Philly Originals in Beaver County Is All About Cheesesteaks And Brotherly Love
Two siblings — including a former employee — have taken over the 30-year-old sandwich shop.
This is an all-American story about Pittsburghers and it starts in Philadelphia.
You can find the City of Brotherly Love’s signature cheesesteak at Philly Originals at 400 Third St. in Beaver, about 30 minutes northwest of the Steel City. In case yinz Iggles fans didn’t know, we got a sammich, too.
Brother-and-Sister Business Owners Eric Kaluza and Alexandra Spain grew up eating the Commonwealth’s other delicacy; a fresh hoagie roll piled high with grilled, thinly sliced sirloin steak and provolone cheese.
The siblings are experts on the, ahem, subject.
But they’re Western Pennsylvanians by birth and lifelong residents of the Beaver County borough. Kaluza still lives just a few blocks away from the eatery that opened in 1993.
And before I get too far into this story, I know there are loads of rules about cheesesteaks. I welcome the kindly worded input from my fellow Keystone Staters. You’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania, right?
I’ve made several trips to Philadelphia and, guided by trusted natives, had a blast each time. I’ve patronized Geno’s and Pat’s. I’m drawing a blank on the third joint, but I remember they had John Candy’s autographed photo on the wall, which automatically made it my favorite place. For the record, I was a 21-year-old bridesmaid at the tail end of my sorority sister’s bachelorette party; Barf quotes from “Spaceballs” were inevitable.
While the various cheesesteaks were delicious; the service left a little something to be desired. I’d like a modicum of kindness unless I’m at one of those places where rudeness is their schtick. At Sunrise Cafe in Geneva, Ohio, I happily received a verbal beatdown while enjoying a delicious breakfast. On my way out, a line cook screamed, “Thanks for leaving!”
That’s funny. Even if they meant the insults hurled my way, they delivered them with acerbic wit, and I respect that.
But, as a paying customer, I don’t like being barked at because I’m unfamiliar with the regional complexities of how to order a sandwich the “right” way. I already have anxiety; I want to enjoy every sandwich.
Philly Originals is run by a nice family — and that includes its dedicated employees.
In May, the siblings bought the place from Mitch Green, Philly Originals’ original owner who is originally from Philly. (“Everybody got that?” — Dark Helmet, “Spaceballs”)
When he was 15, Kaluza got a job behind the grill and has essentially never left the place, at least not in his heart. Spain tackles front-of-the-house operations. Their parents are regulars and often stop by with Spain’s 2-year-old son in tow.
“It was always just me and my friends working, having a good time,” says Kaluza as we sit on the sidewalk outside of the corner storefront. “We grew up here, we ate here, we know the people who are here, we know it works.”
Patrons can dine in, take out, have an event catered and, for the first time in Philly Originals history, order online.
Every Saturday, a loyal customer from Ligonier drives to Philly Originals for lunch.
During my visit on a Friday during the lunch rush, I sat outside and watched folks filter in and out of the space, the smell of grilled onions and peppers wafting in my face every time someone opened the door. If that doesn’t ring your Liberty Bell I don’t know what will.
As I waited for my cheesesteak, a nearby crosswalk signal varied between chirping and beeping sounds. I was hungry and about to go bonkers when Kaluza delivered the sandwich with a smile and a side of fries.
Last Thanksgiving, after long discussions about owning a family business, Kaluza and Spain approached Green about selling his beloved business. In the April 1995 edition of Pittsburgh Magazine, writer Sam Edelmann called Green’s cheesesteaks “the best, and most authentic.”
They promised to take care of it as it’s part of their origin story as well.
Even during the change of hands, the shop never stopped slinging cheesesteaks. The beloved mascot, Pat the Patriot, is still representing and you can order from a Bill of Sandwiches. But the new owners spent off-hours cleaning, replacing the countertops, adding a point-of-sale system and other tech upgrades and performing foodie feng shui to make the space more inviting.
Aside from adding a few items, including jalapeno poppers and a Buffalo chicken salad, they kept the menu the same and regularly consulted with Green, who is still passionate about the business he built.
Brandin Hutchinson is about to celebrate his 15th anniversary at Philly Originals. Every morning you’ll find the full-time employee in the kitchen chopping fresh veggies, mixing homemade dressings and signing for the daily Breadworks delivery.
What’s kept him in the kitchen, which can reach kiln-like temperatures in the summer so long?
“I like cooking,” he says. “It’s a good product and these are good people. They’ve made a lot of improvements and we’ve received so much support from the community. I actually don’t hate coming to work.”
Raven Chandler is 21 and he’s spent five of those years working for Philly Originals. His girlfriend, Carly Davis, is in charge of the eatery’s social media.
With an uptick in business, the owners are thinking about a second location and possible franchising opportunities after that.
Future employees will be trained to make sandwiches Philadelphia-style, but they can feel free to be nice.
Does sibling rivalry interfere with business?
“Working together has been wonderful,” Spain says. “We come from a super-close Italian family. We can trust each other.”