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Behind the Line: Giving back

Rod's Steak and Seafood Grille owners humble about philanthropic deeds

By Lauren Kramer
December 01, 2009

Giving is a way of life for the Keller siblings, owners of Rod's Steak and Seafood Grille in Morristown, N.J. In September their restaurant received the Restaurant Neighbor Award in the mid-size business category from the National Restaurant Association, in recognition of their philanthropic spirit and community service. But it's a moment in the spotlight that Peter Keller would rather not occupy.

"Giving is enjoyable and personally rewarding, but I would like to think that it's anonymous," he says. "It's just part of the fabric of our lives. We're not looking for any credit and we don't do this to have an impact on our business."

Gene, Peter and Richard Keller and their sister, Kathy Donohoe, learned about philanthropy from their parents, who opened the restaurant in 1936.

"My mom and dad were always involved in feeding those less 
fortunate and helping underprivileged children," Keller says. The couple donated to a local organization called Boy's Town, and from the time the Kellers were teenagers philanthropy was part of their lives.

With the death of their father, Rod Keller, in 1972, his children took over the restaurant and with it, inherited that sense of community service.

"We've always had a relationship with community groups that feed the hungry," Peter Keller says. Their longest charitable relationship is with the Morristown Community Soup Kitchen in New Jersey, to which the restaurant supplies soup every Friday and a sit-down dinner on Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas.

Keller estimates they feed between 350 and 400 people a week at the soup kitchen, for whom the restaurant provides an assortment of soups including clam chowder, seafood gumbo and beef vegetable soup. "It doesn't take a big chunk out of our bottom line," he says.

As its name suggests, the menu at Rod's Steak and Seafood Grille is split between seafood and steak, with seafood occupying 35 percent of the menu. Entrées include Maine lobster, farmed salmon, lobster tails, shrimp and scallops, while featured appetizers are ahi tuna, calamari, oysters and jumbo shrimp. "All of our fresh fish specials - swordfish, filet of sole, tuna - are caught in local waters," Keller says.

Fresh seafood represents a growing portion of the menu at Rod's Steak and Seafood Grill over the past few years, he adds. "I think it's because people are becoming much more knowledgeable about 
fresh fish, its preparation and its health benefits."

In 1990 the Keller family started supporting Eva's Village, a Paterson, N.J., organization that provides hot, nutritious lunches to the poor and homeless. "It's a terrific organization and we took a liking to it," says Keller.

The Keller family hosts an 
annual golf tournament in memory of their brother, L. Robert Keller, an event that raises close to $300,000 a year for Eva's 
Village. Peter Keller also works on the committee for an annual fundraising gala for Eva's Village, which raises close to $500,000 
a year.

Rod's Steak and Seafood 
Grille also hosts an annual Memorial Day barbecue for Eva's 
Village patrons.

"The participation of our staff in this event is voluntary, but they're delighted to do it and they go above and beyond the call of duty," Keller says. Provisions for the meal are sometimes supplied by the restaurant's vendors, 
which also donate cash to the 
golf tournament.

The NRA award was specifically for their work with Eva's Village, and New Jersey Restaurant Association President Deborah Dowdell said Rod's "is a shining example of ways New Jersey restaurateurs are serving their communities." For Keller and his siblings, however, it's all part of an honest day's work.

"Charitable giving was never something we were told we had to do, it's just a long-standing habit like coming and going from work every day," Keller says. He speculates that since 1990 Rod's Steak and Seafood Grille has raised close to $2 million for Eva's Village. "But we're not looking for any credit," he says. "It's not that kind of a thing. We're fortunate in the hospitality business, so we need to help others who aren't 
as fortunate."

 

Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British Columbia

 

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