I became a journalist because of the Burrito Royale.
I know that sounds odd, that a small Mexican restaurant on Route 1 would play a role in my career choice, but that’s what happened. Let me explain.
Burrito Royale, which closed earlier this month after being run by the Scott family for nearly 35 years, was a second home for my friends and me. We worked there on and off, ate there frequently and used it as a meeting place.
I got word of its closing two weeks ago when Kathy Scott-Daniel, a friend for three decades, posted a photo to her Facebook page of a group of us from last year. We were there to commemorate the life and mourn the passing of our friend Wayne Kruger.
“Just had my last supper at the Burrito,” she wrote on Facebok. “I am really going to miss that place. A bunch of really great people have worked there, and a lot of friendships have been made. More good memories than I can count!” My response: What? Kathy explained that her family was retiring from running the Burrito—to us it was always just “the Burrito”—and leasing the building to someone. The restaurant closed on Jan. 31 and will open soon as Burrito King. My wife, Annie, and I were shocked, as were so many of our friends. And it got me thinking.
I have always considered myself an accidental journalist. I majored in English at Rutgers, was focused on poetry and writing essays, and really had no interest in journalism beyond my interest in politics.
That is, until a propitious moment in January 1990.
The background: I left graduate school in May 1989, got married that August and was making the trip daily into New York to interview with publishing houses for clerk positions. I was an English major at Rutgers and had planned to teach, but became dissatisfied with the way literary criticism was practiced at that time and thought I could catch on with a publisher and work as a book editor.
To pay the bills, I worked several jobs, one of which was an afternoon counter job at the Burrito. My brother-in-law Michael was managing the place then, and I was friends with the Scott family. Plus, I had worked there several years earlier.
One day, a customer came in and we started talking. She was freelancing for The Central Post, the local weekly, and told me the sports editor might need some help. That led to a short gig as a sports writer, covering wrestling and girls basketball. I realized very quickly that I was onto something.
The managing editor, Ann Haver-Allen, then assigned me the school board beat, which led to a full-time job with the Hillsborough paper and gigs with the Post and Princeton Packet as a reporter, before I settled in as an editor for 15 years before joining Patch.
None of this was planned, of course. It was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time, but I can’t imagine having done anything else with my life at this point.
I am forever grateful to the Scotts for allowing Burrito to be a kind of extended family, so much so that it was the obvious place to congregate after our friend Wayne died of brain cancer last year. We still miss him and we will miss the Burrito.