John Amodeo was one of South Florida’s most recognized restaurateurs. He opened several successful eateries in the past three decades and, including Margarita Cafe and RJ’s Landing, and at one point became a household name in Fort Lauderdale.
Amodeo died on Saturday morning at 63, those closest to him said. The cause of death is still undetermined at this point. He is not survived by a spouse or children.
“John believed in giving back to the community,” said his brother Jason Amodeo. “He was a vital source for the redevelopment of Fort Lauderdale Beach. He was a very optimistic person. He uplifted everyone who was around him. And he will be missed.”
It only took one trip to Fort Lauderdale to convince the New Yorker that he should move. He instantly felt at home in Florida and relocated permanently in 1988.
He arrived just as the city began an effort to rebrand itself after years of being defined by rowdy spring breakers. Before Amodeo moved to Fort Lauderdale, spring break had brought in crowds of more than 350,000 people to the beach, placing a strain on the city and pushing out locals.
Amodeo sought to create spaces that appealed to a wider range of patrons: both locals and tourists, older and younger residents. His restaurants contributed to broadening the city’s appeal and changing its image.
“I like to feel that I was part of the changeover,” Amodeo said in 2014. “I was able to get involved, like molding clay.”
Some of his popular haunts included the Margarita Cafe, RJ’s Landing, The Drunken Taco, The Oasis Cafe and Giovanni’s Coal Fired Pizza. Before it closed, Giovanni’s Coal Fired Pizza in Sunrise was dubbed the official pizza of the Florida Panthers.
The 2010 president of the Florida Panthers hockey team, Michael Yormark, even called it the best pizza in South Florida. The Drunken Taco is still open, right across from the beach in Fort Lauderdale.
“He brought a lot of aggressive thinking to the table,” said Tim Schiavone, part owner of the iconic Parrot Lounge on the beach. “He calculated quickly and was successful. And he was always good to his fellow restaurateurs.”
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The city honored Amodeo in its 2014 Walk of Fame. On a sidewalk across from the ocean he frequented, east of State Road A1A on Las Olas Boulevard, is a gray diamond tile etched with Amodeo’s name.
“City of Fort Lauderdale proudly honors John Amodeo,” it reads, “legendary restaurateur.”
Amodeo was also named Small Business Person of the Year by the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce in 1993.
Beyond the city’s dining scene, Amodeo held an impact on the Fort Lauderdale community at large. He was a familiar face at the beach, one-time chairman of the Beach Redevelopment Board and often present at community events like celebrity cook offs.
“Folks on the Walk of Fame have to do more than own a business,” said Steven Glassman, a Fort Lauderdale city commissioner and former neighbor to Amodeo. “They have to be involved in the community. John was always involved and recognized by his neighbors. He was always very friendly and courteous.”
Stephen Lipton, a close friend and former neighbor of Amodeo’s, met him while living in the Jackson Tower condos in Fort Lauderdale.
“This guy was so loved by everybody,” Lipton said. “He was a kind and generous person. He couldn’t ever do enough for all of us.”