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Three days, 18 deaths and $100 million in damage later, a miles-long swath of businesses around Jumbo’s was burned to the ground.
But not Jumbo’s.
Mamon Tisdol, who worked there at the time, explained how he and two other employees remained at the restaurant to make sure rioters stayed away.
“I stayed here for 72 hours. We fed the police, the National Guard and a few customers,” he said. “People called and said, ‘We’re going to burn the place down.’ I said, ‘I’ve got a gun, and you’d better bring body bags.’ This is where I worked; I was going to protect my job.” But the beginning of the end came in 2005, when Hurricane Wilma inflicted some $460,000 in damage to the building. Flam’s insurance didn’t cover enough, and he couldn’t do all the repairs. Then, two years ago, a drunk driver crashed into the building, killing two pastors, who were regular customers, as they chatted outside.
Jumbo’s final days became the story of the day for South Florida newspapers and television stations. Even The New York Times, the BBC, Al-Jazeera and Reuters ran stories.
By the time Jumbo’s closed, its best days were decades past, its teal-colored exterior in need of a paint job, its black-and-white checkered floor and 1950s-vintage tables scarred and scuffed.
Looking around the now-empty dining room, Flam concedes how relieved he is to have sold the restaurant to a developer who plans to build a strip mall and affordable apartments on the property.
“I’m done,” he said. “I’m burned out.”
But his tone turned bittersweet as he recalled the crowds and publicity of a couple of days ago.
“Where the hell were they when I was open?” he asked. “Where were they the week before?”
Contact Neil Reisner at email@example.com