Saturday, July 13, 2013

Riccio's: Miami mobster hangout, money troubles and ...

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By Jane Feehan 

Miami was a popular place with mobsters during the 1930s to the 1960s. They frequented many restaurants; Riccio’s was among the best- known mob hangouts  in the 1950s.

Located at 991 NE 79th Street, Riccio’s was opened by namesake Joe Riccio in the late 1940s. Like many of its patrons, Riccio had a checkered past. According to the Miami News (Nov. 4, 1956), the place was raided for gambling in February 1950 by then-Dade County Sheriff Jimmy Sullivan. Gambling tables and dice were seized in a back room of the restaurant. Police later staked out the gambler’s hangout hoping for a bigger catch but were unsuccessful. Joe Riccio had several arrests for gambling but was convicted only once. Other than attracting gamblers and gangsters, Riccio's also drew city notables including a few judges. One judge was arrested for driving while intoxicated; his partying began at Riccio's. 

The restaurant chugged along but a surge in business occurred in 1953 after Riccio told authorities he would give a job to notorious Jewish mobster Alex (Shondor) Birns of Cleveland.  Birns was waiting for an extradition hearing back to Hungary but the Immigration Service gave Birns permission to move to Miami when told about the job. (According to a 1988 Plains Dealer series by Christopher Evans,  Don King, later known for boxing promotions, ran numbers for Birns in Cleveland during the 1960s and was known as “The Kid.”)

By November of 1956, the Riccio restaurant entered bankruptcy for the third time in six years and had established a reputation for stiffing creditors. Riccio’s brother, Anthony, was once tapped as head of the company ( incorporated as Greater Miami Italian-American Restaurant in December, 1954) but claimed he made only $50 a week.  Joe Riccio’s wife, Ruth, admitted she and her husband actually ran the eatery. The bankruptcies became the target of a federal investigation.

Riccio’s was shuttered in 1956 but the family had plans to reopen the following winter season. A search of news archives and public documents did not reveal fruition of those plans. Copyright © 2013. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.

Tags: Miami mobsters, Cleveland mobsters, Don King, gambling in Miami in 1950s, Miami in the 1950s, historical researcher, film researcher

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