Sandwich OnSLAWT: What Primanti’s Has Planned As It Enters Its 90th Year
Primanti Bros. has a new CEO — and plans for more expansion outside of Pittsburgh.
As the new CEO of Primanti Brothers, Adam Golomb’s main objective is to “not screw it up.”
After spending four years as president and chief marketing officer of the 90-year-old company, Golomb started the new gig on Jan. 1, stepping into the shoes most recently filled by outgoing CEO David Head. Golomb, a Mt. Lebanon native, got his master’s degree from Penn State University and parlayed that education into a career working for other iconic local brands such as Giant Eagle and Eat’n Park.
He bleeds black and gold — and Trappey’s Red Devil Cayenne Pepper Sauce.
“It’s like hitting the Pittsburgh lottery,” he says with a laugh. “When they were looking for someone to run marketing, they wanted someone who gets Pittsburgh, loves it and respects it. I eat here three or four times a week.
“I’ve had every sandwich on the menu, but I’m a pastrami guy.”
Seated at a table inside Primanti’s original location at 46 18th St. in the Strip District, Golomb looks around the “new” room, which was added 35 years ago. The space was recently updated, but still has an old-fashioned charm to it — especially if longtime employee Toni Haggerty is on duty. Read more about this 5-foot legend here.
During his 10-year stint as CEO, Head grew the company from 13 locations to more than 40, creating a regional restaurant powerhouse. Golomb wants to continue that trend by staying true to the brand’s roots while embracing the future.
The plan is to open five locations a year (including what will become the largest Primanti’s to date, in the North Hills) while introducing the “Almost Famous” sandwich, not to mention the chain’s pizza and wings, to even more folks beyond the Steel City.
Since 1933, when Joe Primanti first set up a food cart in the Strip, the restaurant known for putting meat, cheese, fries and coleslaw between two slices of bread has been a staple of Pittsburgh culture. Want to know who’s who in the city? Just look at artist Dave Klug’s mural next time yinz are dahn ‘ere.
And while most people are loyal to a particular sandwich (mine is capicola, egg and cheese), the company introduces a new creation every six to seven weeks. Golomb says they even put a ’Burgh-style Impossible Burger on the menu at one point but only sold three.
“That’s not what our fans wanted. We know what the brand is, and we try to laser-focus on our food rather than try to be something for everybody,” he explains. “We do offer ways to customize your sandwich and our team is great at working with people’s food allergies.”
Occasionally, you’ll hear yinzers grumble about Primanti’s lack of McKees Rocks-made Mancini’s bread, but Golomb says the company employs different third-party bakeries at every location to make Italian loaves according to a 50-year-old recipe. Locally, M. Cibrone & Sons Italian Bakery & Deli and Cellone’s Italian Bread Co. handle the dough.
The No. 1 seller is The Pitts-Burgher, a seasoned beef patty with all of the yinzer fixins. Of course, Golomb will half-jokingly tell you that beer outsells the food. A few months ago, Primanti’s teamed with Slippery Rock’s North Country Brewing Co. to produce its first branded brew — Almost Famous Red Ale. It’s currently available at locations in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Get Aht of Tahn
So, how do you take a Pittsburgh brand that’s so, well, Pittsburgh, and launch it in different markets, especially ones considered “enemy territory” by Steelers fans?
“We embrace the Pittsburgh culture and history, but you have to build off of the local community and try to become a spot with unbelievable value,” says Golomb, who adds that the real estate team has its sights set on Maryland, Virginia, Ohio and Eastern Pennsylvania. “The goal is to open 30 minutes from the last location so there’s brand recognition.”
From a building standpoint, if you’ve seen one Primanti’s, you’ve seen one Primanti’s; each site is a little different. Klug paints murals at every store, incorporating that town’s athletes, politicians, musicians and TV personalities. The company also excels at promotional gimmicks and social media giveaways that create a loyal fanbase.
When an eatery debuted in Hanover, York County, last September, Primanti’s celebrated by giving away free sandwiches for a year to the first 100 customers through the door.
More than 200 people showed up, many of them sleeping outside overnight to score one on-the-house sammich a week for 52 weeks. Primanti’s will run the promotion each time it opens a new spot.
There are three new stores in the works this year, including a two-story, 9,000-square-foot behemoth in Ross Township’s McIntyre Square.
The former Don Pablo’s building will be the largest Primanti Brothers to date and will feature a private event space.
The Primanti Brothers Influence
Although the clientele is skewed male, the offerings appeal to different income levels and age groups. Golomb says if you belly up to the bar on a Saturday night, you could be standing between a billionaire and a blue-collar worker.
While in Texas for a business conference, Golomb started chatting with his cab driver, who, during the conversation, revealed he had three Primanti T-shirts at home. Another diehard fan ordered 35 sandwiches from the eatery at Pittsburgh International Airport to take to a meeting in Idaho.
President Joe Biden stopped by when he was on the presidential campaign trail, as did Hillary Clinton. The sandwiches have been featured on The Travel Channel, The Food Network and “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and imitated — but never duplicated — on menus from coast to coast. Couples have even gotten hitched at Primanti Brothers, uniting over “Almost Famous” sandwiches.
“It’s a humble-brag,” Golomb says. “We are only as good as the last sandwich we sold, but we hope to be here for another 90 years.”