Joe Weiss suffered from terrible asthma while living and working as a waiter in New York City. His doctor suggested that perhaps Weiss would breathe easier if he moved to a gentler climate. Weiss chose sunny Miami; and lo and behold, his condition dissipated. The restaurant business was what he knew, so he settled in and started a small lunch counter at a bathing casino, serving fish sandwiches and fries.
At that time Joe’s was the only restaurant on desolate Miami Beach, but he did a brisk business since he didn’t have any competition. It wasn’t until 1921, however, that Joe’s started to serve the dish that made it famous. Stone crabs were previously thought inedible. “The legend goes that a Harvard ichthyologist who was studying marine life nearby caught some crabs and brought them to Joe, as we were one of the only restaurants around, to find out if they were edible,” Sawitz says. Joe boiled up the sturdy crabs, cracked open the claws, and struck crustacean gold. The duo also discovered that the crabs were a sustainable food--the claws actually regenerated. Joe put the crabs on the menu and they were an instant hit - everybody who was anybody came to eat at Joe’s, from Amelia Earhart to Al Capone.