A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Location: Southeastern, Pennsylvania, United States

Friday, August 31, 2007

Rick Oliveri vs The Suits

Let us consider that unique icon of Philadelphia gastronomic legend: the cheesesteak. It is a succulent delight, with thinly chopped prime beef, melted cheese (provolone for me, please) and, if you dare, sautéed onions and peppers. This is all presented for your pleasure on a long roll, where the meat juices soak the back of the bun, spreading its tastiness further than a cold cut hoagie ever could.

Here in Southeastern Pennsylvania, there is something like ten fast food shops serving cheesesteaks for every man, woman and child living in the area. Okay, this might be a slight exaggeration, but it certainly seems as if you could get this sandwich on every corner. Of all the places serving cheesesteaks, there are a very few that can be trusted to give you the authentic sandwich as it was originally presented during the Great Depression. One of these places is Rick’s Steaks in the Reading Terminal Market.

Anne Marie and I happened to meet Rick himself during our recent trip into Center City. He is a third generation Oliveri, the family that is credited with creating the cheesesteak over seventy years ago. He is young, handsome and hard working. His outlet is not the sole Oliveri cheesesteak place in town – the other is Pat’s, The King of Steaks – which is why he bills his place as Rick’s, The Prince of Steaks.

Unfortunately, Rick has been the center of controversy during the last few months. His lease expired at the end of June and the Market management is refusing to renew it. They want to bring in another South Philly competitor (Tony Luke’s) to occupy Rick’s stall. The problem is that Rick, sensing another motive for the Market’s action, is refusing to leave.

Rick has a lot of support behind him. The other Market vendors are in his corner, since Rick helped negotiate new leases for many of them. Anne Marie and I have been following this story and she told him that he was getting screwed. We dined at his stand, signed his petition to let him stay, and watched the man at work. At one point, he was bussing tables and wiping down the countertops, explaining that this work keeps him humble.

We ate our sandwiches and watched the brisk lunchtime business at Rick’s stall. Naturally, I had my sandwich with ketchup, and I drenched my fries with my favorite condiment. Yes, I did leave enough ketchup at the table for the other patrons to use.

We asked him what’s next in his fight against the corporate suits. Rick answered that he’s just hanging in for now. It’s all in the hands of the lawyers at the moment, and although the Market is within their rights to evict him, it would give Reading Terminal a public relations headache. Yes it would be very bad publicity to see footage of Rick Oliveri dragged out of his stall and thrown into 12th Street on the evening news. The Market is understandably proceeding cautiously, given the public outcry to keep Rick’s Steaks in business.

We wished Rick luck as we left him to battle the giants of corporate greed. Anne Marie and I hope that this prince will stay for years to come. The Reading Terminal Market would not be the same without Rick’s Steaks.


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