Historic Liberty City Restaurant Closing Its Doors After 59 Years
LIBERTY CITY (CBSMiami) – Jumbo’s is as well known for its shrimp as it is for its history.
“I’ve been running Jumbo’s 47 years, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” said Bobby Flam.
After all those years as a Miami establishment, Flam says Jumbo’s will serve its last meal Wednesday so he can spend more time with family and retire.
Flam’s family has owned Jumbo’s since 1955. The diner was segregated, serving black customers from a window in the back of the restaurant.
“Miami was ferociously segregated as late as the 50s when that restaurant was just getting under way,” said Miami Historian Paul George. “This was a very ‘Deep South’ community, and that was a ‘Deep South’ neighborhood home to a lot of people whose roots were in Central Florida and Georgia.”
When Flam took over the restaurant from his parents in the 1960s, the Illinois boy decided to integrate, becoming the first restaurant to hire black employees and integrate the dining room.
“I was a person that always believed in human rights and equal opportunity,” said Flam. “I was shocked that no one had integrated in Florida.”
But Flam paid a price for his decision.
“I had customers who stopped coming,” said Flam. “I had employees who didn’t want to work for me anymore. I made the transition and it was all for the better.”
The 24-hour diner managed to survive the 1980 race riots that destroyed many other white-owned business in Liberty City and Overtown.
“This was always a place to congregate,” said Rev. Jerome Starling. “Everyone used to gather here. Leaders gather here, eat breakfast, and talk politics.”
In 2005, Jumbo’s was entered into the Congressional Record for its role integrating South Florida. Even now, there is an “Obama deal” on the menu: two cheeseburgers, fries and a drink for$ 5.99. Don’t let the price fool you–Jumbo’s food is among the best in the country.
The restaurant earned the prestigious James Beard award in 2008 in the American classic restaurant category. The James Beard Award is like the Academy Awards in the culinary world.
‘It is a big deal,” said Flam. “Joe’s Stone Crab and Versailles are the other two [restaurants in Miami who have the award].”
With hours left before the restaurant closes on Wednesday, first-time customers like Smith Family from South Beach are rushing in to say they ate at Jumbo’s.
“It’s another chapter closing in Miami of yesteryear,” said George. “This is a city that changes dramatically fast, and this is one of the last hold-ons and now it’s going.”
Flam says Jumbo’s history may not end after its Wednesday closing.
“I have plans to keep the name ‘Jumbo’s’ alive,” said Flam. “I sold the building, but I didn’t sell the name. I have rights to name Jumbo’s,’ and I’m working on selling some franchises.”
Flam said many of the details on the franchises are still pending, but he hopes to keep contributing to the inner-city community he’s been a part of for so many years.