Margaret Pilarski

An actor with movies, TV shows and handfuls of commercials sprinkled around his professional resume, Rob caught the acting bug in high school when he was cast in the musical comedy Li’l Abner. Local commercials followed, including one for a tuxedo rental store co-starring fellow Greenville athlete Kevin Garnett, before Rob was off to Auburn to major in business while continuing to act on the side. After studying abroad in Europe for a college program, Rob returned there after graduation, where he stayed for nearly a year. 

When he came back to the states, aimless but eager, he tagged along with a friend who was moving to Wilmington for grad school. “Wilmington had just become a hotbed for film and I was determined to land a role on Dawson’s Creek, which I did,” says Rob. 

For a year he continued to audition for other roles, landing a spot in Black Knight, a Martin Lawrence comedy – but that taught him yet another lesson. “That was my first feature film and I realized how brutally competitive acting is. And I was broke while all my friends were starting to make a little money.”

After a stint selling wine in Atlanta – very successfully – Rob was once again looking for acting leads, so it was off to New York City. “It’s like this fight between the real world and acting – satisfying your soul or satisfying your wallet. It’s always been a thing that I’ve grappled with,” he admits. 

“I hung out in New York for a few years and my dad came up one weekend to hang out and was like, ‘What are you going to do when you’re 35 and waiting tables with no resume?’ It started to hit me – I can always do acting but I can’t always go back and get a good resume. I knew sales was kind of my gig – acting is selling and selling is acting. Whether I’m selling somebody on a character I’m playing or on a sandwich I’m making – that was kind of my vocation.”

The opportunity arose to move back to the Greenville area to sell high-end property, which Rob parlayed into bigger real estate sales opportunities in St. Kitts, the Turks and Caicos and Costa Rica. 

“Real estate was going bananas,” he says, “I was literally selling dreams, like ‘there’s going to be a casino here, there’s going to be yacht club here…’ Amazing views, amazing property.” But the bubble burst and he moved to Charleston in 2012 on the hunt for his own dream property. Unlike his customers, though, Rob wasn’t after a lakefront villa with a view – Rob’s dream was to own a corner store like the one he would frequent on New York City’s Upper West Side in 2002. “Whether I was getting a six-pack of beer or a pastrami on rye, I would go in there every day. I loved it – it had everything I needed and the vibe was great.” 

And that love of community, of good food and everyday reliability, meant that Rob was after something special. “I didn’t just want a convenience store, I wanted a corner store of your dreams. I wanted the food to be amazing, I wanted the vibe to be great, I wanted the music to be killer, I wanted it to be intrinsically Charleston and authentic as hell.”

When he bought Queen Street Grocery in June 2012, dad had some choice words again. “My dad was like, ‘Rob this is the dumbest decision, do you realize you’re going to be in the kitchen 12 hours a day?’”

But times have changed. In four years Rob has built a staff and a reputation for quality, convenience, and authenticity. Not to mention over 13,000 followers on Instagram, where creative daily specials and community shout-outs are posted to the @queenstreetgrocery account. 

“We bring in local art, we bring in all local products. It’s like a utopia for locals. We have no pretention here, I’m not doing this to make a trillion dollars; this is for the soul, for the love of good food. It’s exactly what I’d dreamed it would be. It’s been a home run.”

And yet, Rob still wakes up with acting on the brain. “There’s times when it’s full-time, there’s times when it’s a hobby. They’re gonna need actors from 2 years old to 92 years old, so I’m always going to do it. I never know what’s going to happen in any given day. I might get a call to go audition for something tomorrow in Atlanta or New York or L.A., and I love that, it’s not like I have somewhere to be every morning.”

Two of Rob’s latest credits will be released soon, Enclosure, a horror film shot locally and co-starring Jake Busey, and Faceless, another locally shot horror film. He also landed a part in Marlon Wayans’s Netflix show, Naked, filmed in Charleston. This isn’t the first time Rob has been in a Wayans production – he was a series regular in the BET project Second Generation Wayans, playing Tony Dinapoli, the Wayans brothers’ agent. 

If that wasn’t enough, Rob’s got a hand in another “locally produced” story – that of the Gentlemen Smugglers, a crew of nonviolent drug runners who brought in (literal) tons of pot from Jamaica and Colombia through the South Carolina coast. Rob was so enthralled with their tale, and by the men themselves, that he optioned the rights to their story and hopes to get the greenlight for a show. And of course, he’d be in front of the camera once it starts rolling. 

His successes, adventures and continued learning are part of what Rob calls his “year of the Renaissance” (or #yearoftherenaissance on Instagram) and includes an upcoming trip to Africa. He’ll be going on safari in Johannesburg, seeing Victoria Falls and climbing Table Mountain. Says Rob, “Travelling is the ultimate form of education. How can you see a door and not want to open it?”

Laura Olsen

Houston, TX