Hometown Eats: Mac & Bob’s

Published: May. 11, 2023 at 3:57 PM EDT
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SALEM, Va. (WDBJ) - There’s something special when you walk into a restaurant for the first time, and you immediately feel like a regular. A place in Salem has been perfecting that feeling for over four decades. We’re headed to Mac & Bob’s in Hometown Eats.

“I started when I was 24. I’m 67 now. I wasn’t thinking that far down the road but we’re still here,” joked Mac & Bob’s owner Bob Rotanz.

Every town and city has a restaurant they’re known for. In Salem, that place is Mac & Bob’s on East Main Street.

“I’ve been coming to Mac & Bob’s for the majority of my life,” said regular customer Michael Galliher, who works across the street at the Roanoke County Courthouse.

“We’re just a neighborhood place and if you want a non-chain place like a non-franchise, we’re it,” said Rotanz.

Today’s Mac & Bob’s is quite different and a lot bigger than when owner Bob Rotanz cut the ribbon 43 years ago.

Rotanz is a Long Islander who came to Roanoke College to play lacrosse and never left, so he and his fellow New Yorker and buddy Mac opened a ten-stool sandwich and beer joint called “Sub Pub” in 1980.

“Mac only lasted like 3 months, still very good friends, he went from August to October, and he went back to New York,” said Rotanz.

Over the next 6 years the restaurant continued to grow. During that time Bob’s other college lacrosse teammates took part. Joe Dishaw became a co-owner, and Keith Griswold was and still is the general manager.

In 1986, the drinking age changed from 18 to 21. Rotanz knew it was time to shift.

“In ‘86 Joe came back from culinary school and we became a real restaurant and that’s the best thing we ever did because the college bar scene was getting old, 2 a.m. every night,” explained Rotans.

From that moment, Mac & Bob’s became the go-to spot for any gathering.

“I’ve had a lot of friends move away and one of the first options they have when they come back is they want to come to Mac & Bob’s,” said Galliher.

It’s not just the food, which we’ll get to soon. Mac & Bob’s is covered with high school and college athletic accomplishments, honoring the past of those we never want to forget.

“In order to get on the wall of fame in lacrosse, you have to be a first team All-American. I’ve had many who said, ‘I’m happy to be on the wall more than anything else,’” said Rotanz.

Even though Mac & Bob’s has 330 seats, the space fills up quickly. So, with a restaurant that big, you need a big kitchen, and they have one of the largest kitchens I’ve ever seen on a Hometown Eats shoot.

“We have some healthy dishes like our stir-fry that is popular. The voodoo chicken bowl with shrimp that has a kick to it. We do seasonal stuff too; we just took off our meat loaf and chicken pot pies and we brought back our chicken salad, which is a big hit. We also have ‘Big Don’s Chili’, which is on all year long. We have lots of fun naming our dishes,” listed Rotanz.

The massive kitchen is full of staffers who know what they’re doing, like 38-year veteran Tui Iott. She made the Katie salad, named after one of Bob’s three daughters.

But if it’s your first time at Mac & Bob’s, you gotta try a monster calzone whipped up by Myles, who has been in the kitchen for 12 years.

You’ll see the reach of this restaurant far beyond its walls and outside patio. Rotanz and his team have been entwined throughout Salem with various charities, churches, and sports teams, which has led to numerous awards locally and across the state.

“If someone told me my freshman year, coming from Long Island, New York that I would be here the rest of my life, yeah, never in a million years would I have thought I would be here in this little spot. If you ask me about Salem, I’m not the guy to ask, I’m a little biased, I love this town. They’ve been good to me,” said Rotanz.

Mac & Bob’s a hometown eat where you’re guaranteed to make lifelong memories.

Mac & Bob’s is located at 316 E Main St, Salem, VA 24153.