Jaime “Jimmy” Rodriguez, Jr. made Puerto Rican food hip, and for a while, made West Fordham Road in The Bronx a dining destination for everyone from President Clinton to Derek Jeter to Fidel Castro. Jimmy’s Bronx Cafe opened in 1993 on the site of a former auto dealership, a short cab ride from Yankee Stadium. It was a smash. Derek Jeter had his birthday party at Jimmy’s and it was a hangout for Yankees and visiting teams. Jimmy hosted a dinner there for Fidel Castro in 1995 (there were 500 in attendance and Jimmy got a lot of criticism from Cuban emigres). Jimmy’s was vast. The food (specially the seafood) was wonderful. Great music (Tito Puente headed one of the bands). Fiery dancing. Everybody cool in the worlds of sports, show biz and politics visited Jimmy’s and Jimmy Rodriguez was honored by New York’s top business and civic organizations.
Jimmy expanded with a branch in Harlem, one on E. 57th Street in Manhattan and a sea food place on City Island in The Bronx. At their height, the Rodriguez restaurants were grossing $10,000,000 a year. The woes of over-expansion soon kicked in however and by 2004 they were all gone.
Bronx born Rodriguez (1963) got his start by joining his father selling seafood from the trunk of their car parked near an entrance to the Major Deegan Expressway. They made a chowder from the leftover seafood, added some Puerto Rican dishes and opened a stand on a Fordham Road corner which was followed by a 50-seat storefront joint, Marisco del Caribe. That operated for about 10 years before the ambitious young man opened Jimmy’s Bronx Cafe.
Well, Jimmy is back. There are four Jimmy’s restaurants now operating in the New York area (or are they?…given Jimmy’s volatility, be wise and call first). The restaurants are the two Don Coqui locations in Astoria and New Rochelle (both run by Jimmy’s daughters, Jaleene and Jewelle); the two Sofritos on E. 57th in Manhattan and in White Plains and Sazon on Reade Street in downtown Manhattan. Creole cooking and Jimmy Rodriguez — Olé!