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Sean “Dewey” Doyle has been setting up his Roxburgers food cart at the corner of Ridge Avenue and Walnut Lane for just over a year, plenty of time for his namesake dish to gain a solid reputation.
“It’s right on the way to where I take my kid to school,” said W.M. Akers, a Philadelphia mystery novelist and regular customer. “I thought Roxburgers was a clever name, and the burger is really phenomenal … just a simple, straight ahead, really, really good burger with caramelized onions.”
Akers described Doyle as a friendly guy who makes small talk with everybody. But after Doyle got Roxburgers through the depths of the COVID pandemic last winter, the cart is having trouble surviving this one.
Difficulties with some of the students from Roxborough High School, who change buses at the corner, have led Doyle to start closing an hour earlier than he wants to.
“Right now, I stop at 2 p.m. because that’s when the high school students get out, and it’s a little too dangerous,” Doyle said, adding that he sees other nearby businesses doing the same.
Doyle estimates the lost hour costs him about $100 a day in sales. “Maybe $100 might not sound like a lot to many people,” he said, “but that’s my livelihood.”
The danger isn’t theoretical. He recounted a recent incident, when he said a group of about 80 children got off of the Route 9 bus and a commotion started. One had challenged another to a fight, Doyle said, but ended up on the losing end of a pile.
“They just started just beating the you-know-what out of this one kid,” Doyle recalled. “I can hear the blows because they’re within a foot or two of me. I could hear them kicking him in his gut. I could hear them stomping on him and punching him.”
In a move he would come to regret, the cart operator got involved.
“I made the mistake of pulling one of the kids off, at which point … three of them turned around and came after me. They came from behind and were kicking and punching me.” Doyle extricated himself and scrambled into the Walnut Lane Dunkin Donuts. “I asked them to call the police, but they wouldn’t call.”
When Doyle contacted the Philadelphia Police Department after the fight, the response was less than helpful, he said.
“They pretty much told me that there’s nothing they can do about it,” he said, explaining that police told him to contact the principal at Roxborough High School, which is located about a mile and a half away. “They can’t get the kids off the corner. There’s no one that’s been willing to lay the law down and follow through with any kind of punishment.”
Had it happened closer to the high school, the district’s safety officers could have handled things, according to Christina Clarke, a spokesperson for the School District of Philadelphia. Anything that happens on school grounds, or close to school grounds, is under their jurisdiction, she said.
Asked about the situation, a PPD spokesperson said that even when students are involved, anything that happens off of school grounds is within their jurisdiction, including acts of theft and assault.
Meanwhile, Doyle is trying to figure out what’s next for Roxburgers.
He currently caters on Saturdays for the Philadelphia Disc Golf Association’s weekly gathering in Strawberry Mansion. He also gets booked for private events some evenings. But it’s not the same as a regular business on a busy corner.
“I’m right now in the middle of trying to determine if I can continue working, Doyle said, “or if I can find other spots to be to make up for my lost hours here.”