News: Joey’s Gets Jacked (and Miami Media Goes Kinda Nuts)

By now everyone in the world well knows that Wynwood’s beloved Joey’s Italian got jacked last Monday night. That three masked men, armed with six handguns between them, burst through the doors and forced 19 diners and most of six staff members to the floor before robbing the register and swiping a cell phone. Why the bandits (who reportedly weren’t much more than teens) thought it necessary to pull two pistols each in a such a sophisticated place is anybody’s guess. But that’s what they did. Oddly enough, the staff says some of the thugs were rather polite about it too, at least at first (they even said please). Still, no amount of manners can possibly mitigate what went down, let alone how it must have felt for those on the other end of a half dozen gun barrels. This was without question a depraved and vicious act. We can only thank Zeus (and every other deity that ever existed) that no one was harmed.

What also can’t be mitigated will be the effect the robbery may have on both Joey’s and Wynwood as a whole, especially since the local newscasts saw fit to play up the terror angle. The thing about it is though, had the story been downplayed a little, or at least told with an even keel, some mitigation might have been possible. Yes, it was a harrowing event, and focusing on the fear factor does make for great story. Unfortunately it also scares people. And there’s no reason to be afraid of Wynwood.

How did all this hoopla happen? Well, aside from the fact that the rash act was caught on camera, Joey’s is hotspot, and hotspots make news. It’s also just the kind of spot frequented by many of Miami’s most visible movers and shakers, among them, Univision’s Rodner Figueroa, who was in for dinner when the robbery occurred. Figueroa is apparently something of a Spanish Television phenomenon; he’s also rather crafty (managing to film the surveillance tape before even the police had seen it). Once Rodner Tweeted his first-hand account to his station’s 321,000+ Followers, a media avalanche ensued.

For all Figueroa’s canny breathlessness though, he must not have been too traumatized, because the very next day he was on his El Gordo y La Flaca tinkling his tale with wisecracks. Even odder was the sight of a masked midget bursting on to the set and mock-robbing the hosts before the show broke for commercial.

I’m glad Rodner can laugh about it now. Just I’m glad Joey’s staff found the fortitude to joke a bit about it the next day. Head chef and co-owner Ivo Mazzon smiled as he recalled asking one of the gunmen to calm down while opening the register bartender Guiseppe Serasha said could only be opened with a purchase (as if). And server Eddie Zinkand couldn’t help laughing about the fact that the bandits got away with a whopping $45 and a cell phone. Nevertheless, this was no laughing matter. Hell, even the thought of what could’ve happened had any one of those six guns gone off will wipe away any chance of a smile.

And that’s just what the newsies played up. WSVN cast their “terrifying” take as “Crime on Camera,” and sent Kevin Ozebek to the scene. CBS4’s Antonio Mora prefaced Tiffany Helberg’s chilling report by saying “this kind of crime is becoming a big problem in that area.” Helberg did cite Miami Police Department stats which state Wynwood’s seen a 13% rise in crime this year, yet she also stopped across the street at Play-In, where “thieves have also hit, stealing generators,” and where owner Nina Ginatta was (rightfully) concerned. Helberg could just as well have gone up the block to Lester’s or down the street to Panther Coffee and found folks who’d not been burgled or robbed.

Local 10 called it “Terror on Tape” and told of “three armed men terrorizing customers,” but veteran reporter John Turchin was, as always, impeccably balanced. Not only did his near Noir report lead by calling Joey’s “one of the top Italian restaurants in town” and have him holding up a slice of “excellent” pizza, it ended by pointing out that “folks in the area say this was an isolated incident.”

Now I’m not saying this wasn’t indeed news. Any time anyone gets held up at gunpoint anywhere is news, and it should be covered as such. But in this case a little less breathless reporting might’ve made all the difference in the world — and perhaps to the world too. Wynwood still a neighborhood in transition; it’s also the core of Miami’s art scene. That means it serves as a beacon for artists from around the globe, not just during Art Basel (which brings in as estimated 100,000+), but year round. And whether it’s the younger set seeking to make their mark or the more established seeing this as a place to set up a studio and/or show their work, the arts is a large part of Miami’s main attraction. Let’s hope three masked men and the media who made them infamous don’t detract from that attraction.

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