Across the street from the City of Miami Cemetery, the S&S Diner was a glorious time capsule for almost 80 years. Eggs in the morning, London broil with Greek salad or $10 meatloaf for lunch. Holiday turkey with all the fixings was available year-round.
In the early 1990s, Chandler Collins, a wiry legal assistant with a shaved head and a stubbly brindled beard, would pop in every morning for an $8 plate of eggs, bacon, grits, and toast.
"It's like mom's home cooking — simple but good," he told New Times last July. "Everything else is Burger King or McDonald's." When a new job offer in the neighborhood came up in 2010, Collins leapt at it just to resume his old breakfast routine.
But then after a contentious, years-long legal battle that ended with an abrupt January eviction, the place closed — and all of its bric-a-brac was moved to storage.
Now, owner Simon Elbaz says, the S&S Diner is coming back. It's slated to reopen at 2699 Biscayne Blvd. in the same strip mall that houses the Spanish-Argentine-fusion restaurant Rincón Escondido.
"We're going to have all of the decorations, the same menu, and the same specials," says Elbaz, a 69-year-old Canadian who speaks with a thick French accent and wears wire-framed glasses beneath a tousle of chestnut hair. "I want the name of S&S to continue even after me."
The S&S opened in 1938. Decorated with movie posters and a horseshoe-shaped counter, it became a permanent Miami icon in 1987 when Mel Kiser and Corky Irick made the documentary Last Night at the S&S Diner.
Several years later, Elbaz took over the lease from the original owner, who had run the eatery for nearly 55 years. When the lease expired at the end of 2014, the diner "subsequently remained on the property as a holdover tenant," according to a complaint filed early last year in which the current owner sought to evict the diner. But Elbaz says his lease included a five-year extension option that he sought to exercise.
The building's owner nearly succeeded in evicting the diner last summer, when Elbaz was on vacation and missed a rent payment. However, Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Yvonne Cuestavacated the eviction order. Yet an appeals court later overturned her decision, and the diner was finally forced out this past January. The red art deco S&S sign was soon pulled off the building, but the Roaring '20s frescos depicting flapper girls and tuxedoed men remain on the façade.
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That wasn't Elbaz's only problem. He has yet to settle a lawsuit from a former employee, Laure Guerre, who worked as a server from 2009 to 2015 and claimed Elbaz failed to pay her minimum wage. That lawsuit has been stalled since November 2016, when Elbaz's lawyer, Stanley Kiszkiel, withdrew from the case. The S&S Diner owner adds that Guerre quit after he told her to be more courteous to customers.
He believes the place can serve the public just as well in its new location, which will include all the knickknacks from the old space and an identical menu. And he hopes to hand off running of the place as soon as he can.
"When we were evicted, I saw 20 years of my life go up in smoke," he says. "I just want someone to continue the diner, because I'm ready to retire."
Elbaz is awaiting final permits and has yet to set an opening date. Brown paper covers the new location's windows, but monochrome posters for The Godfather and La Dolce Vita can be seen on the walls. A sprawling portrait of Al Pacino in Scarface hangs near the kitchen's entrance. Tragically, the original diner's horseshoe-shaped counter didn't make the move. Instead, the room is filled with more than a half-dozen tables topped with a tan-and-chocolate marble pattern.