According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, stone crab season officially begins October 15, meaning there's a seven-month stretch for Floridians to enjoy the sweet, succulent crabs.
October 15 also marks the beginning of Joe's Stone Crab's 101st season, when the iconic restaurant serves its first order of claws, starting at 5 p.m. Lunch service, by the way, doesn't begin until October 17.
See also: Stephen Sawitz: Stone Crab Legacy
Brian Johnson, general manager of Joe's, is looking forward to a good season, saying, "My fingers are crossed that we'll have a better year than last year. But Mother Nature does what she wants to do."
Since Mother Nature really does call the shots, there are some things Johnson won't know -- right up until the doors open today. Like pricing and supply. "Opening dock prices won't be determined until today, so I literally won't be able to complete our menu cards until around 3 p.m."
Johnson also explains the stars of the show -- the stone crabs -- might also be late for their cue. "This is the first day that fishermen can pull traps, so I can get crabs as early as 5 p.m. or as late as 10 p.m."
Johnson wants people to know that Joe's is more than just stone crabs. New menu items include a grouper pho and steaks from a family farm in the Florida Panhandle. "We've also hired a full-time fish butcher and a full-time meat butcher, as well as a pitmaster. My chefs really stepped up the game this year. People are going to say, 'Wow, I never thought of that meal as coming from Joe's.'"
All of those claws being served with the restaurant's signature mustard sauce has paid off for the business, which is still family-run after a century. Joe's Stone Crab was just ranked the second-highest-grossing independently owned restaurant in the United States by Restaurant Business. The study looked at non-chain-owned restaurants with annual food and beverage sales of more than $9 million.
Joe's Stone Crab in Miami Beach ranked number two on the list, with an estimated $35,324,729 in sales for 2013 and an average per-person check amount of $65.
It seems Joe's has a "golden claw" wherever the restaurant hangs its sign. The downtown Chicago location -- named Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab -- came in at number ten on the list, with an estimated $21 million in revenue and a $68 check average, slightly higher than its Miami Beach cousin.
In Las Vegas, high rollers love to bet that a dinner at Joe's is a "sure thing." The Sin City locale generated about $20.1 million in revenue in 2013, with an average $68-per-person check.
The only other Miami restaurant to make the top 100 was Prime One Twelve, which nabbed the number six spot with an estimated $23,345,678 in revenue and a $115-per-person check average. Prime One Twelve also serves stone crabs when in season.
So what makes a restaurant not only succeed but also exceed all expectations and generate high revenues? According to Restaurant Business, it's all about "craft cocktails, comfortable seats, and uncomplicated tables."
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For Johnson, it's all about the food and service. "I don't care if I'm number nine, ten on this list. I'm concerned about the people coming through my doors. Every year, we keep challenging ourselves to do something different and better. In the end, if guests walk out happy, that's the name of the game."
At Joe's, it's the stone crabs that keep 'em coming back for more.