I was just in Miami to attend the South Beach Wine & Food Festival as a guest of Certified Angus Beef, which supplies meat to some of the city’s top restaurants—including Joe’s Stone Crab (11 Washington Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33139). Joe’s is one of south Florida’s most iconic and historic restaurants and during my stay, I not only got to dine there but was also given a behind-the-scenes tour by the man himself: Executive Chef André Bienvenu.
Chef Bienvenu grew up in my home state of Connecticut, so right off the bat I knew he was a cool guy. After graduating from Johnson & Wales University with Culinary Arts and Occupational Science degrees, he spent years at honing his craft at numerous Hyatt properties. Then he took over the kitchen at Joe’s Stone Crab, even then one of the busiest independent single restaurants in America.
Here’s what I learned about Joe’s Stone Crab from my tour:
Joe’s Stone Crab has been around for 102 years and now takes up a whole city block! There are 400 employees in the high season, which runs from mid-October to mid-May. During that time period, the restaurant usually does 700 lunches and between 1,200 and 1,600 dinners. Insane, right? They have 48 boats that deliver stone crabs in season. In the summer, part of the restaurant shuts down and they open Wednesday-Sunday only, serving between 400 and 800 dinners. In August, September and part of October, they close the whole place down to do repairs since the building is so old.
Joe’s is run by a mother-and-son team made up of supposedly the nicest people in the business. They treat their employees so well that most have worked there for double-digit years. The mother is 84, and you can usually find her bussing tables. Joe’s also includes an amazing shipping business (they only ship domestically) so you can always find a UPS truck parked out back.
When Chef André Bienvenu started working at Joe’s Stone Crab, just 3% of sales came from meat. Then he started using Certified Angus Beef and brought in a own smoke master, and now meat sales are 18% of the business.
Although Bienvenu has appeared on several major television shows, he prefers not to be in front of the camera.
The coolest thing I learned from the tour is that Joe’s Stone Crab offers a private chef’s table that’s unadvertised. To experience it, André said all people have to do is call him up (305-673-0365) and make a reservation. It’s only big enough for two people and costs $300 per couple. He said they should dress casual and recognize that it’s a crazy atmosphere where waiters will probably be bumping into them while they move around to cook their food. That’s right: Guests can even cook their food!
Joe’s doesn’t take reservations for the main restaurant and the who’s who of Miami is usually in there. While I was there for lunch, I saw Andrew Zimmern, Emeril Lagasse, and Bobby Flay, and I heard Rachel Ray was there, too—and they were all at different tables.
Dishes range from Joe’s famous fried chicken (above) for $6.95 to 3 jumbo stone crab legs for $89.95.
Have you been? What did you think of Joe’s Stone Crabs?