Miami restaurant, survivor of desegregation and riots, to close

Tue Jul 22, 2014 4:43pm EDT
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By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) - After more than half a century, Jumbo's, famous for its fried shrimp and conch, and one of the first Miami restaurants to desegregate in the late 1960s, is closing this week as the site is sold to a developer of affordable housing.

The sea foam-green eatery thrived during the decades when the surrounding area, now called Liberty City, transformed from a middle-class white community to a predominantly African-American one. It emerged from 1980's race riots unscathed, without even a broken window, as neighboring businesses burned.

“It’s one of the vanishing remnants of the Miami of yester-year,” said Paul George, a historian and professor at Miami Dade College. “The menu is reflective of the (city’s) southern, farming roots.”

Jumbo’s desegregated in 1968 after owner Bobby Flam, whose first job was answering phones after his parents bought it in 1955, hired three black workers. In the weeks that followed more than 30 white workers walked off the job.

Flam had bought the restaurant in 1966 and is still seen as a father figure in the community, eager to give a job or meal to someone in need.

“I made the African-American customer feel very comfortable here and my overnight business grew,” Flam said, even as “my lunch and dinner business was shrinking."

Jumbo’s has long been a popular late-night stop for revelers emerging from Liberty City’s surrounding nightclubs.

“If you knew you didn’t have money for a meal he wouldn’t say anything about it,” said 77-year-old Lawrence Drayton, a Jumbo’s regular since 1955, when segregation forced blacks to use a rear entrance and a separate dining room.   Continued...

The menu featuring specials and standard dishes is seen in Jumbo's Restaurant located in Miami's Liberty City area, in this picture taken July 22, 2014.   REUTERS/Zachary Fagenson