Friday, June 27, 2014

In Search of Jimmy Hoffa

Andiamo Bloomfield
6676 Telegraph Rd.
Bloomfield Hills, MI

I’m standing in the rain-soaked parking lot of Andiamo in Bloomfield, Michigan -- site of one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the 20th Century.

This was the exact spot from which notorious Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa disappeared on a steamy July afternoon 39 years ago.

What happened to the most infamous union boss in American history?

He’s buried under a parking garage in Cadillac…

…Or under a sanitation building in Hamtramck...

…Or under the 50 yard line at Giants Stadium…

…Or under some mafia dude’s mother-in-law’s drive way in Detroit…

…Or he was fed into a wood chipper…

…Or carried off to a landfill in a 55 gallon drum…

Nobody knows.

Or at least nobody who does know is saying.

Despite countless FBI investigations, false confessions, documentaries, movies starring Jack Nicholson and attention seekers spewing conspiracy theories galore, the mystery endures.

So did I come here to this godforsaken suburban hell of the most godforsaken metropolitan area of America to solve this mystery myself?

Or did I come here because it was lunch time and I was hungry?

Maybe a bit of both.

This infamous restaurant is now one those over-priced expense account chain steakhouses with valet parking flanked by a strip mall in the vast suburban morass north of Detroit.

Definitely not the kind of place Suit757 normally seeks out for lunch.

But I just had to check the joint out.

It was lunch time, I was hungry, I had a few hours to kill -- and I was stuck in Detroit.

What else was I going to do?

It’s not like the alternative entertainment options for guys wearing suits on a Thursday afternoon in Detroit are all that compelling.

In fact, Andiamo might just be the only tourist attraction in the entire Detroit metro area.

If so, Andiamo is not doing much to capitalize on it.

Thirty-nine years later, there is no more sign of Jimmy Hoffa at Andiamo than there was the afternoon he disappeared.

It’s almost like the new owners of the building are ashamed of its history.

Then again, that’s easy to understand.

Jimmy Hoffa came here on July 30, 1975 at 2pm to meet three mobbed up Teamster buddies for lunch at what was then the Red Fox Restaurant.

Hoffa was angling to get his old job back after spending eight years in prison for bribing a jury in a corruption trail brought on by Hoffa’s arch nemesis Democrat Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

Of course, the Republicans, sensing an opportunity and always willing to suck up to their union boss enemies, jumped in bed with the Teamsters.

(Some things never change: Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor just headlined a fundraiser on Amelia Island for a union front group created solely to defeat pro-Right to Work Republicans. When GOP primary voters in his district found out about it, they tossed Cantor out of Congress a few weeks later in one of the greatest upsets in American political history.)

GOP President Richard Nixon commuted the rest of Hoffa’s prison sentence in exchange for an agreement that Hoffa would keep his hands off the Teamsters -- and that the Teamsters would endorse Republican candidates for the next decade or so.

Of course, the day Hoffa walked out of prison he immediately began scheming to get his old job back, correctly surmising that Nixon wouldn’t have the balls to challenge him.

But one group that was willing to stand up to Hoffa was the group that controlled the Teamsters -- the Mafia. And they had no interest whatsoever in Hoffa sticking his nose back into their business.

After all, the business of running a union is good…

…a government granted license to extract from the pockets of workers billions of dollars per year in union dues that can be spent on paid-for politicians, tropical resorts, limousine lifestyles and fancy steakhouse lunches at swanky joints like Andiamo.

Life as a union boss is good.

Under federal law, if workers object to how their dues are collected or spent, they have exactly two options:

1) Pay up


2) Get fired.

Billions of dollars. No accountability.

That’s the kind of business mobsters love.

Hoffa’s mob buddies stood him up for 45 minutes while Hoffa waited in the Red Fox parking lot fuming.

At some point Hoffa went inside to use the pay phone and may or may not have had a drink at the bar.

Finally, at 2:45pm, witnesses at the Red Fox saw Hoffa get into a car with several other men.

No one ever saw him again.

As you can imagine, for years the Red Fox enjoyed a certain morbid notoriety.

Eventually, the long-time owner sold the place in 1996 and the building was transformed into one of a chain of ten Detroit area Andiamos.

While the place has certainly modernized over the past four decades, I can definitely see Jimmy Hoffa and his mob buddies gulping martinis and sawing on 25 ounce porterhouse steaks here.

White tablecloths. Dark lighting. White men in tailored navy suits tossing valet boys the keys to the Caddy.

Andiamo is still THAT kind of place.

“No thanks. I’ll just sit at the bar.”

That’s what I told the perky hostess.

Even if it is a work day and I’m drinking nothing stronger than Detroit tap water, I’d rather sit by myself at the bar.

From my bar perch, I scoped the place out.

I’m not sure what I was looking for.

The bar stool where Hoffa regularly drank?

The reception room where current Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa, Jr. held his wedding reception?

The famous phone booth from which Hoffa placed his last call?

Obviously, any and all such artifacts are long gone -- probably decades ago.

Andiamo doesn’t sell t-shirts with Hoffa’s face on it, either.

But I couldn’t help looking and wondering.

