One morning earlier this year, a woman walked past 79 Hudson St. in Hoboken and saw the “Coming Soon: WindMill” sign in the window. She began to cry, franchise owner Roger Corrado recalled.
She said to Corrado, “I have to tell my mom a WindMill is coming to Hoboken!”
“People are very emotionally attached to the place,” he explained.
When Corrado was a kid, he would frequent one of eight WindMill restaurants when he and his family vacationed in Belmar. “So basically I’ve been a fan for 30 years. Well, maybe a little more than 30 years,” he laughed.
Corrado laughs a lot now that he’s made his Hoboken hot dog and hamburger shop the ninth WindMill in the state. He was a Wall Street trader for 25 years, and officially left his position as the vice chairman of the New York Board of Traders in September 2011.
“Steve Jobs said that if you wake up for 100 days and you look in the mirror and you’re unhappy with your work, it’s time to find another job,” he said. “I enjoyed Wall Street to a point, but it was time to go.”
Taste of the Jersey Shore
Corrado sat smiling ear to ear as the table filled with more and more tasty shore treats (“You’ve just got to try one more thing,” he said about 10 times through the course of the meal). Pleasant old school rock music played in the background.
He sat in the bright-but-not-too-bright and smallish self-serve dining room, surrounded by Zagat awards, old WindMill photos, and a picture of Martha Stewart deeming their hot dog the best in the tri-state area.
You could plainly see that Corrado considered his new business and its food to be much, much more than “a good thing.”
“I used to eat a hot dog in Belmar while waiting for the Big Ed to come out.” – Roger Corrado
“I turned in my suit for my WindMill attire, and I’m loving it,” he said.
The first WindMill restaurant opened in 1964 in Long Branch. The newest one boasts a back wall with a bright, hand-painted mural full of Hoboken history. There are Frankie S. and the Rat Pack, some Tootsie Rolls, a depiction of Washington Street’s Maxwell’s, and Snooki with a hook around her pulling her back to Jersey City (“Since they wouldn’t let her film here,” Corrado snickered).
A quick tour of the kitchen showed it to be super-immaculate, and Corrado’s partner Timothy Cochrane, who was also once a Wall Street man, was working the flat top grill. When was the last time you saw a flat top grill behind the counter of a fast food chain restaurant?
From Wall Street to Main Street
“You get burnt out on Wall Street,” Corrado said. “Things were getting bad there, and in 2007 when I was vacationing down the shore again, I inquired if the franchise would be interested in bringing WindMill to Hoboken.”
They were. He purchased the rights in 2007, but the next year the economy took a turn for the worse.
Enter “Timmy:” Corrado met Cochrane through mutual friends as this “Brooklyn guy who thought that Nathan’s was the best hot dog he’d ever eaten,” Corrado said.
So they made a deal. Corrado would take him for a drive to the shore, show him some WindMills, and after eating the food, Cochrane could make his decision on whether to become a partner.
“I’m just this knucklehead from Brooklyn, so don’t tell me there’s a better dog than a dirty water hot dog,” Cochrane said. “When he asked me to go to the shore, I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ That afternoon we were scouting locations in Hoboken.”
When Cochrane was 16, he became the youngest assistant manager for McDonald’s the Tri-State area had ever seen.
“Everyone kept asking, as a trader for 25 years, did I really love it?” he explained. “Probably not, but it was what I did and what I was good at. So looking into a second career, I asked myself what I really enjoyed, and the answer was working at McDonalds.”
Both men’s dream became a reality on May 1, 2012.
“I never even looked back,” Corrado said. “We get to help people in the area. We’ve got workers from 16 to 60 because the economy dictates that, and we feel good about stimulating the economy and giving back.”
Their contentment trickles down. One employee sat in the dining room two hours before her shift, simply because she enjoyed being around.
Fresh, never frozen, and damn good
“Tell me that’s not the best French fry you’ve ever had,” Corrado said, handing over a crinkle fry smothered in house made cheese sauce. The fries, at $3.09 a basket (and $4.09 with cheese), have been rated the best in New Jersey for the past four years.
And the onion rings, at $3.89 a basket, are nothing to sniff at with their golden brown, crispy crunch that makes having a conversation while eating them a bit of a challenge.
“All the gym types say they’re bad for you, but it’s an onion, for gosh sakes; how bad could it be?” Corrado laughed.
Not bad at all, particularly when dipped in the cheese sauce or even the homemade, fresh every day meaty chili sold at $3.99 a bowl.
As a double decker cheeseburger that looked like it just popped out of some glossy, foodie magazine came to the table – replete with cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo, and onion on a hard roll for $6.99 – Corrado swooned.
“Now that is a thing of beauty,” he said. “I used to eat a hot dog in Belmar while waiting for the Big Ed to come out.”
Which brings us to the hot dogs. WindMill’s is a $4.29 custom-made foot long, thicker-than-normal Sabrett that snaps in your mouth and doesn’t leave that, well, hot-doggy aftertaste or burn in your esophagus hours later. Any sort of condiment one can dream of appears on the counter, from pickle relish to hot pickle relish to plain pickles, and everything in between.
The difference between these meat products and a chain is that they’re delivered by a local butcher. In fact, they’re delivered by Joe Vrola, the same butcher who had a vacation home next door to Corrado’s in Belmar.
“That’s got to be some good karma,” Corrado said.
Meat free, kiddie, and party options
The WindMill also offers a pretty darned good veggie burger with the taste of the grill for $5.99 as well as a garden salad for $4.59 that can be dressed up with chicken, tuna salad, or rib eye steak (that actually comes rare if you want it to) for an additional charge.
They’ve got a fried flounder sandwich for $5.49 which is actually a filet and not a minced-up amalgam of random fishes, and a tuna steak sandwich for $6.99.
Kids 12 and under can dine on the Chick-a-dee chicken fingers combo that includes fries and a soda for $4.79, the Hot Dogger for $4.79, or the Little Leo, which is a gentler version of the Big Ed for $4.79.
Want to take the taste of WindMill home? The WindMill Party Pack (price varies depending on how many people you care to feed) includes hot dogs, condiments, and buns, all in a handy takeout box.
“Look, I’m not selling the place,” Corrado added. “It sold me! I’m telling you I’ve been a fan for over 30 years.”
WindMill delivers and can be found on both Grub Hub and Seamless for online delivery. Call (201) 963-0900 or visit WindMillHoboken.com for more information.
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org