturo, “and we don’t want to cannibalize each other.”
Vasturo said Shorty’s is “looking for joint investments and will go where we can get the best deal. As for franchises, an initial franchise is on the table for discussion. We are very careful; a franchise must duplicate the atmosphere of the existing stores.”
The atmosphere at all Shorty’s locations is akin to a summer camp mess tent with long, wooden picnic tables on concrete floors. Utensils are plastic. Napkins are rolls of paper towels. At each place setting an open brown bag awaits the deposit of gnawed ribs and chicken bones.
This is a good time for Shorty’s to expand and consider franchising, says Richard Lackey, a former Miamian now based in West Palm Beach who specializes in restaurant real estate. He’s also chairman of the board of the Council of International Restaurant Real Estate Brokers.
“The barbecue category and down-home ambience is very popular all over the country,” he says. “At one time barbecue was thought to be very regional — pork in North Carolina with a mustard-based sauce, beef in Texas with a ketchup-based sauce. What is occurring now is regional chains are starting to go national. The timing is appropriate for Shorty’s to expand.”
But Lackey, who says he ate at Shorty’s on South Dixie Highway for 20 years or more when he lived in Miami, says there are difficulties in any franchising effort. “In order to successfully franchise various factors are necessary,” he points out. “The concept has to be a proven concept; you need a concept that’s not easily copied or replicated; you have to have the infrastructure in place as a franchisor, that is you have to have the manuals on starting up, marketing, cooking, hiring in place. And it has to have legs — room to travel as a concept.”
The rustic log cabin building that houses the Kendall restaurant seems out of place in an area of shiny new office buildings and shopping malls. Yet Shorty’s — named for Shorty Allen who came down from Georgia as a young man to open a barbecue joint — is still a popular destination for people who savor slow-cooked ribs and chicken basted with homemade barbecue sauce.
Shorty’s caters to a diverse clientele. You will see a FedEx driver sitting next to a college student, a businessman next to a mechanic, grandparents giving their grandkids a treat. Brazilians love the place and arrive in buses straight from the airport.
University of Miami alumni who moved away send e-mails requesting bottles of barbecue sauce. The rustic motif is carried out with wagon wheels and ox yokes hanging from the ceiling. Servers wear jeans and plaid shirts. On the walls are pictures of Shorty’s when it had screens; windows were installed about 10 years ago.
As a tribute to when the original store burned down in 1972, the company’s logo is the 1951 log cabin on fire.
“One of the reasons for the success of Shorty’s is the ability to retain good employees and good managers,” says Vasturo. “Servers know their customers’ names. There’s a comfort level.”