That’s the nature of a great mystery.

All of us can play a bit of Sherlock Holmes since no one else has figured it out yet.

I couldn’t help but ask the bar tender, Karen, about the mystery.

She said she’s worked there for years. She has lots of old timer regulars who date back to Hoffa’s days -- some who drank with him at this very bar back in the Red Fox days.

And a few who even claim to have been here that fateful day 39 years ago.

“Some say he had a drink at the bar. Others say he sat at a table by the fireplace. A few swear he never came in except to use the pay phone,” she said.

Then she took a quick glance around, hunched a little closer and said in a semi-hushed Michigan accent, “A lot of them think Hoffa’s son-in-law did it.”


Another twist to add to the mystery.

Of course I wasn’t really here to solve some unsolvable mystery.

I was at Andiamo because I needed to eat the only meal I was going to get that day.

I wasn’t about to pay $25 for a lunch-sized steak, so I stuck to the Italian portion of the lunch menu.

First came a clam stew with loads of onions, celery, peppers and spice. Delicious, but a bit sparse on the clams.

The Italian bread with oil and garlic was top notch as you’d expect.

My lasagna was a tall pile of very thin pasta layered with melted cheese. The only meat was provided by the Bolognese sauce ladled on top.

Maybe I’m a little biased toward my mother’s homemade lasagna but I like thick noodles with lots of meat and cheese embedded in my lasagna.

I suppose that is unsophisticated to the suit-wearing Italians at Andiamo, but my mom will be happy to hear I still like her version best.

Of course I couldn’t pass up a side link of Andiamo’s homemade Italian sausage.

Thick with lots of fennel and seasoning, it was well worth the $3 surcharge.

Remember, one can never have too much meat.

My meal was pretty tasty. But I had to admit that wasn’t really the reason I came here today.

I don’t make a habit of hanging out in expensive suburban valet parking Italian chain restaurants.

I was here to immerse myself in an historical mystery -- and to wonder what Jimmy Hoffa would think of his old hang out if he were still here to see it.

While Hoffa would probably fit right in with the two martini lunch crowd, I’m pretty sure his big mobster head would explode if anyone told him his home state just became America’s latest Right to Work state a little over a year ago.

In a case of “when all else fails, do the right thing”, after decades of losing jobs to Right to Work states, Michigan politicians finally stripped the state’s union bosses of their government guaranteed power to force Michigan workers to pay union dues.

The half billion dollars per year union bosses like Jimmy Hoffa, Jr. had been collecting from Michigan workers by force is no longer guaranteed by state law.

Jimmy Sr.’s little boy -- and all of Michigan’s other union bosses -- now have to collect dues from workers voluntarily.

What a concept.

No wonder Jimmy Jr. declared “Civil War” the day the Governor signed the Right to Work bill.

But the days of acting like a mobbed up thug are over for the Hoffa family now that they finally have to be accountable to the workers they’ve always claimed to represent.

Jimmy Hoffa, Sr. may not be around to witness this shocking change in the home base of compulsory unionism.

But you can be sure of one thing.

Jimmy Hoffa is rolling his grave.

Where ever that is.

Rating: I Would Have Bought a Jimmy Hoffa Commemorative Shirt – But, Alas, Andiamo Doesn’t Sell Those

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  1. Educational and entertaining. Awesome review.

    An additional twist to the Hoffa story, supposedly he is at the bottom of the AuSable River in Northeastern Michigan, not far from my hometown.

    Of course, that could just be a local creation to attract out-of-town tourists, such as yourself, but it does add another level of mystery to the whole thing.

  2. One glaring problem with your account, probably owing to your inexplicable bias against unions (inexplicable mostly because of your obvious lack of understanding of organized labor or the laws that pertain to it) is that you leave out several options that union members have if they object to how their union dues are collected or spent. In addition to the various state and federal laws that provide avenues of recourse for whistle blowers; a dissatisfied union member has the option to vote for or against the people who make such decisions, on the local, district, and international levels. They have the option to run for office themselves, again at all of those levels, to effect and/or implement policy as they see fit. Lastly, they have the option to decline a union job, and opt for a non-union job, which happen to be more numerous and are generally easier to get. After all, why would you take a union job, if you don’t want to be in a union?

    Contrary to what you oddly refer to as “doing the right thing,” right-to-work laws are actually one of the maneuvers that truly do remove options for union members regarding how their dues are spent. In a RTW state, your union dues WILL be spent on resources for other represented employees who choose to freeload on the union, and accept representation without paying dues. I’m not sure what part of that you consider “doing the right thing,” (perhaps it’s the other part; wherein RTW states have slightly lower unemployment rates and exponentially lower average wages...?) but I can assure you that neither you, nor any other worker in America, now or in the future, will be forced to join a union or pay union dues.

    A little research would have told you that. An even smaller amount of research would have also shown you that, contrary to your assertion, Detroit has countless popular and vibrant tourist destinations to suit a variety of interests and age groups (its somewhat deserved reputation for decay notwithstanding.) An average chain steakhouse on Telegraph road really wouldn’t even make the top 20, even with the Hoffa connection.

    Good job, though. Seriously. You should be a writer.