Josh Longo’s future was written on a napkin.
One day, he scribbled the word “cheesesteak” on a cocktail napkin, and when he came home from work that night, his fiancée Keri Little saw the note. She grew suspicious.
“What are you up to?” she asked him.
Longo admitted that, indeed, he had an idea. He knew that the owner of The Harrisburger was closing his hamburger stand in the Broad Street Market, and he wanted to do something with the space. Cheesesteaks seemed like a natural choice.
Just a few months later, The Cheesesteak Guy opened in the back of the market’s stone building. Since July, co-owners Longo, a former manager at Zeroday Brewing Co., and Little, a Florida transplant, have been filling a niche by churning out the legendary sandwich to market patrons and passersby alike. They average about 100 cheesesteaks a day on market days.
Perhaps this quick success should come as no surprise, as Pennsylvania is practically synonymous with the word, “cheesesteak.”
According to Philadelphia’s official tourist site, the sandwich was invented in the 1930s by hot dog vendor Pat Olivieri in South Philadelphia. Olivieri was grilling beef from the butcher and placed it on an Italian roll. A passing cab driver caught a whiff and asked for the “steak sandwich.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Longo’s personal history also indicates that he made the right choice to enter the cheesesteak biz.
His aunt, Stephanie Stence, owns Premier Caterers in Camp Hill. His uncle, Donny Brown, owns Black ‘n Bleu in Mechanicsburg and formerly owned the Firehouse Restaurant in downtown Harrisburg.
Longo and Little took advantage of the family’s institutional knowledge. They went to his aunt for advice before starting the business. They also credit Broad Street Market Manager Beth Taylor for supporting them as they worked through the process of getting up and running.
Since Longo had also worked at Zeroday’s Outpost in the market, just a few feet from the new stand, he was intimately familiar with the location and its potential.
“I was eager to make cheesesteaks that are authentic, without cutting corners,” he said.
The only corners that Longo and Little cut are the ones on the ends of the rolls they use for sandwiches, which makes them the perfect size. The owners tried out quite a few breads and dimensions before settling on Glassboro, N.J.-based Liscio’s Bakery, whose slogan is, fittingly, “It Starts with the Bread.” Liscio’s is a cheesesteak fan favorite. So, Longo and Little have the bread delivered to their house between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. weekly.
“We had a visitor from south Jersey come to the stand one day, and she gave me her name and number and said, ‘If you ever have rolls left over at the end of the day, can I buy them from you?’” Little said.
But there has been nothing to spare, not even the cut corners. Longo and Little donate those to fellow Broad Street vendors Raising the Bar bakery, which uses them for their bread pudding, and to Hummer’s Meats, which puts them in their meatloaf.
Beyond the bread, Longo and Little emphasize the freshness of all the ingredients they use in their sandwiches.
They get to their stand at 6:45 a.m. every workday to hand-slice all of the ingredients, including mushrooms, onions and peppers. The shaved, choice ribeye is purchased from Warrington Farms in Dillsburg and broken down by hand. Their cheesesteaks also feature the ever-famous Cheez Whiz. But, to give it a creamier consistency, they add some sour cream. If patrons prefer another option, The Cheesesteak Guy also offers provolone, American, cheddar and pepper jack cheeses.
For those craving something other than a cheesesteak, Longo and Little make hamburgers with meat from Hummer’s. It’s another popular choice, as they sell about 25 burgers a day. They also serve breakfast sandwiches, grilled cheeses and BLTs.
“Midtown sucks you in,” said Longo, reflecting on the jump to start and own a business in the popular, historic Harrisburg neighborhood. “You see the same people, and it’s great. It’s the only place we like to hang out.”
Then Little added: “It feels good to be your own boss.”
The Cheesesteak Guy is located in the stone building of the Broad Street Market, Harrisburg. For more information, visit the Facebook page: The Cheesesteak Guy.