When Shamaya Oberlton served as a special education teacher in Philadelphia in 2015, she felt unsupported by her school district and turned to her religion for guidance. Soon after, she received what she felt was an answer to her prayers.
“The next day, the City of Philadelphia called me, and they’re like, ‘Hey, you know you had filed for this vending location down at 36th and Market three years ago?’” said Oberlton, 2012 broadcasting telecommunications and mass media alumna. “I had no idea what they were referring to, but I just thought that that was God’s answer to my prayer that I just prayed the night before.”
After having just 30 days to assemble a business, Oberlton opened Rock N Rolls, a fast-food restaurant specializing in egg rolls. The business has grown steadily since its creation in April 2016, transitioning from a food truck to a ghost kitchen, where customers could only place online orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. This summer, Rock N Rolls has finally transitioned to a traditional storefront, and Oberlton has used the business’ growth to give back to her community.
Oberlton surmised the business idea when she recalled her time selling dinners out of her home kitchen to financially support her mother while she went through chemotherapy. Many customers were particularly fond of her family’s seafood egg roll recipe, a frequent menu item.
The niche cuisine option was sure to fit the bill. Oberlton scrambled to start the business, enlisting friends and family to help with recipe development and securing a food cart.
Oberlton took the next step in launching her business and opened Rock N Rolls’ first traditional brick-and-mortar location on June 1. The storefront, located on Holme Avenue near Ashton Road, provides more space for the growing business and allows customers to connect face-to-face with the employees of the company they’re supporting.
In addition to the new location, Rock N Rolls is partnering with ShopRite to launch a retail line of frozen egg rolls, which Oberlton and the Rock N Rolls team are excited about, she said.
“Your team is literally your biggest asset in a business and a lot of people overlook that and don’t want to invest in building up a good team, but it’s really true, it’s so fundamental in growing up a business, and I’m just glad that I’ve learned it and I’ve embraced it over the years,” Oberlton said.
One of Oberlton’s goals for her team is to cultivate a family environment, which is especially important to her because the business has always been strongly connected to her family.
Oberlton developed Rock N Rolls’ first recipes for unique egg rolls alongside her mother. Despite her mother’s passing just months after Rock N Rolls was founded, Oberlton still uses the recipes they developed to this day.
The recipes they developed included both sweet and savory egg rolls. Today Rock N Rolls’ options range from strawberry cheesecake to Philly cheesesteak.
Oberlton continues honoring her mother through charity work at Rock N Rolls. The company uses social media to connect with those in need, providing catered meals and giveaways on holidays and events, like Thanksgiving, Ramadan and prom.
Oberlton’s penchant for giving first became a part of her business model when she saw a single mother struggling with homelessness and cancer online, so she decided to pay for a catered Thanksgiving dinner for her and her family.
“I really enjoyed how that felt, how that made me feel, how that made her feel,” Oberlton said. “It really made me feel connected to my mother in some type of way. It’s something I know my mother would be proud of.”
In the future, Oberlton hopes to found a nonprofit organization to continue charitable work in her mother’s memory.
Friends and family, like Oberlton’s aunt, Vernell Williams, feel generosity and dependability have always been a part of Oberlton’s character.
“She’s somebody that you can count on, and it’s just like some type of way she’s gonna figure out a way to do it and she’s gonna put a twist on it that’s fancy,” Williams said.
Serita Hall, a close friend of Oberlton’s, knows Oberlton for her readiness to help others and recalls how she has helped Hall with her own business.
“She’s very giving in offering advice of like how to build a business or how to create your own,” Hall said.
Rock N Rolls has been offered a food truck on Temple’s Main Campus, which Oberlton hopes to fill by the end of 2023.
“Being able to operate on Temple’s campus after graduating on Temple’s campus, it makes every other hardship, all the hard work and things of that nature just like, you get to the point where like, okay, it is worth it, I am on the right path,” Oberlton said.