"Can we push tomorrow to 12? I'm exhausted"
Rob texts me at 11pm on a Sunday night after a long weekend at his Seacliff Restaurant, Maldon & Mignonette. I have known Rob forever - we grew up together in Kings Park, were classmates and reconnected after he opened his restaurant. There was a blip in the timeline when he hung out with a crew that liked to throw food at me at lunch. We can laugh about that now (and about the fact that once Steve ran into him and his pals when we were going for a walk and threatened them). The restaurant was picking up with weekday special events, Santa Brunches and more when 2020 hit. Rob had to close his restaurant's doors, the fine dining seasonal menu wasn't made for take-out. The challenges have been real, now with business picking back up, good staff has been hard to find as he tries to pick up that momentum he was once riding. We talk about this while taking his 5 month old Aussiedoodle, Zeppole Blu for a walk around his neighborhood.
"Am I going to make it through this?"
The restaurant is known for having a menu full of elevated techniques, fresh ingredients, and of course the bacon and house made peanut butter which is always on his menu. His journey has been illustrated in many different interviews and features, "It's been a while since we've been in the paper," he remarks - I respond with a joke about this little blog ("well welcome to the 'Lower Level' then" - "ok, Luanne") and we have a good laugh. "Honestly you're never too big for anything," he thoughtfully lays out while we reminisce about the past year. While we think that takeout 'saved' the restaurant industry, smaller places saw an even bigger overhead dealing with third party delivery services, packaging, and manpower - firing up his kitchen didn't make sense and he remained closed for months. Even now food deliveries can be delayed, making early prep for service almost impossible when you're a one man operation for the time being. Maldon & Mignonette opened back up Summer of 2020 with a lobster roll that didn't quit. It brought people back in on the weekends and upped local takeout for weekday lunches.
When I think about Rob I have memories of him related to creativity. He always knew how to draw, and pursued Graphic Design after high school but when he was hit with an unknown illness later to be diagnosed as Chrons the trajectory of his life changed. "I know that the pandemic gave a lot of people new perspective about what's really important, but I've been through that before," he says looking back on the last year "I was always called a germaphobe because of how clean I had to be in order to not get sick, I've always held my restaurant to those standards." His hashtag during shutdown was #toosmallforitall while he posted uplifting lip-syncing videos to remain positive, "sometimes, that's all you can do." If you follow Rob on instagram you can sometimes see his videos blasting music while he gets ready for dinner service. He is a serious and talented chef, but he also knows how to have fun.
Rob Is no Stranger to the hustle
His career took many turns before he landed on his feet with Maldon and Mignonette. The restaurant has a relaxed atmosphere and an upscale menu. His personality can be felt with the 90s R&B music playing, the ode to his inspirations on the wall, and the teal booth seating. You aren't going to leave without hearing at least one Mariah song, or at least a throwback that makes you smile. When you enjoy these meals you know they are "Seasoned with Authority" and everything comes out with a side of heart and soul from the owner and head chef. Since the pandemic the restaurant has been short staffed, meaning Rob is working more than ever, his one day off a week is important to him. Zeppole Blu, his Aussiedoodle came into his life this past February and is more than just a pal. Almost acting like a therapy dog Zepp has brought a gentleness to the go go go that Rob is used to. It was easy to feel the weight of carrying a small business, and an auto-immune disease through 2020 - but his mindset always switches to a positive one in hopes that he can truly just get back to business.
Basically living at his restaurant, his social life is faced with challenges. He is closed for business on Mondays, but so are many other eateries. We pass a place in Northport that he is interested in trying and once they explain that they're closed Mondays he laughs and says "So I'm never eating there!" We spend time at the pet store buying treats for Zeppole - the little guy was a trooper. Like many of us Rob is focusing on getting back to himself as well as getting back into the swing of things - he loves his family and you will probably meet his parents who are at M&M helping him out a lot. His Mother just retired, his Sister just had a baby and Rob really does enjoy celebrating those he cares about. Some of his past servers would brag about their boss buying them a cake and making a special dinner on their birthday week - Rob is a man with a lot of heart. That heart did break not just because of restaurant struggles last year, but he lost his beloved Grandmother (they couldn't say goodbye in person) and her memory is honored with the seasonal apple bundt cake dessert on his menu. "It was so messed up, it wasn't right" he flatly says while we walk and talk about this. Rob knows his true priorities because of everything he has been through and really strives to design his life accordingly - getting back to all of that after last year is a slow climb that most of us can relate to.
When we make the time to go to Maldon & Mignonette we know that we are in for one of the best dinners around. It also helps knowing that the chef in the kitchen is a hard working self starter with an incredible talent. Rob knows that the setbacks from last year were just one hurdle to jump over. Maldon & Mignonette is a true gem that really deserves to shine. Rob is looking forward to the Parisian vacation he had to postpone - he's hoping the sights and cuisine awaken a new inspiration for him, and I am sure they will. He announces when the restaurant closes to give what staff he has, and himself, a much deserved break. Summer is projected to be busy - and I am eagerly watching Rob and M&M rise up again. I am forever inspired and motivated by people who insist on making things happen for themselves. Rob was thrown a big curve-ball in college that landed him in Italy learning culinary arts which eventually brought him here, owning his own restaurant at the age of 32. He is no stranger to the random left turn that life can hand young his ability to mentally persevere and push through is something I admire. I for sure enjoyed my time with him and Zepp on our walks for this little interview. You can follow the restaurant @maldonmigonette and Zeppole @zeppole_blu