The initial idea to begin work on a documentary style project about the story behind the Cheesesteak struck Colin Comstock, owner of Arsenal Mediaworks, in the same setting many great Philadelphians have had their best ideas… sitting in traffic behind a Septa Bus. That particular bus was wrapped with advertising from Pat’s King of Steaks, the steak shop which rightfully boasts its claim as the “Originator” of the beloved sandwich. As Colin stared at the advertising, an audaciously photoshopped image of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam with a cheesesteak placed in Adam’s hand, he began thinking about the unique relationship between the cheesesteak and the city of Philadelphia.
As anyone from the Philadelphia area can attest, the cheesesteak is on a short list of reductionist concepts used to describe the city. Nearly every national piece about Philadelphia hits the same tired beats…. The Liberty Bell, the Rocky statue, the Cheesesteak—Rinse and repeat. But for as much coverage as the sandwich receives, the story told is usually inch-deep and tired. Pat’s and Geno’s? Whiz or American? Chopped or Sliced?
The true story of the sandwich is intertwined with that of the people of Philadelphia. The cast of characters that own, operate, and publicize the steak shops each have a personal story that maps neatly to a characteristic element of Philadelphia’s unique personality and history. From changing demographics to the opioid epidemic, from generational conflicts to organized crime, from depression-era humble beginnings to national recognition and fame—the story of the cheesesteak is the story of Philadelphia.