Robin’s Wood Fire BBQ Closes Sunday: “It’s Truly Been a Wonderful Journey”

“I came here as a skinny kid with a girl's name,” Robin Salzer says 37 years after he opened his popular East Pasadena restaurant, “with $5,000 in my pocket and a relative who believed in me…”

Published : Thursday, August 15, 2019 | 5:28 AM

Robin Salzer, the irrepressible proprietor of Pasadena mainstay “Robin’s Wood Fire BBQ,” has more than a few things to say before closing the eatery’s doors this Sunday after three and a half decades.

The first is, “It has been a truly wonderful journey.”

Pasadena has been essential to Salzer’s journey, just as Salzer has become an essential part of making Pasadena what it is today. He has now lived longer in Pasadena than in his native Milwaukee and he is not leaving his adopted hometown just because he has stopped serving great ribs to people.

Sitting in the fat-columned restaurant’s interior surrounded by hundreds of pieces of Americana, Salzer recounted how, some 37 years ago, the location he wanted was in a shopping center owned in its entirety by one family and it was his own family that helped him carve out the place and purchase it outright.

“I came here as a skinny kid with a girl’s name,” he told Pasadena Now, “with $5,000 in my pocket and a relative who believed in me, who helped me start my restaurant financially. And anybody who says they don’t have help along the way is lying. ”

For the small business person, he said, work never stops, which doesn’t permit much time to think about the one’s state of affairs until suddenly retirement arrives and the question of where the time went becomes central.

“I look back at my iHOP days,” he said, “when I was 23 years old, and now here I am 66! People don’t think I look 66. My body seems to be okay, but there’s some days I feel like if I am going to imagine how 86 feels. There comes a time when I think it’s time to do other things.”

Those other things include hitting a small round ball around grassy fairways. “I want to learn golf. My kids have been taking lessons at Brookside,” he explained.

But it won’t be all fun and games for this workingman’s workingman. “I started Pasadena City College last year. I never graduated from college. I’m like Rodney Dangerfield. I’m ‘Back to School!’ but I actually love it.”

He aims to lead by example.

“It’s a wonderful experience and I think that, if an old guy like me can go to school and get back into it, my kids have no excuse for not doing their homework and hopefully it will inspire others to finish their schooling.”

Salzer takes great satisfaction in leaving at least a portion of his business to employee Camillo Di Masi. He’s been with Robin’s for years and will take over the catering, special events, and Rose Bowl businesses Salzer has built.

Though Robin’s restaurant will be closed, Di Masi will be running trucks brandishing the brand throughout the San Gabriel Valley.

“I’ve always wanted to give somebody the opportunity to succeed at a very young age like I did,” explained Salzer. “I really wanted to sell them the whole restaurant, but he deferred on that. He thought it would be too much of an undertaking.”

Although he’s not going anywhere, the boyishly charming Salzer took a few parting shots at the polity he has fed for 41 years.

He is not a fan of Mayor Terry Tornek.

“He lost all respect for our small business community – especially restaurants – with the way he handled the minimum wage,” said Salzer. “No [restaurant owner] was against the minimum wage. It was about the process.”

He dubbed the City Council, “rudderless, ” though he had nothing but the highest praise for District 6 Councilman Steven Madison.

“I hope he runs for reelection in our district,” Salzer elaborated, “ I think that his expertise, his vast knowledge of the city, his professionalism, his personality is what we need for four more years.”

Among the biggest changes in Pasadena Salzer has seen during his years running Robin’s are those in the restaurant industry itself.

He noted that when he started out, there were one-third the number of restaurants currently operating in Pasadena. Now, he observed, with the “explosion” of Old Pasadena there are between 60 and 70 eateries in an eight-block area.

“It’s really become the focal point,” he pointed out. “We are now a destination for dining.”

As such, Salzer said, the City really should be capitalizing on that status, running ads, and posting billboards to support the restaurant industry.

“I made my criticisms about some of the leadership in Pasadena,” Salzer stated, “but there’s also some positives that you can see and we’re at the forefront of dining.”

“Just market the hell out of it.”

And what about the iconic building? Salzer says he’s very close to an agreement with a potential buyer who would open a new restaurant.

The potential owner is dedicated to hiring locally, and is very community involved in community events, he said.

Truly a man after Salzer’s own, and very big, heart.

 

Robin’s Wood Fire BBQ is located at 395 N. Rosemead Blvd. in East Pasadena, 626-351-8885. The final weekend’s hours are Friday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday, from 9 a.m. “until we run out of food.”

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