Roland Mollere Sr., who opened the popular R & O’s eatery in Bucktown with his wife more than three decades ago, died Wednesday after a four-month bout with cancer. He was 87.
Like others in Bucktown, originally a fishing and hunting colony on the eastern edge of Metairie, Mollere once earned a living trawling the waters of Lake Pontchartrain. His wife, Ora, ran a bread delivery route.
By 1980, the couple had saved enough money and family recipes to launch R & O’s in the back of the no-frills East End Bakery on Old Hammond Highway along the lake.
R & O’s thin-crust pizzas and New Orleans-style po-boys became staples, and their popularity led the Molleres to move their business into a larger facility just up the road, where they also offered a variety of classic Italian and seafood dishes, said their daughter, Carla Mollere Flick.
But R & O’s outgrew that space as well, and in 1992, the Molleres moved into a building they had built next door at 216 Old Hammond Highway. Families and groups of friends continue to pack the restaurant, known for its burnt-red siding and A-frame ceiling.
The Molleres ran the restaurant day to day with the help of their children. Ora Mollere shared the responsibility of making the big decisions with her husband until she died in November 2014 at age 85.
Mollere then retained final say on all restaurant matters until he was diagnosed with asbestos-related lung cancer in January, Flick said. She said one of the last things her father did was to make her and her sister, Sherrill, promise they would keep the restaurant running after he was gone.
He had made a similar promise to his wife of more than 68 years shortly before she died, Flick said.
“It was in their blood, and it’s in our blood,” she said. “They built it for the family and for the kids, the grandkids and the great-grandkids to take over. So we’ll keep it going.”
However, R & O’s isn’t the only Bucktown tradition Mollere had a hand in establishing. He is also credited with starting the “Blessing of the Bucktown Fleet,” in which local boaters gather at the marina off Old Hammond Highway during the Fourth of July holiday and pray alongside a priest for a safe, bountiful fishing season.
The first such blessing was organized by Mollere in 1975, Flick said. The tradition continued for several years, stopped for about three decades and then was revived in 2013.
The first year it was brought back, Mollere won an award for having the best decorated boat.
“It’s another Bucktonian that’s passed, and in Bucktown, that means a lot because there’s only a few Bucktonians left,” Flick said of her father. “But we’re relieved he’s not suffering anymore, and he’s with my mother again.”
Aside from his daughters, survivors include two sons, Roland Jr. and Ulysses; 13 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday and from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Wednesday at Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home, 5100 Pontchartrain Blvd., New Orleans. A Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Wednesday.