Harris O. Machus, owner of the Red Fox restaurant, Jimmy Hoffa’s vanishing point.

Written by Michael Yockel on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.



James Riddle Hoffa scheduled
a lunch meeting for the afternoon of July 30, 1975, to take place at Machus
Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield Township, a tony northwest Detroit suburb.
At 62 years old, the ex-Teamsters president had spent almost five years of his
13-year sentence behind bars at the federal penitentiary in Lewisburg, PA–convicted
in 1964 of jury tampering, conspiracy and pension fund fraud, he finally entered
the big house in 1967–when he and his attorneys cut a deal with the U.S.
government in 1971: President Richard Nixon would commute Hoffa’s sentence,
provided Hoffa agreed to resign as Teamsters boss and refrain from participation
in union activities until 1980.


But with Teamsters elections
scheduled for 1976, Hoffa had begun angling to reclaim his old job from former
lieutenant Frank Fitzsimmons, filing suit with the feds to lift the ban against
his taking an active role with the union. Even if that gambit fizzled–and
its success looked grim–Hoffa figured that President Gerald Ford was unlikely
to push the panic button and toss him back in the pokey if he broke his pledge:
the first presidential primary only slightly more than six months away, and
Ford probably wouldn’t want to risk alienating Hoffa’s loyal minions among the
Teamsters rank and file. Meanwhile, Hoffa-versus-Fitzsimmons factional violence
had recently roiled the union’s Detroit local: its president’s boat had been
blown up, its vice president’s car had been dynamited and an organizer had been
beaten.


Dressed in blue pants
and a blue pullover shirt, Hoffa left his two-story, cottage-style summer home
on Big Square Lake, 40 miles north of Detroit, at 1:15 p.m. on July 30, telling
his wife he’d be back by 4. He’d be lunching, he added, with his chum Anthony
“Tony Jack” Giacalone, a Detroit mafioso, plus some other men. Then he fired
up his huge, green, two-door 1974 Pontiac for the 19-mile drive to the Red Fox.


With its master-of-the-hounds
decor and white tablecloths, the 270-seat Machus Red Fox catered to a moneyed
clientele, serving grandiloquent surf-and-turf dishes–baked Boston scrod,
rack of lamb a la Leopold, veal scaloppine a la Française–in an
era just before the U.S. was slammed by successive tsunamis of ethnic cuisines:
Szechwan, Thai, sushi, Tex-Mex, Vietnamese, Mongolian BBQ. Located next door
to a shopping center on bustling Telegraph Rd., the Red Fox, open since December
1965, functioned as the mothership in the expanding empire of 67-year-old restaurateur/baker
Harris O. Machus. Adjacent to the Red Fox was a Machus-owned pastry shop.
Elsewhere in the Detroit metro area he owned: 160 by Machus, Machus Adams Square,
Mr. Mac’s Stable, the Paddock, Machus Sly Fox and two bakeries.


Hoffa was no stranger
to the Red Fox, and enjoyed its food and atmosphere so much that the restaurant
hosted the wedding reception of his son, James Hoffa Jr., at the time a Teamsters
lawyer. But according to the Red Fox’s manager, the elder Hoffa never entered
the restaurant on July 30. Apparently, he parked his car at the north end of
the Red Fox lot, where he waited for his lunchmates. When they failed to post,
Hoffa phoned his wife at 2:30, asking if Tony Jack had called; no, she told
him. Not long afterward he phoned his close crony Louis Linteau, owner of an
airport limousine service: “Where the hell’s Giacalone?” he barked. “He stood
me up.”


The last time anyone
saw Jimmy Hoffa–anyone who’ll admit it, anyway–he was still waiting
in the Red Fox parking lot at 2:45 p.m. Shortly thereafter he evaporated into
the ether, engendering mega-font headlines and thousands of crass jokes concerning
his disappearance and ultimate whereabouts.


Immediately, Harris
Machus (rhymes with Backus) fretted about possible adverse publicity. “He was
just horrified,” remembers Robert J. Machus, Harris’ son and current president
of Machus Enterprises, speaking over the phone from Naples, FL. “And he was
very, very worried that it was going to be bad for business. Because he thought
that people would think, ‘Oh my God! What kind of place do we have here where
people like Jimmy Hoffa and dadadadada would be hanging out?’ It wasn’t his
idea of a desirable kind of association.”


Not surprisingly, however,
the Red Fox, already extremely popular, flourished even more, its newfound cachet
as Hoffa’s vanishing point attracting countless curiosity seekers. “People would
come in from out of town from time to time,” Bob Machus recalls, “and say [affects
raspy voice], ‘Oh, so this is the place where Jimmy Hoffa disappeared.'”


Born in Saulte Ste.
Marie, on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, on July 10, 1908, Harris Machus moved
with his parents to East Lansing when he was still a baby. He grew up there–his
father Hans, a German immigrant, owned a bakery–then went on to graduate
from Michigan State University in 1932, earning a bachelor’s degree in economics.
After college he worked for Standard Brands, a grocery supplier, gradually ascending
through the company’s ranks. But not long before the U.S. entered World War
II, Machus, an ROTC officer, was summoned by the Army; at the same time he moved
with his wife Elaine, also a 1932 MSU grad, to Birmingham–a leafy northwest
Detroit suburb where in 1933 Hans had relocated his bakery, renowned for its
Black Forest torte–to take over the family business upon his father’s death.


