With the stroke of a pen, Roy Garret could let the whole island city starve.
During his heyday, as the maitre d’ for Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami Beach, the white-haired gatekeeper had the power to make or break Friday night plans.
For 27 years, he was the towering figure behind the lectern, spending his shifts looking over a long list of names. His booming, Bronx voice beckoned patrons to their tables. He was often greeted with dollar-palmed handshakes — $20 or higher was likely to get his attention — or desperate ploys for preferential treatment.
“There’s no secret,” he once told the Miami Herald. “If you come early, you come right in … If you come at 7:30, you better know somebody or know what to do.”
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Celebrities on the town often made it worth his while. His favorite customers? Don Johnson and Dan Marino, he said in a 1997 Herald story.
Garret passed away Monday evening of natural causes, his family announced. He was 92.
“Roy represented the excitement, elegance and warmth of Miami Beach,” said former Beach Mayor Philip Levine in a statement. “Going forward, if you want to get a table in heaven, you better know Roy!”
In 1988, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Carl Rowan lauded Garret as the most powerful man in Miami, first on his list of “Miami’s Real Power Elite: 18 who run this town.”
Ahead of political strategists, Dolphins Hall of Fame coach Don Shula and even the chief forecaster of the National Hurricane Center, the blunt and bow-tied New York transplant stood alone. He retreated to a $400,000 Portofino Towers condo when he retired in 1997.
“He was first on almost everyone’s list,” Rowan wrote.
Dave Barry, the Miami Herald’s humor columnist, once compared Garret to the Wizard of Oz, “except that he can give you something even better than a heart, or a brain. He can give you a table.”
Garret’s grandchildren reaped the spoils of grandpa’s star, according to his grandson. Growing up, they’d often take their dates to Joe’s and watch their reactions as Garret swiftly led them through the world-famous restaurant, which opened in 1913.
“All I had to do to impress a girl was to walk right in and he’d announce my name,” said Ricky Rash, one of Garret’s grandchildren and an insurance broker in Hollywood.
… if you want to get a table in heaven, you better know Roy!
former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine
Rash said that away from the restaurant, Garret was a “low-key” guy who loved sports and Mel Brooks movies. But once the tuxedo came on, something switched inside. Even on vacation, on cruises or in Israel, Garret would sometimes be spotted by restaurant patrons.
In his final days, confined to a hospital bed at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, Garret told Rash that he wished he had never retired. Apart from his family, working at Joe’s was Garret’s biggest source of joy and fulfillment.
“The perks, the things people do for you on the outside, are probably as good or better than what you make at Joe’s,” he once told the Herald. “People are very nice. They’re always trying to do things for you.”
In 1970, when he started working there, he was only looking for part-time work.
He wound up replacing Joe’s old maitre d’ halfway through the crab season, which runs from October to May. Before that, he waited tables at the Carillon and the old Doral resort in Miami Beach. He also worked as a captain at the Doral Country Club.
Garret’s legend lives on through a framed photo of him hanging behind the maitre d’ lectern.
“Guys like this, they’re a dying breed,” Rash said.
With a focus on who’s manning the front of the house, and its signature stone crabs and Key lime pie, the family-owned restaurant continues its dominance in South Florida, netting $36.8 million in revenues in 2015, according to Restaurant Business. The average check was $80.
“The Joe’s family is saddened by the news of Roy Garret’s passing,’’ the restaurant said in a statement on Tuesday. “He was a fixture at Joe’s for 27 years and his presence can still be felt years after he last stood behind our Maitre d’ stand. He will be missed.”
Garret is survived by his wife, Joyce; his two daughters Laurie and JoAnn; four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Services will be held at noon Thursday at Levitt Weinstein North Miami Beach, 18840 W Dixie Hwy. The public is invited to attend.