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 notorious teamster boss, Jimmy Hoffa, disappeared one 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 driveway in Detroit…
…or he was fed into a wood chipper…
…or carried to a landfill in a 55 gallon drum…
Or, at least nobody who knows is saying.
Despite countless FBI investigations, false confessions, documentaries, movies starring Jack Nicholson, and attention-seekers spewing conspiracy theories galore, the mystery remains.
So did I come to this godforsaken suburbia hell in the most godforsaken metropolitan area in America to solve this mystery myself?
Or did I come here because it was lunchtime and I was hungry?
Maybe a bit of both.
This infamous restaurant has since become one of those overpriced chain steakhouses with valet parking, flanked by a strip mall in the vast suburbia north of Detroit.
Definitely not the kind of place I normally seek out for lunch.
But it was lunchtime, I was hungry, I had a few hours to kill — and I was stuck in Detroit.
What else was I going to do?
In fact, Andiamo might 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 on the afternoon he disappeared.
It’s almost like the new owners are ashamed of its history.
Then again, that’s easy to understand.
Jimmy Hoffa came here at 2pm on July 30, 1975 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, i.e. 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 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 wasn’t scared to stand up to Hoffa. It was the group that controlled the teamsters — the mafia.
And they had no interest whatsoever in Hoffa sticking his nose back into their business.
Afterall, the business of running a union is a government-granted license to extract – by force – billions of dollars a year in union dues that can be spent on buying politicians, tropical resorts, and fancy steakhouse lunches at 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.
On that fateful day, Hoffa was waiting for his mob buddies in the Red Fox parking at 2:00pm.
At some point, Hoffa went inside to use the pay phone and possibly had a drink at the bar.
Finally, at 2:45pm, witnesses saw Hoffa get into a car with several other men.
And no one ever saw him again.
As you can imagine, for years the Red Fox enjoyed a certain morbid notoriety.
Eventually, the longtime owner sold the place in 1996 and it became one of ten Andiamo’s in the Detroit area.
While the place has certainly modernized over the past four decades, I can definitely see Jimmy Hoffa and his mob buddies gulping martinis and hacking through 25oz porterhouse steaks here.
White tablecloths. Dark lighting. White men in tailored suits tossing valet boys the keys to their Caddy.
Andiamo is still THAT kind of place.
From my bar perch, I scoped the place out.
I’m not sure what I was looking for.
The barstool where Hoffa regularly drank?
The room where Jimmy Hoffa Jr. held his wedding reception?
The famous phonebooth from which Hoffa placed his last call?
Obviously, all such artifacts are long gone.
Andiamo doesn’t sell shirts with Hoffa’s face on it, either.
But I couldn’t help but ask the bartender, 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.
And a few who 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 payphone.”
Then she took a quick glance around, hunched a little closer and said quietly, “A lot of them think Hoffa’s son-in-law did it.”
Another twist to the mystery.
Of course, I wasn’t really here to solve an unsolvable mystery.
I was at Andiamo’s 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 spices. 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 layered with thin lasagna noodles and melted cheese with Bolognese sauce ladled on top.
Maybe I’m a little biased towards my mother’s homemade lasagna, but I like thick noodles with lots of meat and cheese.
Of course I couldn’t pass up a side 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.
All in all, my meal was pretty tasty. But I have to admit, I don’t make a habit of hanging out in expensive suburban Italian chain restaurants.
However, I was here to immerse myself in a historical mystery — and to wonder what Jimmy Hoffa would think of his old hangout if he were still here to see it.
While Hoffa would probably fit right in with the martini lunch crowd, I’m pretty sure his big mobster head would explode if anyone told him that his home state just became America’s latest Right to Work state a little over a year ago.
After decades of losing jobs to Right to Work states, Michigan politicians finally stripped the state’s union bosses of their power to force Michigan workers to pay union dues.
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.
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.
Wherever that is.
Rating: I Would Have Bought a Jimmy Hoffa Commemorative Shirt – But, Alas, Andiamo Doesn’t Sell Those