Recently, Wit Wiz had the opportunity to sit down with Christina Karamatsoukas, Customer Relations Manager at The Original Philadelphia Cheesesteak Company,to find out what makes their cheesesteak meat so delicious and to finally reveal who has the best cheesesteak in The City of Brotherly Love….
How long has your company been in biz?
We’ve been in business since 1981. The company was founded by my father, Nicholas Karamatsoukas, and his late partner, George Kontodemos. My father also founded our sister cooking division with Stavros Kalisperis in 1991 called The Original Philadelphia Pre-Cooked Steak Company.
How many lbs of cheese steak meat do you ship out, produce, etc?
I wish I could answer that, but due to the privately held nature of our business and the high level of competition, I can’t really go into detail. I can tell you that we ship multiple trailer loads per week and annually produce in the millions of pounds. We’re the largest manufacturer focused exclusively on Philly Beef and Chicken sandwich steaks.
How many Philly-restaurants specifically carry your product? Nationally?
We’re a wholesale manufacturer meaning the vast majority of our customers are wholesale distributors. Nevertheless, our end users include restaurant chains, mom & pop’s pizza and sandwich shops, sports arenas, convenience stores, and further processors; company’s that use our steaks as ingredients for their own products. A rough restaurant estimate in the tri-state area would be in the thousands, but keep in mind that our distribution covers North America, the Caribbean and other international destinations.
How many food shows have you attended? What’s the best thing about them? Worst?
More than I can count. Between local distributor food shows and larger regional/national events I sometimes attend 3 in a week during the busy season. The best thing about them is meeting face-to-face and talking with operators that are loyal to our brand as well as interfacing with potential customers. I also take a lot of pride in witnessing people eating an authentic Cheesesteak for the first time. You’d be surprised how many people have never had the real deal; being a part of that experience is a small privilege.
Naturally, I also love taking 5 minute breaks to walk around and snack on all the delicious food being exhibited. Of course, if I don’t have enough time, eating a cheesesteak more than satisfies. Despite the fact that I’m cooking them all day, I never get sick of them!
The worst part is that the floors are usually solid concrete with no padding and take a toll on my feet and back. Also trying to get the smell of fried onions and steak out of my hair is a daunting task.
How many cheese steaks can you consume in one sitting?
If I’m really hungry probably 2. I have a ridiculous appetite sometimes.
Pats, Genos or Jims?
They each have made famous names for themselves as great cheesesteak tourist destinations. The great thing about Philly though is that you can go to any steak shop on any corner and get a great quality sandwich.
How is the quality of your product different from others?
To us, quality extends from the wholesomeness and consistency of the manufactured product to providing excellent customer service and building strong relationships with our distributors & operators to ensuring an authentic taste and, ultimately, experience for the folks biting into their sandwich. Our 30 year reputation depends on us executing flawlessly across the board and we pride ourselves on doing so.
Do you feel that the meat and Amoroso rolls makes Philly Cheese steaks unique? Is it the wiz?
I think each component has its own role, no pun intended. Of course, we believe our Original Philly steak meat is the most important element! We have a special relationship with Amoroso Baking Company. We’ve done some co-marketing with them and often have our booths next to each other at many food shows…preaching the gospel of the cheesesteak together.
The notion that a cheesesteak is not authentic without wiz is somewhat of a fallacy perpetuated by operators wanting to replicate Philly’s touristy steak shops. I’d be willing to bet that if you conducted a survey of 100 people living in the Philadelphia area, American or Provolone would be the choice of the great majority. But to each his own!
Honestly, the roll can be the best in the world and the cheese can be perfect but if the meat is chopped to bits, full of gristle, too dry or too soggy the sandwich is ruined. When it comes down to it, the meat makes the sandwich. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve visited a sandwich shop to eat a cheesesteak and had a bad experience because of the meat.
Anything else we should know?
Yes…have you tried a cheesestak pretzel? If not, it’s a must. The next time you’re in the vicinity of a Philadelphia Soft Pretzel Factory store, pop in and pick one up. They’re delicious!