Don't Touch That Dial!

Maria Staub is determined to make Teen Live Wire a hit radio show -- even if it destroys her family

Constanzo is a regular at La Paloma. An advocate for other youth programs, she joined the board because Staub's passion was evident in her invitation. She thinks Teen Live Wire is a great idea: "It's more positive to have teens listen to it than to The Simpsons or to whatever those other two creeps are, Butt-head and Beavis."

Even casual acquaintances are aware of the tolls of Staub's endeavor. "There is a lot of friction between the husband and wife," Constanzo observes. "I don't think I am speaking out of school there. They are both wonderful people and they are both wonderful restaurateurs. He knows that and doesn't want to do anything else. But Maria has branched out, or wants to. It's cost her a lot of money that I'm not sure she'll ever see back. You know what they say, that being a good lawyer doesn't necessarily make someone a good stockbroker. It's the same with Maria. She's a wonderful restaurateur."

The door to La Paloma opens one evening to the sound of "I Will Survive" plinking on a piano. The large marquee facing Biscayne Boulevard advertises Swiss continental cuisine, but the place is perhaps most famous for its kitschy interior. It's the Liberace of local restaurants. Opulent colors shade the walls and carpets. The cavernous dining room is an eye feast of knickknacks. Tiny porcelain dolls sit in a display case near the maitre d' station. In one corner a bronze peacock brandishes a full fan of beaded feathers.

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Maria Staub sits at a table in a back alcove of the dining room. It is the early-evening rush and a bouquet of white-haired diners begins to bloom at the tables around her. A second wave, on average much younger, will start to arrive around 8:00. There is seating for 350 people. On a really busy evening, such as Valentine's Day, La Paloma serves more than 800 plates of Wiener schnitzel and steak Diane.

Staub always dreamed of opening a restaurant. She first came to America 30 years ago, leaving her family's farm near Berlin with only $100, a lone suitcase, and a plane ticket to Pennsylvania. There she worked as a nurse during the week and as a waitress on the weekends in a German restaurant. She made more money as a waitress. At the time, she spoke virtually no English, relying instead on a furious work ethic.

Friends in Pennsylvania propelled her to Miami with tales of palm trees and warm weather; she accepted a job at Mount Sinai in 1971. Soon after that she fell in love with Werner Staub. A Swiss chef, he shared her dream of opening a restaurant. Their La Paloma debuted in 1978, originally near the Omni, just north of downtown Miami. Before long it moved to its current location on Biscayne Boulevard in North Miami. The couple married on Valentine's Day 1980, and the first of two daughters arrived in 1981.

The restaurant was a full-time commitment. Maria worked the front room while Werner labored in the kitchen. In the beginning, at the Omni location, the family lived in a duplex above the establishment. If business was slow, Werner and Maria would sometimes sit at a table by the window to make the restaurant appear busy. They always worked hard.

"When my Sabrina was born, I worked up to the last day and I was back at work two days later," Staub recalls. "We left the house at 8:30 in the morning and didn't get home until after midnight. So I called my husband's sister in Switzerland. I called her and I said, 'Listen, you have to come. There's a ticket for you and your husband on Swissair, you have to come and help me. I can't do it any more. I have to work.' We were just building up the restaurant.

"She's been taking care of our kids since Sabrina was born, basically," Staub continues, speaking of her husband's sister, Ruth Bachler, who is responsible for feeding, clothing, and disciplining seventeen-year-old Sabrina and her younger sister Caroline, age twelve. "She's our mommy and nanny and just a great person. It would have been very difficult for me not having my sister-in-law being totally there for the kids, with me working every day. I guess if it had not been for her, I would probably have had to stop working and, I don't know, be there for my kids. But thank God she was there and she totally took care of it."

The success of La Paloma has lightened the load on the Staubs. A full-time chef has cooked the meals for years now, freeing Werner to work the front room. Maria, largely liberated from her responsibilities, has channeled her abundant energies into Teen Live Wire.

"Why do I do this? I get asked that many times," she says of her radio endeavor. "And I just believe -- I just know -- that there is a need for open communication between teens and parents and between parents and teens. And it is so difficult. Parents just don't know how to talk to their kids any more."

Staub's soft, full face is as white as the tablecloth before her. When she speaks about her radio show, she chooses her words carefully. Her German accent is heavy enough that when she speaks of her vision, it sounds like she's talking about her wishon.

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