Jumbo’s Restaurant, a 24-hour diner in Miami, Fl. that was perhaps the first-ever white-owned restaurant in America to employ and serve black people, closes on Wednesday, July 23, after six decades of service.
Located on in Liberty City on Seventh Avenue — a street which “served as an imaginary color line separating the races” — the restaurant was bought in 1955 by a white family, the Flams.
In 1967, Bobby Flam, “a liberal Jewish boy fresh out of college,” inherited Jumbo’s from his father, Isadore. When the younger Flam decided to hire black employees, the majority of his staff quit within a month. “I can’t tell you how uncomfortable they were serving black people,” Mr. Flam told The New York Times.
Meanwhile, Jumbo’s became a vital component of the city’s political and social life, not least because it was open 24 hours a day.
“If you wanted to meet the mayor or a city commissioner or the police chief late at night, you went to Jumbo’s,” Marvin Dunn, a retired college professor, told The Times.
Eventually, the restaurant became not only the city’s “soul food landmark,” but a marker of social progress.
In 1980, when the city rioted after white police officers were acquitted of beating a black man to death, Jumbo’s remained a safe space while the rest of the neighborhood saw millions in property damage.
“Jumbo’s was among the first restaurants to have blacks not just washing dishes, but running the cash register and serving the food — it was not to be defiled. That’s where people went after they finished rioting.”
Now, despite deep historical significance and decades’ worth of regulars, Jumbo’s, located in one of Miami’s most economically deprived communities, will close. In its place will come a retail center and low-income housing, which Mr. Flam hopes will reinvigorate the neighborhood.