The Orginal Philadelphia Cheesesteak Co.

Since 1981, The Original Philadelphia Cheesesteak Co. has produced “Philly” style beef and chicken steak sandwich products. Although it has brought great success to the company, Philadelphia Cheesesteak is not resting on its laurels and is unveiling innovative cheesesteak products to the marketplace.

According to Executive Vice President John Karamatsoukas, the recent expansion of the company’s cooked-food operations has enabled it to develop new ways to satisfy the consumer’s proclivity for the product. “This past year we’ve launched three new products including a cooked Philly steak pizza topping, Philly Cheesesteak Sliders and Philly Cheesesteak Egg Rolls,” he says.

The cheesesteak egg rolls use the traditional ingredients of a cheesesteak – beef, sautéed onions and cheese – stuffed in a spring roll wrapper. Karamatsoukas describes the cheesesteak sliders as a “miniaturized cheesesteak, fully encased in a pizza-like dough.”

Philly Foresight

Nicholas Karamatsoukas and George Kontodemos founded the Original Philadelphia Cheesesteak Co., which is privately owned and family operated. The company says it has developed a solid reputation as an industry leader and innovator in product development.

At the start, the company’s specialty was producing bulk and portion-controlled raw, frozen steak and chicken for sandwiches that were not marinated. The product line has since grown substantially. “Today, we have 10 raw, portion-controlled categories and a blend of seasoned categories with a total of nearly 200 SKUs,” John Karamatsoukas states. “We meet the demands of our constantly evolving customer profile.”

In keeping with the company’s mantra of bringing the authentic Philly cheesesteak taste and experience to locations throughout the country, the cooked product line is meeting all expectations. “It’s working out great,” Karamatsoukas declares. “We saw the potential of a convenient, fully cooked Philly steak in [convenience] stores, high volume feeders, concession stands and deli sandwich counters. We took, effectively, the identical raw, frozen product and made a cooked product already fragmented. The customer just needs to reheat and serve – it’s already fully cooked and pasteurized.

“Furthermore, processors are using the products to top pizzas and stuff in strombolis or calzones,” Karamatsoukas continues. “Traditional food consumers or anyone without a flat-top grill can use [the precooked Philly steaks].”

Great Way to Eat a Cheesesteak

With its two new par-fried products – the egg rolls and sliders – The Original Philadelphia Cheesesteak Co. feels that it is poised to make an even larger dent in the industry. The company found that because it has made great strides to introduce the Philly flavor to the rest of the country, it would be a nice fit to add to the ways customers can enjoy the taste.

“A handful of high-end restaurants in the Philadelphia region have been making hand-rolled Philly cheesesteak egg rolls for several years and they’ve become a big hit,” Consulting Brand Manager Drew Mattis states. “So we want to introduce the Philly egg rolls and sliders to the rest of the country. They are both unique and delicious, and we feel that they’ve got a lot of legs. They are a great new way to enjoy the cheesesteak experience.”

Both fully cooked products come frozen, and Mattis explains that customers only need to thaw, heat and serve. It took the company six months to develop the egg rolls and sliders so that they had the right Philly taste that would satisfy customers, Mattis says. Karamatsoukas notes that the products work well for traditional food service operators, as well as convenience stores and stadiums.

Philly Preparation

As an owner-operated business, Karamatsoukas says Philadelphia Cheesesteak has developed good, long-term, loyal relationships with customers. To maintain these relationships, he says the company constantly works to understand the consumer and changes in demand for new price points through value-added products. “It’s a combination of being proactive and reactive, and responding to customer demands,” he states.

“The interesting thing about our category is it is still fairly new,” Karamatsoukas explains. “It’s not as if we are jumping into the ground beef category or sausages and hot dogs.” This has lead to Philadelphia Cheesesteak to custom equip its factory for manufacturing operations and safety.

“In a lot of cases we’ve purchased equipment not readily available in the marketplace,” Karamatsoukas says. “We’ve customized equipment in an effort to automate food safety. We have a strong parallel relationship with the USDA. When it comes to food safety, that’s critical. It’s paramount, especially when producing a fully cooked, ready-to-eat product.”

Preaching Cheesesteaks

“We are the original, no arguing that,” Mattis asserts, noting its one of the distinguishing characteristics of The Original Philadelphia Cheesesteak Co. “Almost 30 years ago, our founders Nick and George realized that operators were spending a lot of time, effort and money hand slicing meat for their cheesesteaks,” he states. “They identified the distinct need for pre-portioned, high-quality, mass-produced sandwich steak products and The Original Philadelphia Cheesesteak Co. was born. Twelve years later, Nick and new partner Stavros Kalisperis realized a similar opportunity existed with pre-cooked, portioned controlled Philly style sandwich steak products, and our pre-cooked sister company was established.”

Mattis believes the company’s strengths are manifested in product quality, innovation and taste, a direct result of its long tenure in business. “Pure and simple, our products taste the best,” he says. “Our flavor profiles have been developed over the years because we pride ourselves on listening to our customer’s needs and then exceeding them. They ask for different portion sizes and different flavors, different cuts and different blends of meat. We are willing to do anything, provided the business is there to support it and the end product does not result in anything but an authentic, Philly-style steak product.”

But Mattis feels that success would not be possible without one big intangible, Philadelphia Cheesesteak’s ability to serve its customers. “We really differentiate ourselves on customer service,” he says. “There is no discrimination between the size of the customer. Whether a street vendor or national chain, we approach the customer the same way – we provide as high a level of service as we can to fulfill our customer’s needs and help them be successful.”

Philadelphia Cheesesteak is now licensing its brand name to customers, which Karamatsoukas says gives vendors a stamp of approval. “The Original Philly brand name carries a positive brand image,” he says. “Be it Philly or Montana, people are passionate about Philly steaks. Authentic ingredients are an important portion of it, and we’ve been invested in providing that.”

The company expects to see continued growth, and Karamatsoukas points out that cheesesteaks have grown from a niche market in the mid-Atlantic region to being found on menus throughout the country.

“Within the past 10 to 15 years, the cheesesteak’s popularity has spread from the Philadelphia region to the rest of North America, becoming a more ubiquitous menu item,” Mattis says. “It’s no longer a curiosity – it’s not ‘Oh, I’m going to try a cheesesteak,’ but ‘I’m going out to get a cheesesteak.’” “We like to think we’re helping spread the gospel of the cheesesteak,” Karamatsoukas adds.