Author Topic: Steak legend Harry Olivieri dies  (Read 4305 times)

Tim K in DC

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Steak legend Harry Olivieri dies
« on: July 24, 2006, 12:35:29 PM »
From the Philadelphia Daily News:

Steak legend Harry Olivieri dies
Harry Olivieri, 90, cheesesteak whiz

World culinary history was changed forever one day in 1933 when Harry Olivieri got tired of eating hot dogs.

Harry and his older brother, Pat, had been selling hot dogs at a stand at 9th and Wharton streets in South Philadelphia since 1930.

It was a time when horses still plodded the streets and there was a water trough for the steeds in front of the hot-dog stand.

Pat suggested that Harry go to a local grocery store and pick up a slab of beef. Harry went, paying 7 cents for a pound.

He took it back to the stand, sliced it up, put some raw onions on the grill and, unknown to them, a legend began sizzling right there in front of them. The world's first steak sandwich was born.

Pat and Harry slapped the meat on rolls and were about to devour their meal when a cab driver, a longtime fan of the brothers' hot dogs, arrived for his meal and smelled the delicious aroma of meat frying in onions.

"I want one of those," the driver said.

"But it's our dinner," the brothers protested.

The cab driver was insistent. He was about to become the first of a long line of Philly steak-sandwich addicts, stretching through the decades and around the globe, with billions of the succulent fare devoured.

"Sell him yours," Pat said. After all, he was the oldest, and in an Italian family, the oldest sibling ruled.

Harry handed it over. They charged the driver 5 cents.

No doubt others had made steak sandwiches before and certainly thousands would make them in the future. But Pat's King of Steaks was born that day at 9th and Wharton, and its fame spread rapidly through a hungry city.

After all, it was the Depression and where else could you get such a delicious, filling meal for a nickel?

"The business just grew and grew," said Harry's daughter, Maria. "It was word of mouth all the way."

Harry M. Olivieri died yesterday. He was 90 and was living in Brigantine, N.J., with his daughter, but had lived nearly all his life in South Philadelphia.

Pat, whose name was given to the business (after all, he was the oldest), died in 1970.

Cheese Wiz was added to the concoction, but not until the '60s. Ultimately, customers could have other types of cheese, along with various condiments and side dishes, with their sandwiches.

Until just about three years ago, Harry, who had a heart condition for years, would nevertheless show up at his "love child" daily to make sure everything was functioning properly.

Most of the young singers and entertainers who came from South Philadelphia nourished themselves on Pat's steaks.

Singer and actor Fabian Forte recalls literally stuffing himself with Pat's steaks.

"I could eat four or five at one time," he said. "After the fourth, I was feeling good. They were 25 cents in those days."

"If I had to take a plane somewhere, I'd take four or five with me to eat on the plane.

"Everybody went to Pat's. There was tremendous camaraderie there. If you were out drinking, instead of going home, you'd go to Pat's to eat. It was our breakfast."

Fabian remembers Harry as a "friendly, simple kind of guy, a down-home guy."

Singer Bobby Rydell said, "I had season tickets to the Flyers. On the way home to Penn Valley, we always stopped at Pat's."

Bobby recalls that when you went up to the window to put in your order, you had to know exactly what you wanted.

"If you hesitated, they'd tell you, 'Get out of here!' " he said.

Frank Sinatra was a fan of Pat's. Whenever he was in Philly, he'd send someone to the restaurant for cheesesteaks.

Other Philadelphia entertainers who ate there included singers Frankie Avalon and James Darren, comedian David Brenner, actor Jack Klugman, singers Lou Rawls and Teddy Pendergrass, to name a few.

Governors and mayors showed up. It became a must-stop for politicians seeking votes in the Italian-American community.

Harry's son, Frank, who now runs the restaurant, recalled a while ago how they would send 40 double cheeses a month to a guy in California.

"He can't live without them," Frank said.

Last night at the eatery, as word was arriving that Harry had died, longtime employee Tom Francano said of his former boss, "He was a very nice guy who touched the hearts of many people. He was the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off of his back if you needed it. He's a legend."

There were customers there from Montreal, New York, Virginia and other distant locations who knew nothing about the history of Pat's Steaks and cared less. All they knew was that they were partaking in a Philadelphia legend.

Harry was born in Philadelphia to Michael and Maria Olivieri. When he was 3, his family took him to Italy, where he lived until age of 7, when he was brought back to Philadelphia.

He attended the Southwark School and became a carpenter.

Maria recalled that some of the local singers would literally sing for their suppers. But many gathered there just for the South Philly ambience and to greet friends.

Philly actor Will Smith would mention Pat's Steaks on his "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" TV show. David Brenner and Joey Bishop would plug it on TV, and Don Rickles would talk about Pat's on the old Johnny Carson "Tonight" show.

And when Sylvester Stallone needed an authentic South Philly location for scenes in his "Rocky" films, he chose Pat's Steaks.

Harry was a modest man, his daughter said, who was always surprised when people would hail him with, "There's the king of steaks!"

"He was loved by everyone who met him," she said.

He also is survived by his wife of 70 years, the former Anna J. DeLuca; four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Services: Funeral Mass 10 a.m. Monday at Stella Maris Church, 10th and Bigler streets. Friends may call at 7 p.m. Sunday and 9:30 a.m. Monday at the Baldi Funeral Home, 1331 S. Broad St.

Burial will be in Holy Cross Cemetery, Yeadon.

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Tim K in DC

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Re: Steak legend Harry Olivieri dies
« Reply #1 on: July 24, 2006, 12:52:41 PM »
Just noticed the related batmang post in the links section from Friday.
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Re: Steak legend Harry Olivieri dies (Cheesesteak Rag)
« Reply #2 on: July 27, 2006, 05:48:02 PM »
Everybody's doin' nem Cheesesteak Rag!
Everybody's doin' nem Cheesesteak Rag!
From South Philly to Roosevelt Avenue,
Everyone is doin' nem Cheesesteak Rag!
All night, All night!
...and all day!

Also... for anyone who has not yet seen the latest Tylenol Arthritis commercial...