Roy Antonuccio Jr. is one of the most important people in East Boston. He runs Roy’s Cold Cuts, which fans say has the best sandwiches in the neighborhood, if not the city. His family has run the business for 59 years; Antonuccio grew up in a one-bedroom apartment behind the deli until he was 13.
“After 10 years, my parents were able to buy a house. They paid their dues, my parents,” he says.
Today he’s a friendly face behind the counter, catering to a lunchtime crowd who rely on his Italian sub — “the best one around,” he says — and creations such as the Dog Did It, a chicken cutlet topped with broccoli and melted American cheese on a toasted roll.
What’s the first restaurant you ever ate at in Boston? I’m going to have to say, years ago, a place called Morelli’s, which is now Kelly’s Pub. That’s the first one I ever ate at. I don’t remember what I ate. Those years were a blur to me! This is when I was walking the streets at 11 or 12 years old.
What’s one thing you’d like to fix about the restaurant industry here? I don’t know. I just get up and roll with it every day. I don’t get involved, honestly. We’ve been here 59 years in November, and I never really chased down any publicity or had anything to do with politicians other than if they’re my friends already. I call this Roy-merica. I only worry about what goes on in here. I’m in charge, I’m the king, and that’s how I look at it.
What other restaurants do you visit? A Chinese place called Hong Kong Dragon in Winthrop. I like the Antique Table; I go there a lot. I’m a creature of habit. When I get a place that treats me good and gets to know me, that’s where I go. I go to Mario’s in East Boston and Kelly’s.
What’s your earliest food memory that made you think: I want to work in restaurants? I’ll be honest. I didn’t want to be in the food business! I did photography, I worked with a carpenter, I did all kinds of things. I ended up here, and it worked out good for me. My wife ended up getting cancer. She had it for seven years; she passed away. But that’s when the store came in handy. I could go to everything with her. The store has been good to me. I can’t complain about the store. The hours, I can trim them, but it was tough over the years.
What’s the worst restaurant experience you’ve ever had? I’m not a complainer or anything. I love the Outback. The one in Danvers is incredible. Somerville? Stinks! Horrible! I gave it three chances. Whoever is running it doesn’t know how to bring the food out at the same time. . . . Anyone can make a mistake. I am very forgiving. But three times it was lousy! I don’t want to crucify them, but I wouldn’t go back to that one.
How could Boston become a better food city? What I would do, if I had ambition, but I’m older now, so I don’t — we need a couple places with live music in East Boston. That’s what we need. A place just closed, the Craft Table, and it was good, but they were trying to be too fancy with the food. Just throw some acoustic players in there.
Name three adjectives for Boston diners. I enjoy talking to them. I get along with everybody. I have great customers. I don’t have anyone I don’t get along with.
What’s the most overdone trend right now? Food should be simpler. You go to Kelly’s, you know what you’re getting, you get plenty of it, and they don’t try to make it fancy.
What type of restaurant is Boston missing? People want a place where they can hang out and eat and enjoy themselves. You want to sit down with nobody bugging you. That’s why I like Kelly’s. I can sit and talk for four hours and nobody bugs me. That’s how it is. Everyone’s friendly. They’re nice to you. I think it’s pretty simple, how to make a successful restaurant.
What are you reading? I don’t like to read. I’m really into music. I go to a lot of concerts, sometimes four in one week. I’m a big 1960s, 1970s, 1990s fan. I’m going to see Squeeze. I go see the Zombies every time they come. They’re coming up to the Cabot on Aug. 23, but I’m taking my daughter to see Squeeze at Foxwoods the same day.
How’s your commute? I never hit traffic! I live upstairs, three flights. Always clear. Beautiful.
What’s the one food you never want to eat again? I haven’t tried sushi and people try to talk me into it. And probably Mexican food. To me, it’s like asking for a stomachache and not enjoying it. I know people love it; I don’t.
What’s your most missed Boston restaurant? Morelli’s.
Who was your most memorable customer? Johnny Depp was in here! It was great. A limo driver brought him in, end of the day. The driver called a half-hour before, and we weren’t that busy. He was with Amber Heard. I hope I didn’t have anything to do with the divorce. He was in here for 45 minutes. We talked music; he was a great guy.
If you had to eat your last meal in Boston, what would it be? I’d go for Chinese in Winthrop. I like a plate with shrimp, chicken, and I love the noodles underneath. I’m an expert with chopsticks — I could take someone’s eyeball out.