“We make a killer sandwich, that’s just what we do,” said Roast Beast’s owner, DJ Lawton.
Lawton argues that the success of his restaurant, Roast Beast, is bound to forever change the way Boston College students think about basements. While many students typically associate basements with grimy, rat-infested, off-campus homes, they’re in for a pleasant surprise when entering the basement location of Roast Beast on Commonwealth Ave.
Roast Beast exudes minimalism and efficiency through its simple interior and humble location. Similar to its laid back atmosphere, ordering one of Roast Beast’s sandwiches is an easy process. Customers select the size of their sandwich— regular, large, or mega—as well as the option of a deli roll, onion roll, or wheat roll.
The restaurant also offers a variety of meat options, including roast beef, turkey, and chicken.
As far as toppings go, Roast Beast wouldn’t be a proper sandwich joint if it didn’t offer lettuce, tomatoes, and onions—spicy pickles are also noteworthy addition to the menu. Owner DJ Lawton and company also offer 15 cheeses and 13 sauces. A popular option is the restaurant’s Thermonuclear Sauce, which is made from the notoriously hot ghost chili pepper. Chips, sodas, and brownies are also available to complement the sandwich. The high number of combinations available at Roast Beast have the potential to make each visit unique—even if the restaurant just offers one option on its menu.
Although Roast Beast is situated in its humble location on Commonwealth Ave. near Boston University, the restaurant has received accolades across the city of Boston. Satisfied customers have awarded Roast Beast with a 4.5-star rating on Yelp! At one point, the restaurant had 100 perfect reviews, according to Lawton. Internet culinary critics have spoken, and Roast Beast has passed their taste test. And Roast Beast’s sandwiches don’t just taste good—they look good.
“You eat with your eyes, too,” Lawton said. He described sandwich-making at an almost scientific level, acknowledging that certain toppings cannot be placed together for structural and culinary purposes. “There’s a certain way your mouth interprets the sandwich.”
Lawton opened Roast Beast in April 2011 after the authorities closed down his lucrative smoke shop, The Joint. Instead of letting The Joint’s unfortunate closing weed out his entrepreneurial spirit, Lawton used the fire of his internal frustration to fuel the opening of his now smoking-hot Roast Beast in the very same basement location on Commonwealth Ave., right off of Packards Corner on the B-line.
Lawton, a native of Boston’s South Shore and a 2009 graduate of BU, loved the Massachusetts staple of roast beef sandwiches as a kid. When his original business was shut down, Lawton looked for inspiration. He was heavily influenced by a professor at BU who had made his money at Dunkin’ Donuts, and decided to open up a restaurant.
“I never pictured myself working for anyone,” Lawton said. “I wanted to do my own thing.”
With a little financial support from his family, Lawton painted over The Joint’s signs and was able to open Roast Beast. Business didn’t pick up immediately; it took him eight months to get his first paycheck, but Lawton was determined to stick with his newly opened business.
Nowadays, Roast Beast has become so popular that there are times where its small staff struggles to keep up with demand. According to Lawton, they can sell hundreds of sandwiches on weekends days, and lines can get up to 15 minutes long.
“I felt like it was my obligation to my family to make this place successful,” Lawton said, who commutes over three hours to his restaurant from his home at the bottom of Cape Cod.
Lawton and the rest of the Roast Beast staff maintain a friendly neighborhood atmosphere in their restaurant, which Lawton says has been a crucial reason for Roast Beast’s increased popularity.
“We just try to be nice to our customers—you know, like remember their names and greet them when they walk in,” Lawton said. “We get lots of local residents, college students, policemen, and firefighters. And we give them fresh ingredients.”
Lawton takes such pride in his sandwiches that Roast Beast does not offer delivery. Lawton argues that the quality of the sandwich would be compromised in the process.
Looking to the future, Lawton is careful to not get too headstrong. While he’s had opportunities to branch out his relatively small shop and open stores downtown, he’s held back—wary of the potential financial risks. Instead, he’s working on establishing his brand and continuing to churn out good sandwiches. Lawton hopes he can hire the right people to help him expand and possibly franchise his business when the time is right.
Featured Images by Anthony Perasso / Heights Staff