By day, Justin Rosenberg is the CEO of popular the fast casual restaurant Honeygrow. By night, he’s diving deep into the subtext of the Rocky Balboa franchise.
Movie you are embarrassed that you cried at?
Rocky II. Since a little kid, I’ve always been a die-hard Rocky Balboa fan. It’s the classic story of an underdog that everyone wrote off, especially when the odds are totally stacked against him. I relate to this. In Rocky I, he went the distance with Apollo and stunned the world, but he didn’t win. It didn’t matter, it was about going that distance. In Rocky II, he was pushed to a rematch, but his heart wasn’t in it in the beginning – too many distractions. Finally after having his son and regaining his focus, Rocky gets after it hard in the gym – chasing chickens, getting slapped on the stomach while doing sit-ups, hitting tires with sledge hammers, pull-ups in the playground. He’s back to fucking animal mode. I love this. You can see right there that he’s going to plow through his opponent and nothing is going to stop him. All heart. When he beats Apollo and a bloody, bruised Rocky shares some words with the crowd, he ends his speech with, “Yo Adrian, I did it!”, and I always tear up. I'm tearing up as I write this! If you’ve been challenged, pushed around, and told that you can’t accomplish something and then you do, you can empathize with this. It’s just heart.
What’s something most people would find unexpected about you?
I’m actually a pretty decent guitar player. I’ve spent years growing up and listening to my cassettes and CDs, trying to emulate the sounds of Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, BB King, Chuck Berry, John Frusciante, Duane Allman, Eric Clapton, Mike Bloomfield, etc. The list goes on. I would sit, listen, play, listen, play again, record when I could. I had a band named Juror #8, named after the Henry Fond character from 12 Angry Men. He was the only dude willing to stand up to the crowd. I relate to that.
First piece of music you ever purchased?
Vanilla Ice’s To the Extreme in 1990. Whatever, make fun of me.
Favorite activity to pass time when you’re not working?
Reading. Hands down. I like to rotate between fiction, bios, and management / leadership, and it’s just an amazing opportunity to see more in life without leaving a chair. It’s always been a passion and it’s something that I’ve been trying to instill in my 3 kids as well.
Who is someone you admire right now?
Roy Choi. I've long been a big fan and I’m currently reading his book, LA Son. He’s one of the most talented, nicest people, and is someone whose passion for cooking inspires me beyond belief. I once was at his restaurant, Best Friend, in Las Vegas when I jokingly asked the server if Roy was working that night. She’s like, yeah, he’s expediting. I look over into the open kitchen and there he was, leading the way and checking all the dishes as they came out. Holy shit! 5 minutes later, he came to our table and just hung out. I’m a random dude from PHL and here is Roy just chilling at our table. We talked for a bit, tasted some stuff, and then he was back it. Wow – talk about genuinely caring about your guests. When I’m in the restaurants, I love talking to our team and to our guests. It’s the only way I can learn on how to improve the experience. Sitting in an office is easy compared to what really matters: creating amazing, consistent guest experiences. And by no means do we bat 1.000. Far from it. But it’s the passion for cooking, the team, and the guests, that gets me going. Little things really matter. Everything else will fall into place.