Philly Cheesesteaks aiming to open four new stores in 2017

We don’t want to rub our competitors up the wrong way…necessarily

Brothers Bruno and Ivan Persic have not always been politically correct or done things the way they ought to have been done. While not everyone’s cup of tea, looking at it half a glass full, challenging the status quo sometimes has its upsides.

The word “Hijacking” has mostly negative connotations but is a very famous local hobby. Wanting to keep with the “local is lekker” theme we decided to hijack a US concept and pretend it’s our original idea.

“It all started after having travelled the US while in corporate. I had one or two Philly Cheesesteaks abroad but never really thought much of the idea other than it was a stunning hangover cure after a “long and strenuous” business dinner (hope my ex boss is not reading this)” says Bruno Persic, Joint MD of Philly Cheesesteak Co.

“It was only a few months later that decided I was tired to licking bums for a living and decided to jump the corporate ship that I discovered the Philly Cheesesteak on TV. I was watching Guy Fieri on Diners Drive- Ins and Dives when I heard the name “Philly Cheesesteak”. It caught my attention immediately and brought back some cool memories. The thing was it came up again and again over a few months of watching my favorite program. My interest being piqued I decided to Google “Philly Cheesesteak” and discovered a really cool story…”says Persic

One day in early 1930 Pat Olivieri, and Italian American, ran out of frankfurters on his hot dog stand in the South Philadelphia Italian Market. Instead of closing up for the day he decided to substitute the hot dog with thinly sliced beef and cheese on an Italian bread roll. A passing cab driver bought the sandwich and insisted Pat forget about the hot dogs and concentrate on the steak sandwich and so the Philly Cheesesteak was born. They became so popular that Pat opened his own restaurant in South Philly which still operates today. The Philly Cheesesteak has since become iconic in American fast food culture.

“I called my brother and asked if he’d be interested is selling steak sandwiches with me. At first he didn’t seem that excited but I changed his mind when I told him we could be like Nando’s…”Rich and Famous”…and by the way they also just happened to start with only one store!!!” says Persic.

After discussing the concept over a few cold drinks they decided to put some meat on the bone and came up with a cool concept. “Our philosophy is simple…”DIFFERENTIATE” because A burger is a burger is a burger and you can dress it how you want but it’s still a fricking burger. The same can be said about pizza, chicken, fish and chinese…blah blah blah boooring. We hope to do so well, that one day the word “cheesesteak” becomes boooooring.” Says Ivan Persic Joint MD of Philly Cheesesteak Co.

How did they differentiate:
Product: Create a new category (cheesesteaks)

Brand Advertising Philosophy: Edgy, Risque’, Naughty and Politically Incorrect ala Nandos only more better.

Store Design: Raw timber, raw brick, rusted steel, steel furniture, Rockabilly Retro pop art wallpaper, warm  lighting. 

Pricing: Great Value…check that…BEST VALUE 

After concept development, store design and menu creation the team decided to divvy up roles and responsibilities. Bruno…being the slower of the two, preferring pictures to spreadsheets was  given the more creative role of store design and marketing. He also heads up procurement and store operations. Ivan coming from a Finance background and being the more analytical soul was given the task of managing finances despite being a very healthy spender. Due also to his endless portfolio of talents Ivan and his capable team were tasked with store development from laying the first brick to handing over the keys to the next proud store owner on opening day. “We do absolutely EVERYTHING ourselves…nothing is outsourced” says Ivan.

One of their biggest challenges in starting the business was finding the right location. One small problem…they were turned down by every boy and his dog. The general consensus was…”we never heard of a Philly Cheesesteak” and “you and your brother have no experience in the restaurant business which means failure is not only possible but probable”. Not one landlord was prepared to take the risk…what little risk there was. Needless to say the brothers felt a little dejected and almost decided to throw the towel in. 7 Weeks into the search they found some space at a little known shopping centre in Fairland called World Wear. They met with George Prokas (landlord) who became famous over night for giving Cell C a blood nose with his “Bad Service” billboard on Beyers Naude. At the time World Wear was probably around 50% vacant and George, for some reason seemed more receptive to their concept.

It took them about 8 weeks to build the store which opened on the 3rd November 2013. “I had the unenviable task task of burning the first cheesesteak for our unsuspecting first customer.“ says Bruno. The pressure was CRAZY but they had fun. Their first day was what would be defined in the dictionary as “disastrous” but a few customers seemed to be quite forgiving and even returned on day two.

Month one behind them and they were R60k in the red. “I guess that’s what you call school fees…and in this case PRIVATE school fees. I didn’t think knowing nothing about the food business was going to be so expensive, but we put a few bandaids on walked it off. After six months we plugged all the holes and the boat stopped sinking” says Bruno.

Store no.2 was originally the KFC next to Sandton Clinic and then became Chicken Lickin which eventually failed for some reason. They opened in September 2014 with a bit more experience under their belts and a little less blood spilled.

Then in October, ironically, after being turned down by every landlord in Joburg they now were being invited to open a store by Atterbury (property developers) and Broll (property managers) in the brand new Newtown Junction shopping mall in Johannesburg CBD.

The first franchise store opened in June 2015 by Mr Sean Mooney in Melville 27 Boxes which is a cool new shopping centre built out of shipping containers and the biggest of its kind in the world. Mr Jeremy Bachan opened the second franchise store in the Lonehill Shopping Centre which is the first fully licensed restaurant in the group.

“We were approached by a prominent businessman and CEO of MTN Liberia, Mr Thabo Mohapi  in Dec 2014 to acquire a controlling share in the business which we ultimately declined to pursue for a number of reasons” says Bruno. Mr Mohapi and his consortium were previously in discussions with Grand Parade Investments to buy 5 Burger King franchise stores which stalled due to a change in strategy by Burger King to delay franchising until they opened their 100th store in SA.

We are currently working on proposals for 2 new stores in East Rand Mall and the new Fourways Mall. The aim is to open at least four new stores in 2017.

Above: Ivan and Bruno Persic – Joint MDs Philly Cheesesteak Co.

Telephone: 074 476 4614