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Spotlight on Thai Rock: The Rockaways Rockin’ Restaurant on the Bay

When Robert and Metta Kaskel first decided to pick up from their life in the big city and move to Rockaway Beach, a small beach town on New York’s Long Island, their goal was to create a place that they’d enjoy even if they didn’t own it.

Robert, a successful former IT pro, always enjoyed hosting family dinners and parties, while Metta loved to cook and serve the homemade authentic Thai recipes handed down through the generations.

With a desire to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city combined with a genuine love for entertaining, when the couple discovered an available location on the bay in Rockaway Beach, they knew they had to jump on this opportunity of a lifetime.

Before the Kaskels brought life back to the Rockaways with their rockin’ restaurant on the bay, the location was a bit run down.

“We didn’t know it at first,” Robert explained, “but the bar was steeped in nostalgia.”

Once upon a time, “many of the town’s locals experienced their life’s most poignant moments here.”

“Customers would tell me they had their first date at this table, went on their first date at that one, or even met their spouse at one of the booths,” Robert added.

“I love that we were able to add new life to this historic location and bring back some cherished memories.”

Now, most of the townies who remember the bar from back in the day are Thai Rock customers, and they appreciate the way the couple has given new life to their memory-filled favorite old dive.

Today, the Rockaway waterfront restaurant is a huge hit in the community, but it wasn’t always such smooth sailing.

“The restaurant business is not for the faint of heart,” Robert admits. For starters, “we had to go into a lot of debt before we started to make money,” a business decision Robert admits he wouldn’t recommend to others getting started in the business.

“And we were going from a two-wage-making family to just the restaurant as our only source of income,” he added, “and that was a little scary.”

But after their grand opening in 2010, the business “did so well out of the gate that by the second summer we were almost out of debt.”

What started as a seasonal profit maker, Robert was eager to make Thai Rock a year-round destination; a place to bring the family for Sunday dinner, enjoy a relaxing midweek meal, or listen to music on the weekends.

Sticking to their initial goal of creating a destination that they too would enjoy patronizing, Robert and Metta brought in live music, stocked the bar with over 200 spirits, and created a relaxed ambiance that felt like a mini vacation right outside the city.

“My wife and I decided from the outset that no matter what we wanted a place we would want to go to ourselves,” he continued. “You can always start a business and make money, but you’re there so much of the time that we wanted to make sure we enjoyed ourselves as we built our business.”

Keeping true to their vision, “all of the decisions became easy because we love the music, the atmosphere, and having the most extensive top-shelf liquor selection outside of Manhattan.”

Thai Rock is more than a restaurant, the regulars, with the help of the Kaskels have formed a community.

“People go to bars to celebrate good things,” Robbery offered, “and to sometimes feel better when something not so great is going on in their life.”

Regulars flock to Thai Rock, a place where they can always count on Robert to talk, hang out, or make a drink recommendation, “I may not be the bartender, but I’m always around checking in on the guests, making sure they’re happy.”

Customers come to the bar and “they’ll say, Rob, what are we drinking today? And I’ll recommend something the same way I would to a friend.” One of Robert’s secret sauces to success, the once big-businessman, now restaurateur shared, “I genuinely care about my customers and they care about us… it just works.“

Located in Rockaway Beach, a serene East Coast beach resort and neighborhood in the borough of Queens on New York’s Long Island, thousands of residents leave the Big Apple to flock to the beach town, located on the ten-mile stretch of coastline, known as The Rockaways, every summer.

Thai Rock sits on the bay side of Rockaway Beach on Jamaica Bay, three blocks north of the ocean and the concession-lined boardwalk, where surfers flock to ride the waves and as many as a dozen bands play simultaneously along the beach on summer weekends. But the bustling boardwalk doesn’t stop visitors from heading over to the bay to Thai Rock, the spot that brought shine and a steady stream of live music back to the once sleepy beach town.

But just as things started to really look promising, Hurricane Sandy hit Rockaway Beach in 2012, severely devastating the area, almost blowing hopes for long-time success out of the water.

“The storm damage cost us 1.5 million dollars,” Robert recalled. But the couple managed to navigate this latest set of choppy waters and were able to rebuild and even do some additional renos. Before they knew it, things were rocking and rolling along once again.

