Around 1984, during my final year in high school, I was working at an Italian restaurant called Piero’s on the charming island enclave of Bay Harbor in Miami Beach. The establishment was owned by the charismatic and handsome Sicilian, Piero Filpi who had been running another restaurant only a year before called Tiberio at the renowned Bal Harbour Shops. However, Piero and the owner of Tiberio, Giulio Santillo, found themselves at odds. It appeared that Santillo failed to recognize and appreciate Piero’s remarkable talent, denying him the opportunity to become a partner in the restaurant, a position that Piero had longed for. Considering the immense contribution Piero had made in transforming Tiberio into a beloved dining destination, this disregard was disheartening. Determined to forge his own path, Piero took the next best course of action and decided to open his own restaurant just a short distance away. With him, he brought a devoted following of customers, the very same patrons he had diligently cultivated during his tenure at Tiberio. This sudden mass exodus caught Santillo off guard, and he soon realized the gravity of the business decision he had made, leading to subsequent regret.
On Piero’s inaugural night, we hosted a private event for a prominent Tiberio regular, who happened to be a high-ranking mobster. It was a grand affair, likely a wedding reception for his daughter. The room was filled with a multitude of stocky Italians, their necks seemingly nonexistent, and their voices rough and gravelly. It was an intimidating sight, to say the least. However, despite their intimidating presence, the atmosphere was one of celebration and revelry. These gentlemen knew how to have a good time, and they were astonishingly generous. By the end of the night, my pockets were filled with generous tips, mostly in the form of twenty-dollar bills.
At one point during the evening, a group of these tough-looking fellows, with their snifters of Cognac in hand, approached the pianist who had been providing musical entertainment throughout the night. They began making song requests, their boisterous voices echoing through the room. I had never seen a musician so visibly nervous, for these men were notorious for carrying concealed pistols. When one of the guests requested a song unfamiliar to the pianist, frustration arose, and the gentleman placed his pistol on the piano as a not-so-subtle reminder. Miraculously, the pianist’s memory improved instantaneously, and he stumbled his way through the requested song while the inebriated mobsters sang along with gusto. Once the song concluded, the pianist excused himself, likely seeking solace and perhaps even relieving himself, as the situation had undoubtedly left him shaken. I kid you not, it was an incredibly nerve-wracking experience for all of us present.
Despite the initial tension and heart-pounding moments, that event propelled Piero’s into the upper echelons of Miami’s dining scene. From that night onward, our restaurant became the talk of the town, drawing a remarkable clientele that could rival even the esteemed clientele of The Forge, where I would later work. Piero’s was consistently packed, boasting a coveted guest list that few establishments could match.
After working in the dining room for several months, I asked Piero if I could run the valet parking concession, as I wanted to earn more money, as I would soon be leaving for college in Boston. He resisted my entreaties for a while as he wanted me in the dining room, as he felt I was of better use to him there. But after a while, he relented, which excited me to no end as I would now be driving some of my favorite cars—Maseratis, Ferraris, Rolls-Royces, and Lamborghinis.
One evening, one of our regular customers pulled up in his Silver Shadow Rolls-Royce with a familiar face on the passenger side. It was the Yankee Clipper himself, Joe DiMaggio. I was thrilled as anyone could be, as I had an extensive baseball card collection, attended many games when I wasn’t working, and had always wanted to meet this sports legend, even if he was from a way back era. When he got out of the car, he shook my hand, gave me a $50 note, and said, “Please leave the car parked out front if you don’t mind, young man.” I said, ”Sure thing, Mr. DiMaggio.” And he said, “Call me Joe.”
DiMaggio was a legend. Considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time, he took his New York Yankees team to the World Series ten times, leading them to nine championships. But his most famous achievement is his record-breaking 56-game hitting streak in 1941 that one writer would describe as the “most extraordinary thing that ever happened in American sports.” He was perhaps at the time the game’s most perfect player, having achieved a lifetime batting average of .325 and slugging 361 home runs in his career. In 1954, he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. And just when it couldn’t get any better for Joe, he married the sexiest woman of all time, Marilyn Monroe, that same year. But it would be a short-lived marriage ending nine months later. Still, they remained friends—some say on and off lovers—until her untimely death in 1962.
As Joe was inside dining, I took the Rolls for a spin around the Island. I would do that from time to time as I figured that if I was going to drive these cars around the block to park them in the back lot, I might as well drive them for a few more blocks to get the feel of driving in a luxurious car. Anyhow, when I returned to the restaurant, I felt the car sputtering as if the battery was dying. And that’s just what happened. I got out of the car, pushed it into the front slot where it had been parked, and tried to see if I could get it started again. But it was dead. In a panic, I tried to find some jumper cables to restart the Rolls, using another vehicle I had parked in the front, but I couldn’t find where the fucking battery was placed. I was in a cold sweat.
I ran to the Police Station as I knew a few of the guys there. I asked the Captain for help and told him that Joe DiMaggio was dining at the restaurant and his car battery had died. Incredulously he said, “Joe DiMaggio is at Piero’s?” I said, “Yeah.” So he jumped from behind his desk with two other officers and we ran to get Joe’s car working while another officer drove around the block to help jump it. When we got to the car, we looked for the mystery battery, so that the police officer could jump it with his squad car. Like me, they were stumped too. After some time scratching our heads, one officer said, I think the battery may be in the trunk where none of us had imagined it to be. Sure enough, there it was, tucked under a hidden compartment. At that point, I was nervous that DiMaggio would come out soon. So I went inside, approached his table, and told him what had happened. I just whispered in his ear so his guests wouldn’t get nervous. Then Joe handed me another $50 and said, “Do you think can you get the car ready before we head out?” I said, “Absolutely.”
From there, I ran outside to see how the officers were doing and as I approached them, the car had miraculously restarted. I released a big sigh of relief, thanked the officers profusely, and left the car running for fear it would stall on me again. When Joe finally came out, he looked at me, wondering if everything was in order. I winked at him approvingly, and he got in the car and rode off with none of his guests, suspecting that anything unusual had occurred moments earlier.
Former restauranteur, musician, concert promoter, producer, publisher, manager, and impresario, Charles Carlini has synthesized these roles to become a dynamic force in the music industry–noted for his ability to bring diverse talent together to create innovative concerts and recordings that reach and move music-lovers everywhere.