'ROCCO'S WAS A SINKING SHIP'
By MICHAEL STARR
August 12, 2003 -- TOPHER Goodman, the weeping waiter who walked out on Rocco Dispirito during Sunday's episode of "The Restaurant," says he was right to quit.
"As soon as I first got [to Rocco's], I saw I was standing on what was a deeply sinking ship," Goodman told The Post yesterday.
"No one was paying attention, no one was showing they had compassion for the staff, so why should I care?" he said.
Topher is back waiting tables again at the restaurant at which he'd worked before getting a job at Rocco's - East of Eighth, at 23rd Street and 8th Avenue.
And he has no regrets even now that the show is a hit - and he became a major character. "It could have been one of those 'You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone' scenarios - but it was smart to move on," he said.
"I quit on a Monday night and the cameras were there until [the following] Saturday," said Goodman.
"I could've stuck it out to gain camera time and further myself in the business, but . . . once I hit that moment of truth inside myself, I'm done."
Much of Sunday's episode dealt with Goodman's vocal criticism of Dispirito's management style as things got chaotic at Rocco's, the downtown setting for "The Restaurant."
Things got especially bad when Dispirito convinced ex-bartender Lola to come back as beverage manager - and then gave her his red Vespa motorcycle to lure her back.
That was the final straw for Goodman, who promptly and tearfully quit - despite Dispirito's best efforts to persuade him otherwise.
"I was kind of burned out," Goodman says "Under no circumstances was I going to stay at a place that was unhealthy for me.
"To me, my own personal happiness was more important - show or no show," Goodman says.
Well, maybe. While Goodman is back at East of Eighth, the trappings of (fleeting) fame have whet his appetite for more.
"I'm trying to parlay what happened to me on TV into something else," he says. "I loved the experience of just being myself on camera, and I would honestly love more of an opportunity to share more of myself on TV."
And Goodman says he bears no hard feelings toward Dispirito.
"I hope the editing of the show doesn't make him seem resentful of me," he says. "I certainly had a great experience and I hope we both walked away having gained something.
"I don't know what happened after I walked out the door, but I think Rocco learned from losing his favorite waiter."