My LES: Orlando Rodriguez
For our regular feature spotlighting the people who live and work on the Lower East Side, we talked with bodega owner and lifelong LES resident Orlando Rodriguez.
How long have you lived on the Lower East Side?
I’ve been in the LES for over 40 years.
Why did you move here or (if you were born here) why did you stay?
I was born and raised here and I stayed because I love my neighborhood. My family started their lives and businesses here and established their world within.
What do you do?
I helped to create, manage and operate my family’s bodegas and businesses, all of which are in the neighborhood like Stop 1 and E&S Wholesome Foods.
Tell us about your apartment – the good, the bad and the ugly.
I love my apartment. It’s very convenient (it’s on Suffolk Street) –in walking distance to my job and everything else in my life.
What’s your favorite spot on the LES and why?
My favorite spot would be El Nuevo Amanecer. I always order the Pollo a la Mexicana dish and the ambiance makes me feel like I am home.
Favorite cheap eats?
The Meatball Shop is definitely my favorite place to grab a bite. I love the pasta with the spicy meat sauce and a side of mash.
Favorite place for a special night?
Stanton Social is perfect for a special evening. I like that I can eat dinner downstairs in a nice atmosphere and then finish off with a nice relaxing drink upstairs.
How have you seen the neighborhood change?
I’ve seen the neighborhood change in both good and bad ways. I like that it is a safer environment than it was when I was growing up. However, I have also experienced the negative effects of the fast gentrification.
What do you miss from the old LES?
What I miss most from the old LES is the Essex Theater. I never figured out its name, considering it was on Grand Street, but I always enjoyed the great movies, especially because it was close to my apartment.
Is there a new arrival you love? Why?
The new arrival that I love is the Association of Latino Business Owners and Residents (ALBOR). It is a community organization driven by people from the community who are here to help in a lot of ways. They’ve even helped in building gardens, getting kids school supplies for the new year, sponsoring little league, helping tenants and landlords and assisting the moms and pops of small businesses that are struggling.
What drives you crazy about the neighborhood?
What drives me crazy about this neighborhood would be seeing my longtime neighbors and friends move out after being here for decades.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen on the LES?
One of the strangest is also one of the hardest memories I have. One day as a kid at about 15 years old, I was walking down Stanton Street and saw a man get shot right in front of my eyes. As my community has changed a lot over the years, the memories of the past and the “old LES” will forever be a reminder of where we came from.
Who’s the best neighborhood character you’ve met and why?
Clayton Patterson would be the best neighborhood character I have met because he has been here for a very long time and has fought all the good fights, both for and on behalf of this community.
Tell us your best LES memory.
My best LES memory, I must say I have a lot, would be when I opened my very own deli on Madison Street; it was a dream for me. That’s the type of business my family grew up doing. So I helped my cousins make their dreams come true, too, by helping them do the same and have their own. With the experience I had from opening my first store, I then created E&S Wholesome Foods and I now manage my family’s businesses in my neighborhood. What better memory than to serve your own community in which you grew up?