Miami Beach

The day this beloved South Beach restaurant was firebombed in a deadly attack

The Concord Cafeteria
The Concord Cafeteria Miami Herald File

The Concord Cafeteria was a Miami Beach landmark since 1947.

Diners feasted on beef stew lunches, egg-and-toast breakfasts. And lots of coffee.

Until a man walked in and firebombed the place on Feb. 2, 1973. The arson, while hundreds of people were inside eating, killed three and injured more than 130.

But the cafeteria reopened, and stayed open for another 10 years before a changing South Beach came calling.

The closing was a shock to the mostly elderly clientele who considered the cafeteria as much social club as restaurant.

Here is a look at the Concord Cafeteria through the years from the archives of the Miami Herald.

firebombCapture.JPG
Firefighters search the debris of the Concord Cafeteria. Miami Herald File

THE LAST MEAL

Published April 7, 1983

The Concord Cafeteria is closing. After 36 years of offering home-style cooking to thousands of loyal diners, the Miami Beach cafeteria will serve its last $3.69 luncheon special in June.

It will become the eighth, and last, cafeteria in 15 years to close its doors on Miami Beach.

“The cafeteria has gone the way of the steam engine,” owner Stanley Worth said. “People are nostalgic for them, but most don’t use them. I don’t know where these old people will go now.”

The city of Miami Beach, Worth laments, has gone from catering to an elite to caring for the elderly. His customers typically buy $1.07 meals, consisting of cakes and coffee, and linger for hours. The neighborhood at 19th Street and Collins Avenue, once filled with elegant hotels and fine restaurants, now has pizza shops and electronics stores that sell giant radios.

News of the Concord’s closing spread among its 3,000 daily customers in stages; as a rumor served along the cafeteria line, as a fact confirmed by the Concord cashier and, finally, as a reality attested to by Worth.

The elderly Streicher sisters have watched each of the Beach’s cafeterias close. They have gone to the Concord three times a week for 20 years.

“No, no, don’t say it,” said Tilly, 79, hand to mouth, horrified. “This is our special place.”

“But where will we go?” said Jean, 72. “There were once seven, but now there are no others. This is the last cafeteria.”

Diner after diner in the 250-seat cafeteria gives the same story. They are alone. They use it as a place to eat and to socialize, sitting for hours with a friend and a cup of coffee.

Belle Kaltman, the large, gregarious cashier at the Concord for as long as anyone can remember, will miss the Concord, too.

“There’s nothing like a — $4.27, Max — a cafeteria,” Belle says between customers. “Here, the people can — you got a ticket for coffee? OK — meet each other,— that’s $2.21. How’re feeling today? that’s good. You see what you’re getting. Most of these people have been coming here 20 years.”

In 1947, Stanley Worth’s father-in-law, Morris Himelstein, who operated six Concord Cafeterias in New York City, followed his customers and opened the Miami Beach outlet.

Worth, who looks 20 years younger than his 64 years and still speaks in rapid-fire New Yorkese, has run the Concord for 36 years. Many of his employes have worked even longer at Beach cafeterias.

“We used to get the stars in here, all the conventions, the place was packed,” Worth said. “We used to get the Kiwanis, the Lions...”

“...now we get nothing,” Belle interjected, scuffing her heels on the terrazzo floor.

“Nothing at all,” Worth said. “Look, look around here. Now I ask you, honestly: Is this the kind of place you would take a date on a Saturday night?”

Silence. “

NO. Of course it’s not,” Worth said, satisfied.

“In three weeks, I’ve had to replace 40 dozen stolen spoons. Why they need them, I don’t ask. For me, it’s an expense of running a business in this town.”

It’s one of the expenses Worth is no longer willing to bear.

So at the Concord these days, they remember the other cafeterias that fell. The Ambassador, Hoffman’s, The Cadillac, Dubrows, The Governor.

For the Streicher sisters, the Concord’s cooking and pricing is something of a blessing. For $1.65, you get two eggs (any style); pototoes (or grits); bread and butter; cereal or juice; and hot coffee or tea. The $3.69 luncheon special is just as generous.

The elderly customers relish the the giant-sized rolls because they are oven-fresh. Just as fresh are the sinful six- inch-high slices of chocolate chiffon.

concordCapture.JPG

The Concord has closed once before, the result of one of the city’s most infamous crimes. On the night of Feb. 2, 1973, Bal Harbour resident Charles Reardon walked into the cafeteria, threw gasoline on the floor, and lit a match. A blaze erupted, killing three elderly people and injuring 131 more. Reardon confessed the next day and was later declared mentally incompetent to stand trial. “I’ve done a terrible thing,” the man with no previous criminal record told police. “I’ve made a lot of people scream.”

The Concord reopened a few months later, remodeled and sparkling, and has been serving ever its daily customers ever since.

Celia Sulman, a 20-year customer, has just learned about the final closing.

“Yes, this was a great place once,” she confided. “ ‘Used to be that people came here in their best gowns. When you’re alone, this is the place you can come to. Where can we go if the last cafeteria closes?”

But the plans are already set, the lease expired. Stanley Worth is thinking about opening a restaurant in Broward, the kind you would take a date to.

