Joe's Stone Crab Opens for 103rd Season

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Stone crab season, South Florida's favorite time of the year, starts this Saturday, October 15, and runs through May 15. Stone crabs are caught in baited traps commercially and recreationally. Each crab's claw is removed, and the crustacean is released back into the water for the claw to regenerate.

The claws are steamed and sent to local restaurants, where an adoring public clamors for its first taste of the season. Though many Miami restaurants offer fresh stone crab claws, none are as iconic as those served at Joe's Stone Crab in South Beach.

The restaurant will open for its 103rd season this Friday, October 14, at 5 p.m. (Frozen crabs will be served until fresh ones arrive.) The restaurant has been operated by the same family since 1913, when Joe Weiss opened a little seafood shack on Collins Avenue. Since then, Joe's has grown into the place to go for stone crabs. The eatery has attracted everyone from presidents to celebrities to mobsters — sometimes simultaneously, such as when both Al Capone and J. Edgar Hoover happened to dine there the same night. 

Joe's chief operating officer, Stephen Sawitz, a direct descendant of the Weiss family, looks forward to throwing open the doors for another season. “The tradition of Joe’s opening is exciting for everyone."

Sawitz says that even though the restaurant has been serving stone crabs for decades, each year brings surprises and possible challenges, and there's no accurate way to predict what the year's stone crab season will look like until it's underway. "It's a surprise every day. There's no way of knowing what the harvest will look like. You could have a great first pull, and the bottom could fall out and there could be nothing afterward." The stone crab maven says the first two weeks of each season are typically the best. "That's because there are more crabs out there." Still, he says that every year proves to be fruitful. "Each year, our fishermen want to get more permits and traps. I think that's the future." Still, Sawitz waxes poetically about the nature of the business — which is based on nature itself. "There's a time to pull and a time to grow."

When Joe's reopens tomorrow, it won't show any striking changes. Sawitz says the summer months were used to do a general refresh of the building to make it ready for the steady stream of customers in the coming months. "We're in a building that was built in the 1920s. We get heavily trafficked during the season — more than most — and because of that have an inordinate amount of wear-and-tear on the facility. If we were to stay open during the summer, how could we make our renovations? How could we rest our bones? How could we prepare for the next year?"

And even though guests clamor for the restaurant's stone crabs, Sawitz believes the service keeps his customers and staff loyal. "Our philosophy is to stay in business and not to maximize profits. It's understandable if the company stays in the family as ours does. We want to service the entire community. Tourists are great, but we love our locals and our regulars."

So how can a local snag a seat at Miami Beach's most iconic restaurant? According to Joe's top man, "The best tip is to come early for lunch or go to the takeaway." And although Joe's doesn't take reservations, it might be a good idea to get a bunch of friends and family together. "If you're a large party of ten or 15, we want to know it. We can't guarantee anything, but we can look at the dining room. We work hard to accommodate groups." 

And remember to mention where you live. "We love the tourists, but locals are king."

Joe's Stone Crab opens for season at 5 p.m. Friday, October 14. Takeaway will open at the same time. The restaurant will begin serving lunch Tuesday, October 18. 

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