Thai Rock is part restaurant, part seaside lounge, and part live music venue. The restaurant’s huge patio that hugs the water’s edge near the Cross Bay Bridge, offers a sensational view of the city’s skyline, making it one of the hottest hangs in the Rockaways.

While the seas surrounding the Rock may not be crystal clear or turquoise blue, with signature drinks like the Blue Margarita and Lychee Martini, jet ski rentals, and casual ambiance, this beach town hotspot might be close to the city, but it feels like a destination getaway.

Thai Rock’s menu features a variety of fresh sea fare like the Fisherman Ginger, a mid cod dish with mushrooms and sweet ‘n sour mango salad, Snapper Kaproaw, a fried whole red snapper, and of course, an array of Thai dishes made fresh daily from Metta’s family recipes. And as Robert proudly boasts, “Metta still makes all of the sauces and the dumplings herself - it’s a labor of love.”

After all the rocky roads the owners of this New York haven have traveled, in 2020, lockdowns forced the restaurateurs to pivot once more.

“We never actually closed completely, but after 2 years of gyrations, we had to make some decisions and adjustments.”

When asked how the last two years have affected their business, Robert noted that “people have changed a lot since 2020. Our bar business has slowed down a bit.”

Celebrating 12 years in business in 2022, this rockin’ restaurateur keeps rolling with the punches.

“What we’ve lost in our bar business, we’ve made up with a huge uptick in our pick-up and delivery business.”

Thanks to loosened alcohol delivery laws, the restaurant began bringing the bar to their customer’s front door. Along with delivering the Thai dishes that their customers grew to know and love, Thai Rock served as comfort food to those stuck inside for so long, and “thanks to state laws, alcohol delivery continues permanently.”

Note: In New York state, buyers must present ID upon delivery and the order must include “substantial food.”

Before 2020, the venue hosted live bands as many as five days a week in the bust season each year, with the weekends being their biggest draw. But since things opened again, and the bar business has slowed down, they’ve limited their music to live jazz and chill acoustic on Sundays.

From the filling to the folding, Metta makes every dumpling by hand fresh every day.

Robert went on to add, “things might not be exactly the same, but it’s all good to me.”

A savvy customer of the delivery marketplaces, Thai Rock has partnered with Sauce, a commission-free delivery platform for restaurants that allows customers to order directly from their restaurant’s website, Google listing, and social media pages.

“Sauce has been a great partner!” Robert exclaimed. “Our delivery business really helped us get through some challenging times.” Today, 25% of the business is take-out and delivery, (up substantially from pre-2020 numbers that topped at 7%), and “not having to pay high commissions lets me hold onto my profits.”

When asked what pieces of advice he’d offer to anyone new to the restaurant business, Robert offered the following suggestions:

  1. “You need to be capitalized before you start. Don’t do what I did and go into credit card debt because not everyone has a location like mine, and it can take time before you turn a profit.” He added, “Cash will ramp up in time, but you should have enough cash to pay a year’s worth of salaries, your build-out costs, licensing and permits, and enough of a cushion to survive for a year.”

  2. “Create a place where you’d like to spend time because you’ll spend a lot of your life at the restaurant.”

  3. To help hire and retain great staff, consider “offering your (back-of-house) staff a bonus as an incentive.”

  4. Add a surcharge “to offset credit card fees.”

  5. “Partner with a great delivery platform like Sauce” that lets customers order right from the website and social media and lets you keep your profits.

More cool facts about the Rockaways for Non-Native New Yorkers

  • It’s the largest urban beach in the US.

  • It’s the only place where you can legally ride a surfboard in the New York metropolitan area.

  • It is commonly referred to as "The Irish Riviera" because of its large Irish American community.

  • The area where surfers from Brooklyn spend their summers chasing waves is known as "Williamsburg on the Rockaways."

  • In 1977, American punk rock band, The Ramones, released a song named "Rockaway Beach," which eventually became the highest-charting single in their career.

Close to the city, with none of the gritty, Thai Rock, The Rockaways is the perfect spot to dine waterside, enjoy casual vibes, and spend time with great folks.

Upscale Thai food with Rockaway charm is what makes this former dive bar a growing sensation, but it’s the warm and friendly hometown ambiance that you feel when you step inside the jovial, Cheers-like bar and eatery, that makes Thai Rock a place where “everybody knows your name.”

By Eileen Strauss



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