As a tank commander
with the rank of captain, Machus saw action in North Africa. In 1943 the Axis
forces defeated his company–his tank was hit and disabled–during one
of several encounters that, taken together, constituted the Battle of Kasserine
Pass. Wounded, his tank in flames, Machus nonetheless managed to drag himself
and a member of his injured crew to safety, only to be promptly captured. Sent
to a prisoner-of-war camp hospital in Italy, Machus, upon his recovery, was
transferred to an actual POW camp. While being moved via train to yet a different
facility, he broke through the bars in the window of his boxcar and leaped from
the train under cover of darkness as it chugged through the Italian Alps.


Given sanctuary by mountain
villagers, Machus survived for several months before a German patrol discovered
him, took him into custody and shipped him to POW camps in Germany, then Poland,
where he kept in shape with a daily regimen of walking the fence’s perimeter.
As the Red Army approached the camp in Poland, the Germans hustled out the inmates,
but a resourceful Machus escaped amid a hail of bullets, finding refuge in a
barn’s haystack. He eventually wended his way to Russian lines, only to experience
his most severe wartime deprivations.


”He came back not happy
with the Russians,” Bob Machus explains. “He often said that he came closer
to getting killed by the Russians [than the Germans].”


Along with other Allied
POWs, Machus marched with the Red Army almost 250 miles to Russian hq near Warsaw,
was sent to the port of Odessa on the Black Sea and, finally, boarded a British
ship bound for Istanbul.


Awarded a Purple Heart
and Silver Star for heroism, Machus returned from the war to burgeoning Birmingham,
where he rejoined his wife and dove into the bakery business. In 1952 he opened
his first eatery, Machus West Maple Restaurant and Pastry Shop, a 22-seat stool-and-counter
affair, then five years later expanded it into an all-pink, 90-seat–later
155–dining room called 160 by Machus, offering salads, sandwiches and pastries
to Birmingham’s ladies who lunch. (It also boasted a green lunch-counter “stag
table,” although Machus often kidded that “the ladies took it over” within a
week.)


Next came Machus Adams
Square, a cafeteria with a bakeshop on Birmingham’s east side, in 1965; then
Machus Red Fox and its pastry shop; Mr. Mac’s Stable, a dining room/lounge,
and the Paddock, a self-serve cafeteria, in Dearborn, followed in 1973; Machus
Sly Fox, less formal than the Red Fox, in Birmingham in 1973; and two dining-and-bar
operations aimed at a hipper crowd–Foxys by Machus, in Rochester, and Foxys
of Troy–in 1979 and 1981, respectively. At its apogee in the mid-80s, Machus
Enterprises ruled eight restaurants and three bakeshops, raking in more than
$10 million in gross sales annually.


It was the Red Fox,
however, that established Machus’ rep as a distinguished restaurateur.


”He was definitely an
influence on all the great restaurants in this area,” Victoria Connolly, a former
chef in Machus’ chain and now proprietress of Victoria’s Delights, told a Pontiac
newspaper last month. “He was a pioneer in fine dining. It [the Red Fox] was
a destination place, the place to go, the place to be and be seen.”


After serving as president
of the DC-based National Restaurant Association, the industry’s principal trade
group, from May 1984 to May 1985, Machus started to wind down his business activities,
retiring in 1987 and handing over operations to his son. By then the dining
scene in Birmingham–and elsewhere–had begun to drift away from the
clubbiness of the Red Fox; and despite Machus’ 1985 admonition to a restaurant
trade magazine that “If you stay still, you move backward–you’ve got to
keep moving,” the Red Fox, with its slowly fading-from-memory Jimmy Hoffa connection,
gradually fell from favor.


”The restaurant really
didn’t shift with the times,” admits Bob Machus. “It remained a fine-dining,
tableside service, continental, formal, and very expensive restaurant.”


When the property management
company that owns the real estate under the Red Fox declined to renew the restaurant’s
lease, it folded in February 1996, replaced by an outpost of a prosperous Italian
chain, whose owner, referring to the spot’s Hoffa legacy, superciliously confided
to Crain’s Detroit Business, “We decided not to take advantage of that.
We think it would be in bad taste.”


Harris Machus outlasted
the Red Fox by nearly five years, spending his last decade shuttling between
his Birmingham home and a condo in North Palm Beach, FL, and finally expiring
from cancer on Jan. 16, age 92, in an assisted living facility in Naples, FL.
He also outlasted the Red Fox’s most notorious patron. On Dec. 8, 1982, a Michigan
probate judge declared James R. Hoffa “officially dead” as of July 30, 1982,
seven years to the day of his disappearance. As to his ultimate fate, no one
has yet come forward to elucidate. A July 1982 article in The Washington
Post
related that the prevailing theory goes something like this: After
his kidnapping by persons unknown–the mob, rival elements of the Teamsters,
whomever–Hoffa was murdered, then “compacted, shredded, and incinerated
at a garbage disposal company in Hamtramck, just outside Detroit.”


 

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