At Primanti’s She Slings Slaw and Fries with a Side of Sass
Toni Haggerty celebrates 50 years as the restaurant chain's iconic ambassador.
Primanti Brothers sandwiches are “Almost Famous” — but manager and brand ambassador Toni Haggerty is a bonafide celebrity.
For 50 years, the 78-year-old Italian spitfire has been slinging fries and coleslaw (it’s her recipe!) at the company’s OG location in the Strip. You won’t find her eating the trademark toppings, however; she prefers a bologna sandwich with fried onions and a bowl of chili (also her recipe!).
The Washington, Pa. store is the busiest in the chain, but getting a side of sass with your meal is what keeps Pittsburghers — and curious tourists — flocking to 18th Street.
Born in Italy, Haggerty came to the United States with her family when she was 17, with steamer trunks full of prosciutto and salami in tow. She got her foot in the industry by working at a restaurant on Route 51.
She started her star-studded career at Primanti Brothers in 1973, often working 16 hours a day, six days a week. (She did take 10 days off to have a baby.)
Haggerty has appeared on numerous TV shows, feeding everyone from Rachael Ray and Bobby Flay to the Crown Prince of Jordan.
“The people are my favorite thing about working here,” she says. “I treat everybody the same, everybody right.”
Even when drunken revelers drop in late at night and start acting like jagoffs, they know who’s boss.
“If they start a fight, this is what I do; I get in the middle and say, ‘The first person who touches me goes to jail,’” she explains with a wink and a smile.
Primanti Brothers employs close to 2,000 people and, by year’s end, that number is expected to increase to 2,400 or more. Many of the workers are “lifers,” staying with the company their entire careers.
Now that she’s pushing 80, Haggerty toys with the idea of calling it quits, but worries she’ll be too bored at home once she hangs up her apron.
“I will retire someday,” she says. “I guess they’ll have to fire me first.”