Many stories have been written about Walter's Coffee Shop and most know the legend of it's home-away-from-home atmosphere, but few know it's true history. From the town of Huntington in Long Island, New York to Miami, Florida, the beloved eatery has been satisfying the stomachs of and, perhaps more importantly, feeding the hearts and souls of patrons for over 30 years.
Walter's Coffee Shop was founded by Walter and Jo Bergamo, who first opened the restaurant in Huntington in the late 1960's. Walter, a former cook in the Navy, and Jo, a former executive and buyer for Macy's in Manhattan, moved from Brooklyn to Long Island in 1956. Walter spent his first decade in Huntington as the manager of Hamburger Choo-Choo, a local eatery. It wasn't long before the legendary Bergamo drive took over and Walter decided to open his own restaurant, which he appropriately named, Walter's Coffee Shop.
His wife Jo gave up her career with Macy's to help her husband run the new restaurant. Their devotion to each other was undying and began from the beginning of their courtship in the early 1940's when they met and began "keeping company"-- the term for "going steady" or "going out" in those days. They married in June of 1944 and later had two daughters, Vicki and Grace. While Jo was busy with her executive career including involvement in the famous Macy's Thanksgiving Parades, Walter worked as a manager at the Walgreen's luncheotte in Manhattan, which was located across the street from the Paramount building and frequented by such celebrities as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Sophia Loren, Peggy Lee, and Nat King Cole. However , no matter what theyw ere up to in their careers or who they rubbed elbows with, Walter and Jo made family a priority. That very virtue is what they brought into everything they did--especially when it came to Walter's Coffee Shop.
In 1976, Walter and Jo were ready to give retirement a try and so they headed south to Miami. Not surprisingly, it was only a year before Walter was bored and ready to get back to work and so he decided to bring Walter's Coffee Shop to Miami setting up shop in eat Perrine. At first, the southerners of Miami were skeptical of a New Yorkers ability to make quality grits, but one-by-one, Walter surprised them with homemade delectable traditional southern classics, New York deli favorites, and the occasional Italian dish-- a nod to Walter's Family roots. But walter gave his customers more than just great food, he gave them an exceptional experience in which friendly customer services, hot food, cleanliness--"Mr.White Glove" made sure everything was spotless and in it's place--ruled and he would accept nothing less.
Adding to the experience, Walter coined the now iconic "Where the Elite Meet to Eat" slogan, and he chose those famous words with great care. In walter's eyes, each person was extraordinary and had elite qualities to offer. He was in the business of not just serving up a great dining experiences, but also in the business of bringing people together.
Upon opening it's doors in Miami, Walter's or The Shop, as it is affectionately referred to, quickly became known as more than just a family-friendly dining establishment: many of it's customers frequented the restaurant because it offered something different, something intangible: acceptance, comfort and camaraderie. No matter your gender, race or occupation: at Walter's everyone was family, and Walter loved his community. He was active in the local chamber of commerce and played an instrumental role in the rebulding of Perrine after Hurricane Andrew. Perhaps that's why he earned the nickname, "Mayor of Perrine".
Walk into The Shop today and you'll find the same intimate, yet relaxed atmosphere very much alive in the quaint, yet bustling restaurant. Daughter Grace and her Husband Lenny took over the restaurant in 1994, when Walter and Jo finally retired for good and are every bit just as involved and invested in maintaining the integrity of the renowned elite experience. And although Walter and Jo have now passed, (Jo in 2000 and Walter in 2002) their pictures hang around the shop reminding their family, friends, neighbors, employees, and customers that each one of us has something special and unique to offer. Oh, and you missed a spot.All PR work by: Miss Ink