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Do You Remember?

"Tony Rota's Restaurant, a Landmark for 5 years."

I took this photo of Tony Rota's Restaurant on March 11, 1990 when I heard it was closed down. Note the two "For Sale" signs in the windows.

(Reprinted from the Bronx Times Reporter on May 2, 2002)

Tony Rota was only a young man of 24 when he opened his restaurant at 2409 East Tremont Avenue in 1933.  The Harlem native chose a prime location at the head of Castle Hill Avenue near St. Raymond's Church.  Bronxdale Avenue was still often referred to by its former name, Bear Swamp Road, and began just a few doors west of Tony's chosen site.  East Tremont Avenue was still a cobblestoned roadway but it was also the much traveled route joining Westchester Square and West Farms, two major transportation junctions.  There was, of course, a trolley stop not far from the entrance to the restaurant.

He opened up his eatery specializing in regional Italian dishes drawing from the nearby communities of Van Nest, Morris Park, Unionport, West Farms, and Westchester Square.  Parkchester did not yet exist and that huge tract of land was still occupied by the Catholic Protectorate, which was built there at the close of the Civil War.  The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company purchased the land in 1938 for a huge residential complex, which they called Parkchester.  The first family moved into the new development on March 1, 1940 and before long Tony Rota had another 12,272 families within walking distance of his restaurant.  Fortune was smiling on the young entrepreneur and his business soon expanded.

As his customer base expanded, so did his reputation and soon Rota's became less renowned for its Italian specialties and more famous as a steakhouse.  Soon even celebrities, including restaurateur Toots Shore, sought out the popular eatery and its owner.  Other notables finding their way to Tony's place included Jake LaMotta, Maureen O'Sullivan, and a host of politicians.  Eventually Tony, himself, became a celebrity and in April of 1966 the traffic island at the intersection of East Tremont and Bronxdale Avenues was christened Tony Rota Square to honor the man who fed generations of Bronxites.

There did, however, come a time when much of his customer base either died or left the Bronx and his old time clientele dwindled.  Regulars like the Docherty, Sudano, or Moran families now stopped by only occasionally.  There were some locals, however, like Jim Cerasoli or the Loreth and Mullane families who remained loyal to the end, but they were the exception and Tony Rota closed his doors for the last time on February 28, 1990 after 57 years on East Tremont Avenue.  And tears were shed.

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