Incredible shrinking cheesesteak

At Tony Luke's shop in Springfield Mall, manager John Betz with the junior and regular sandwiches.
At Tony Luke's shop in Springfield Mall, manager John Betz with the junior and regular sandwiches. (TYLER WARD)

The 6-incher, for smaller appetites.

Posted: December 01, 2011

The health attributes of Philadelphia's signature foods are beyond debate.

Hoagies and scrapple are salty and fatty. Soft pretzels and Krimpets are loaded with empty carbs.

Cheesesteaks? All of that.

But in this supersized America, a one-thousand-calorie sandwich seems to fit right in.

Then why are two major Philadelphia sandwich players - Tony Luke's and Rick's Original Steaks - going smaller? Both have introduced 6-inch versions of the traditional 9-inch sandwiches at their food-court locations.

The reason is not about calories and nutrition - even though Tony Luke Jr. himself is more than 100 pounds lighter these days.

It is all business.

Mall customers are largely female, often with children at their side, or senior citizens. These constituencies may have a few dollars to spend, but not necessarily the belly capacity for all of that bread, meat, and cheese. In the past, the sandwich sellers lost sales to, maybe, the pizza stand.

"The regular ones can be too much sandwich," said Rick Olivieri, who on Thursday starts selling 6-inch sandwiches at his Shops at Liberty Place stand. They're priced at $5.25, or $2.25 less than a full-size.

John Betz, a partner in Tony Luke's company-owned stores at Springfield Mall in Delaware County and the Crossings at Twin Oaks in Sicklerville, said the 6-inch versions, rolled out recently, are "fine for, say, a 10- or 11-year-old who can eat one themselves" or for a "senior on a limited budget." Besides the smaller roll, Tony Luke's 6-inch version has about 31/2 ounces of meat, compared with 51/2 to 6 ounces on the 9-inch version, he said, adding emphatically that Tony Luke's legacy store on Oregon Avenue in South Philadelphia "will not sell them." Tony Luke's 6-inch cheesesteak is $5.49, $3 less than the original.

They're also faster to eat, a boon to those with a half-hour lunch break.

"I used to get a salad or maybe pizza," said Sally Smith, a Springfield Mall worker who bought a junior cheesesteak to, as she put it, "diversify my lunches."

"I'd normally get a regular one, eat half of it for lunch, and then take the rest home for dinner," said Mary Meehan, who called herself a regular at Springfield Mall. She smiled. "Now I have to figure out something else for dinner."

Contact Michael Klein at

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