Local Flavor: Q&A with Roxy’s Owner DiSabatino

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A group of determined Boston bad boys have officially revamped the negative connotation that once came with careers of “working the corner” and “flipping sandwiches.” Too cheesy? Just wait.

James DiSabatino was a recent graduate from Emerson when he found himself wondering what to do with his degree. Faced with limited employment options, DiSabatino took into account that he was “good at grilled cheese,” and teamed up with his brother and chef Marc Melanson to create Roxy’s Gourmet Grilled Cheese. DiSabatino effectively combated the bleakness of the job market with a cheery yellow truck, filled with everything from braised short ribs and hand-cut truffle fries to a staff of rock and roll enthusiasts.

What started as a local, stationary sandwich joint has taken off, figuratively and literally. After a several week stint traveling across the nation and competing with seven other contestants on the Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race, recognition and sales at Roxy’s have leaped. Now, the crew is searing an ever-changing selection of sandwiches to crusty perfection, nine hours a day, Tuesday through Saturday. But how does a college graduate, wielding degrees in both marketing communication, and entrepreneurial studies, end up conquering Boston with a spatula? Fast-moving DiSabatino explains – with a bit of cynicism – the logistics behind his brainchild, as well as why he’ll never, ever be caught with someone who pahks her cah in the Hahvahd Yahd.

Why’d you name your company Roxy’s?
It’s a secret. I named it after somebody but…

Ex-girlfriend?
…I don’t want to give the story away, the story’s personal to me so I want to keep it to myself and leave it as a mystery for everybody else. There’s only a handful of people that know.

Well… Does your logo have to do with it?
Man, this is like 20 questions! The picture was done by a great artist and a really good friend of mine named Pauly, and we thought it represented our brand very well. We’re just trying to portray our personalities and our attitude toward what we’re doing, I think it reflects it well.

Where do you get inspiration for sandwiches?
All over the place. Dishes I really enjoy, I can just turn them into a sandwich that I really enjoy. There’s so many things you can do with grilled cheese that we just kind of take liberties to do any ideas that we have. We just try to have fun.

So what’s your favorite sandwich?
My favorite sandwich is not on the menu. Nope, I only make it for myself. It’s bacon, cheddar and honey mustard, but only the honey mustard I make. Not like, Ken’s.

Why don’t you put that on the board?
We could, but I don’t know, it’s too simple. I just like keeping it for my own little personal stash.

Is there anything else you refuse to put on the board?
We like to make things that people can’t make at home. This is contrary to any business advice anyone would ever give you, but we took our most popular sandwich off the menu because we got a little bored of it, and when we get bored of what we replaced it with, we’re probably going to bring it back. We just try to have fun.

How has being on the Food Network affected your business?
It definitely helped a lot. The show came out as soon as Boston passed the ordinance to let food trucks move around, so it was kind of like the perfect storm of good opportunities. It worked out great.

You guys were in a band before, right?
Mike is still in a band, and I used to tour manage Mike’s band. It was kind of like hard rock type of stuff, not for the faint of heart, wasn’t for grandmas. Mike’s my brother, he’s awesome and we used to travel the world.

Where did you travel to?
We’ve been everywhere; we traveled the U.S. maybe like five or six times, Europe three, four times? South America…

But what’s the best place you’ve traveled?
Reykjavík, Iceland is probably my favorite place in the world besides Boston. It looks like a Tim Burton movie, the people there are just so bizarre, I love it. The food is horrible, super expensive. But everything other than that is like Eden. Except really cold.

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
I’d want to be able to turn anything into chocolate. Yeah, ‘cause sometimes I’m just really craving sweets I don’t have.

If you could meet anyone, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
I wouldn’t want to meet dead people, that would be a little strange. Most dead people are pretty irrelevant; I think it’s all about people who are living right now that are in charge of driving the world forward. Umm… Definitely Keanu Reeves, for sure. I’d ask him so many questions about Point Break. Yeah, I mean no question about it.

Biggest pet peeve?
Girls with Boston accents.