Rodriguez, who’s been the floor manager for 12 years and the general manager for one, didn’t know anything about the restaurant before he started working there in 1999. After moving from the Dominican Republic when he was 18, he found himself passing by Roll-N-Roaster while out with his family. Noticing the "help wanted" sign in the window, he came by the next week and Lamonica just happened to be outside. He came back the next day, and 17 years later he’s still there.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, Roll-N-Roaster isn’t the kind of place you up and leave. Or even the place you eat at once and never return.
Rodriguez has an allegiance to this place and his employees. Seeing the restaurant through Hurricane Sandy was the proudest moment of his career. With the rest of the staff, they cleaned up and opened in three days because the community needed them. People in the neighborhood had no clean bathrooms, no working kitchens, no power, he says. They needed a place to go, and that place was Roll-N-Roaster. Rodriguez adds that he and Lamonica are always talking about how to improve. “How can we do things better? How can we take care of our crew?”
One thing remains true always: “If you come over here, you’re gonna love it,” he says. “You’re gonna keep coming back and keep coming back.”
Both Rodriguez and Shapiro hark back to this idea that it’s all about nostalgia, about always knowing you can come home and feel at home. “It’s like when you have the food from your mother, you move away from your house and then you come back home for Thanksgiving,” Rodriguez says. “It brings memories for people.”
One strong memory of my own is from years ago, when I brought my ex-boyfriend to try Roll-N-Roaster for the first time -- I think I was more nervous than the day he met my family. And another: three years ago, Victoria and I had just finished a meal and The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” came on over the speakers. After the song finished it started over again. And then again, and then again. The song played on repeat for 45 minutes. It felt like we were in the Twilight Zone, but for some reason we just laughed and stayed put. That’s the thing about Roll-N-Roaster: you could hear the same song for 45 minutes straight and still not want to get up and leave. Honestly, I’d probably sit through an hour of Nickelback and not care, so long as I had my comfy seat and roast beef sandwich.
The point is: Roll-N-Roaster means a lot to a lot of people. If you don’t have any memories there, you should go make some. It’s a sliver of New York that remains unchanged in the face of rainbow bagels and Cronuts® and Ramen Burgers. And that roast beef is damn delicious.
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