Unflappable Cook Flips His Last Burger at Einstein
One in an ongoing series
Breakfast and lunch in the cafeteria at Einstein Medical Center Elkins Park won’t be the same anymore, sad to say. After 50 years of cooking meals with an unerring smile, Mr. Rob has hung up his spatula.
Tuesday, Feb. 1, was Rob Williams’ last day as a grill cook, a job he started at Germantown Hospital in 1971 before moving to Elkins Park when Germantown closed in 1999.
Why leave now?
“I guess 50 years is enough,” he says with a chuckle.
But not enough for the hundreds of customers he serves every day who welcome his calm demeanor and graciousness, no matter the circumstances.
“I’ve never seen him lose his cool or be upset, never even seen him frown,” says Toni Trombetta, a food service manager who’s worked with him for four years.
“He always has a smile on his face and is always willing to do whatever he can to help a patient or a customer. He takes anything you give him in stride and goes above and beyond.”
Williams makes breakfast and lunch for cafeteria patrons during the week and cooks for patients on weekends. He’s been a fixture behind the counter for so long that many customers don’t even have to give him their order; he knows what they want.
“You get to know who likes what and how they like their eggs or how they like this and that,” he says.
How many food orders does he know by heart, then? “About 50,” he says.
“People will come to the grill and if he’s not there, they’ll say, ‘Oh, Mr. Rob’s not here? I’ll go the deli instead,’” says Karina Radziak, Director of Food and Nutrition. “Everybody loves him.”
While some people may consider it stressful to prepare meals on deadline for so many people at once – about 300 people a day in the cafeteria – it doesn’t bother Williams.
Indeed, he says, he rarely feels stressed at any time. His even temper and good nature are “just the way I was raised,” he says.
Williams is such an exemplar of employee decorum that he was selected to be on the inaugural committee that developed Einstein’s Standards of Behavior. A photo of him behind the grill, grinning, is in the brochure that details behavior standards for employees.
Williams says he learned to cook at the elbows of his great-grandmother, grandmother and mother while growing up in Philadelphia. He began making biscuits when he was about 8 years old.
Williams enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve after graduating Germantown High School and took classes while in the military to attend college.
“They wanted me to do something else,” he says of his family, “but I just wanted to cook.”
And cook he did. He cooked in the Army Reserve for six years, and at Germantown Hospital, and then Einstein Elkins Park.
Yes, he also cooks at home but shares the kitchen with his wife. The family’s favorite? Macaroni and cheese.
The most popular dish at Elkins Park? Fried chicken. That’s his favorite, too.
Williams rarely missed a day of work until he got COVID-19 in November of 2020. He was very sick and was hospitalized for a week.
He’s grateful to have fully recovered. “I thank God. He took it away for me. I’m blessed,” he says.
Williams is the oldest of his family, with three sisters and one brother; a second brother passed away. He has two daughters and a 20-year-old grandson, who lives with him. Now that he no longer has to wake up at 4 a.m. for his daily shift of 6 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., he’s going to spend more time with them.
“I’m going to visit one sister in California and one sister in Georgia,” he says.
The food service department at Elkins Park threw Williams a party on his last day of work. “I’m going to miss the people,” he says.
The cafeteria customers at Einstein Elkins Park will miss Mr. Rob, too. For a while at least, it just won’t be the same.