And the new tenants have already been signed up. The 36- year-old Concord will be gone in two months. In its place will be a pizza shop and an electronics store.

concordarrestCapture.JPG

‘BLOWN OUT THE FRONT DOORS’

Published Feb. 3, 1973

A Miami Beach cafeteria popular with the elderly and filled to almost its 300-person capacity was firebombed Friday night, sending at least 87 to hospitals.

Police said eyewitnesses told them “a little man” walked into the Concord Cafeteria at 1921 Collins Ave. at 10:55 p.m., poured gasoline on the floor and set it on fire.

“I turned around and heard this tremendous explosion. I saw this flame shoot from the floor to the ceiling, said Harry Goldberg, 67. “People were blown right out the front doors.”

0311182881.JPG
A drink from the Mynt. Miami Herald File

MOVING IN

Published Nov. 8, 2000

The Concord Cafeteria folded 17 years ago, but it’s remembered for two things: one of the best breakfast bargains in town ($1.65 for juice, two eggs, potatoes, bread and butter, and coffee), and one of the worst blazes in Miami Beach history — a 1973 firebombing by a deranged man that killed three old folks and injured 131.

Soon, the old landmark at 1921 Collins Ave. will become a haven for the hip — a lounge called Mynt.

Owner is Nicola Siervo, 35, who established a rep on South Beach when he opened Bang in ‘92 — with dancing on table tops. Siervo, former social director at Bar None, operates Joia restaurant with Ingrid Casares.

But unlike Bang and its wild parties, the Mynt venue will be more tame, Siervo says.

“Music won’t be really loud - you can still talk.” Working on the 6,000-square-foot space is interior and furniture designer Juan Carlos Arcila-Duque, 34. Target opening: January 2001.

cafeteria lineCapture.JPG
The food line at the Concord Cafeteria. Miami Herald File

WHAT THE DINERS LOVED

Published Oct. 21, 1982

If you shut your eyes and just listen, the Concord Cafeteria sounds a bit like a bingo hall. Voices call out and echo around the cavernous room, chairs scrape across the linoleum floor, a hundred private conversations create a steady din. Except for the smell of the roast beef and the clatter of plates, you’d swear they were about to call out your lucky number.

Open your eyes and you find the Concord looks like what it sounds like. The casual eatery at 1921 Collins Ave. is dingy, barn-like and not very appetizing. The high ceiling is stained and old, the cream-and-green decor is institutional, and grimy gold curtains in the front window droop forlornly from sagging hooks.

The old girl needs a lot of sprucing up before she matches other Dade cafeterias, such as the Biscayne near the Omni.

But the Concord remains the favorite midday meal stop for many Beach regulars.

“The pastry you can’t beat,” said Mrs. Price from Brooklyn. She wouldn’t give her first name.

A Concord customer for 12 years, she proclaimed meat cutter Henry Mohr, who wields a wicked butcher knife, the “best deli cutter on the Beach.”

Then she peered at him over the food line and in a voice as keen as his knife, said, “I want the brisket cut thin, now.” He smiled at her and said, “I know how you like it.”

Broadway Charlie is the breakfast cook at the Concord. He has a raspy voice and a kind manner.

“They’re older, our customers,” he said, leaning on the stainless steel steam tables. “They’re picky and they’re nasty. They watch every move you make.”

foodCapture.JPG
Henry Dreyfuss serves a meal to a customer at the steam table. Miami Herald File

In the glory days, Rudy Vallee often picked up a tray and foraged through the Concord late at night after his Miami Beach stage show. Entertainer Martha Raye was a frequent customer.

“It has been deteriorating rapidly the last 10 years,” said cafeteria manager Stanley Worth, who has been in charge of the place since 1952. “We used to feed 7,000, 8,000 people a day in here.”

He waved his hand at the sparse noontime crowd. “Now it’s half that.” Worth blames the economic climate, the growing number of Miami Beach retirees and the “lack of a positive outlook” for the decline of the Beach and his business.

“I remember when this place was a paradise,” Worth said. “You wore a suit and tie and the women wore gloves to go walking on Lincoln Road Mall.”

No suits and ties in the Concord on this day. About 100 people, most of them elderly, many with their canes hung carefully over the backs of their chairs, sat at plastic-topped tables and ate the lunch specials and fattening desserts.

“You must take the one you touch” read a sign stuck in the bread tray on the food line.

Lunch specials at the Concord are the cheapest buy. Ordering a la carte can be expensive. One such special, hot roast beef on a roll, served with a full sour dill pickle, a bowl of soup and “mash,” as the employes call mashed potatoes, cost just $3.46.

At the table, an ample supply of horseradish, hot enough to make your eyes water, tasted homemade. The fat was trimmed off the meat. The bread was fresh. The same lunch served with brisket of beef was $3.21. A plate of beef stew was $3.90 and the meat in it was excellent, lean and tender. The gravy was rich and had a lot of flavor.

But the salad lettuce suffered from black spots and was slightly wilted.

A bowl of strawberries was overpriced at $2.10 and a small saucer containing two slices of tepid canned pineapple cost 80 cents.

Chocolate pie was simply awful, an unappealing brown concoction that tasted old.

The Concord has seen better days, but for a quick roast beef sandwich and a bowl of soup, it’s not bad.

  Comments