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You’re dining with the dead at Joe’s Stone Crab

If you’re a local, you know that some people really love Joe’s Stone Crab. But enough to ask to be buried there? Yep.

Joe’s Stone Crab has been around for more than a century. Owner Joe Weiss first opened the restaurant as a lunchtime counter, serving up fish sandwiches and french fries as early as 1913. The restaurant has now been handed down three generations and expanded into the institution that it is today, complete with a 486-seat restaurant and take-away window.

If those century-old walls could talk, they’d have some stories to tell. Some of them are kind of spooky.

While we were at Joe’s kicking off the start of the season, learning how to cook those epic stone crabs for a story coming out tomorrow, we heard about a few bodies buried under the property.

A strange photograph of a tombstone hangs on the wall of the restaurant’s bar. It reads “Charles Frederick Sharp, a man who lived from April 3, 1914 to January 12, 1993.” At the bottom of his tombstone is one simple sentence: “I’d rather be at Joe’s.”

“That’s a profound thing to say and strange place to say it,” said Stephen Sawitz, the restaurant’s owner and great-grandson of founder Joe Weiss.

Sawitz didn’t know much about Sharp — the name didn’t ring a bell. A friend took the photograph at a cemetery somewhere in west Miami and sent it to him, and he decided to frame it and let it hang in the restaurant.

“Some people take it as being creepy, [but] I think of it as we are eternally grateful to him and … his patronage and I guess part of him is still here. He wrote ‘l’d rather be at Joe’s.” Well, he is here.”

And some folks did get their wish to be buried here — at least part of them. Out in the front garden, two plaques commemorate Miamians whose ashes are scattered on the grounds. Local legendary broadcast journalist Ann Bishop is one of them.

“Ann Bishop’s ashes were spread here by my mom,” Sawitz said. “They were very close friends and I remember when mom went to get the ashes, she came back to the restaurant and opened her purse and pulled out a bag of white and gray powder and she said ‘this is Ann’… she said Ann’s wish was to put her ashes in the garden at Joe’s.”

Bishop spent a lot of time at the restaurant, was very close with the family, and even helped paint parts of the restaurant when the Weiss family was expanding.

A plaque commemorating Dr. Robert Bass, who was Sawitz’s step-father hangs next to Ann Bishop’s. His ashes are also scattered among the flower garden in the restaurant’s outdoor front porch dining area.

Phil Grier, a longtime server at the restaurant, also had his ashes scattered on the property.

“He was a server here for many, many years. He moved at the same slow consistent pace and served many customers. This was his life,” Sawitz said. “It begins to dawn on you how important a family businesses really is to people.”

“There’s more of a connection and meaning to work. It’s not just where you go to work, it’s where you’re living, spending your life. You’re sharing it and being a part of other people’s day to day.“

Is Sawitz at all afraid of the ghosts of those bodies still lingering around the halls of Joe’s? Not so much. He’s actually more afraid of the rising tides.

“Hopefully we won’t be underwater… in 100 years,” Sawitz said.