Sandwiches now come neatly wrapped in paper boats

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Next time you visit The Rooster, Mike Solomonov and Steve Cook’s diner-style Jewish deli in Center City, you’ll notice something different.

There’s the same general menu of punched up classics — house-smoked pastrami sandwiches, corned pork belly special, Yemenite matzoh ball soup — and the same 1950s-era decor, complete with cushioned booths and a long formica counter. But now, the middle of that counter has an ordering station.

As of Jan. 5, The Rooster has gone semi-fast casual, adopting a system similar to how CookNSolo operates sister spots Dizengoff (the hummusiya) and Goldie (the falafel house).

After walking in, customers stand in a short queue, glance at a letterboard menu behind the register, place their order and pay on the spot. The cashier hands off a number to take back to the table, and when the the food is ready, it’s brought out on plastic trays.

“It works really well at Diz,” said Cook on Friday as he looked around at the lunch crowd packed into the below-ground space at 1526 Sansom. “We’ll see how it goes.”

Orders are now placed at the counter Credit: Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

The reason for the switch is simple: it’ll allow the tiny restaurant to serve more customers during peak periods — which will help ensure it can make good on its founding mission. The restaurant was opened as a partnership between Federal Donuts and Broad Street Ministry, and all profits go directly toward that community organization’s work feeding hungry Philadelphians.

Though Cook and Solomonov are established restaurateurs with many successful concepts (and more on the way), making the The Rooster profitable has proved tricky.

Last summer, the philanthropic restaurant underwent its first makeover, a transition that stripped “soup” from its name in a bid to bolster warm-weather business. “When it was warm out, the picture wasn’t…rosy,” the proprietors wrote in an open letter at the time. While they were able to donate $16,000 after Rooster’s first year, the spot was actually losing money in the summer.

It’s too early to tell whether the name change had its intended effect, Cook said, but this new shift could be even more impactful.

Lunch is when The Rooster does most of its business, but the narrow dining room can only hold so many people, and managers often have to turn potential customers away. Counter ordering cuts down on the time it takes to serve a group — not having to wait for a check/wait for change shaves off a lot of minutes — and also makes it easier for people who just want to duck in for a quick grab-and-go.

Since the process is new, some details are still being ironed out.

Sandwiches now come wrapped in wax paper in disposable paper boats, as do fries, while soup still comes in regular bowls.One casualty of the new system is milkshakes — they’re no longer on the menu because they take too long — but it’s easy to satisfy that craving with a visit to Goldie right upstairs, a customer observed last week.

The Rooster is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. Brunch is also available.

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Danya Henninger

Danya Henninger is director of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the...