25 Years of R.O.M.E.O.S.

by Chip Zimmer

In 1993, a group of retired gentlemen from Highgate Green in Longhill Gate decided to meet for breakfast once a week. They began by meeting at a restaurant/diner in the old Pottery. They stayed until it closed, in about 1998, then made a move to The Candle Factory Restaurant on Richmond Road until Hot Stacks opened in 2005. Since then, they have been eating and laughing at Hot Stacks on Richmond Road. Last year Hot Stacks changed its name to 5 Brothers Pancake and Steak House but is still managed and owned by Marinos Kokolis and his family. Their purpose was fun and fellowship. Bob Zimmer, a retired college president and WWII vet was the founder of the group, and along with Reid Garcia and a couple of neighbors came up with the name, Retired Old Men Eating Out, thus the Romeo's!

Laughs abounded especially when one of the "Romeos" brought in a bottle of "Boost" to add to his coffee, however, the group quickly discovered that the "Boost" was really filled with Jack Daniels-a perfect start to the day. Soon, all of them were surreptitiously bringing in "Boost," not fooling anybody, especially Rose, their long time waitress, who smiled knowingly as they continued their charade.

Now a quarter of a century later, The Romeo's still meet every Thursday morning at 5 Brothers. Attendance has ranged from nearly twenty to three or four depending on the day and the weather! In 2009 they were featured on the cover of Senior Compass Resource Guide. Over the years, members have come and gone. Zimmer passed in 2009, Garcia a few years later. A number of others have passed as well; while others have moved, but the tradition of fun, laughter and fellowship continues, albeit with new and different faces.

Bob Browning is the senior member of the group. He's a 95 year old WWII vet, having fought in the Battle of the Bulge with the 17th Airborne Division and the 194th Glider Regiment. He began coming to Romeo breakfasts in 2000 and is one of the most regular attending members. Bob comes each week to listen how the group would solve all the problems of the day. Talk centers around local news, national politics, sports and stories of days gone by.

Born in Liverpool, retired author and entrepreneur Ray Evans, 85, began coming to the Romeo's on Zimmer's invitation in 2006 at the old Candle Factory Restaurant. He is the jokester of the group, bringing a dry British wit to the conversation.

Retired insurance investigator from New Jersey, Rich Minor is one of the younger members at 69. He began attending in 2013 and adds a fourth accent to our discussion, from British to Egyptian to Southern to, now, New Jerseyian! He is thoroughly impressed with the diverse backgrounds of group. Besides the aforementioned, there is a lawyer, accountant, college professors, retired Naval Officer, and a contractor, coming from Egypt, California, West Virginia, and Newport News!

As Zimmer's son, I've heard many stories about the group and have met many of the characters having visited a number of times over the years. In fact, I recently retired, have moved to Williamsburg and am carrying on the family tradition by attending the weekly breakfasts, as the newest and youngest member (66) of the group. Ironically, Brian, our new waiter, is the grandson of Garcia, one of the founding members.

Over time, attendance has expanded beyond residents of Longhill Gate and now a variety of retired old men have joined the ranks. New members are welcomed. The cost of membership is a smile and a desire for fun and fellowship-and a great breakfast! Just come by 5 Brothers at 8am on any Thursday, no "Boost" necessary!

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