Thousands of people stopped by Sheepshead Bay’s Roll N Roaster on July 18 for a socially-distant celebration of the beloved roast beef joint’s 50th anniversary.
“It went really nice, the public was great,” said Eric Rodriguez, general manager the southern Brooklyn eatery famous for putting “cheez on anything you pleez.” “Everybody kept their distance and respected everybody’s space.”
To prevent overcrowding, Roll N Roaster hosted a walk-through style anniversary party where patrons could pass through serving stations for complimentary ice cream, t-shirts, masks and a bit of bubbly before continuing down Emmons Avenue or heading back to their vehicles.
“We had custom-made masks celebrating the 50th anniversary, 50th-anniversary t-shirts,” Rodriguez said. “People were just getting their stuff and then they left. They were happy and it was just how we wanted it.”
Brooklyn native Buddy Lamonica first opened the family-operated fast food restaurant on Emmons Avenue in July, 1970. Roll N Roaster quickly became a southern Brooklyn staple, known best for its thin-sliced roast beef smothered in cheese sauce sandwiched between two pieces of gravy-soaked bread.
Over the course of the day, employees served over 3,000 patrons at the reimagined celebration — and while Rodriguez said it was a long day, he added that it was nothing his team couldn’t handle as the eatery typically averages about 10,000 customers a week.
“It was nice and steady through the whole day and night,” he told Brooklyn Paper. “To see that many people turn up, it was really special.”
And Roll N Roaster’s steady flow of customers hasn’t tapered off during the pandemic, which Rodriguez credited to his staff’s quick transition towards safely operating the restaurant in the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis.
“It takes a lot of work and thinking to adjust to what is going on,” Rodriguez said. “One of the reasons we are doing so well, I think, is because we started doing all of these adjustments before the governor ordered the shutdown.”
In early March, Rodriguez said he installed custom-made stickers to direct patrons inside the store, instituted a slew of additional safety precautions in the kitchen, trimmed hours to discourage customers from staying out late and began offering delivery for the first time in the restaurant’s history.
“One thing you got to do is just watch the news and see what is going on in the world,” Rodriguez said. “I wanted to make sure to keep everybody here safe.”
But, what has kept diners coming back for half a century is the quality of Roll N Roaster’s simple, yet mouthwatering menu and the sentimentality of eating in the same restaurant as one might have decades ago — something that is hard to come by these days, Rodriguez said.
“There is a lot of nostalgia. People who moved from Brooklyn to other places, when they come back, this is their first stop after the airport,” Rodriguez said. “They come over here.”