Rick Olivieri Talks Sandwich Smackdown

Al Roker gives Rick a thumbs up
Al Roker gives Rick a thumbs up Photo: Rick’s Steaks

The annual Sandwich Make-Off at the Bellevue happens next week and once again the retailers of the subterranean food court will try to out-sandwich each other for bragging rights. A panel of celebrity judges - local weatherfolk John Bolaris of Fox 29, Kathy Orr of CBS 3 and CW57, Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz of NBC 10 - crowns the winner during the official ceremony on Wednesday, July 22 at noon, but on Monday, July 20 regular folk can swing by from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. to sample and vote for the people’s choice. This year there’s a new contender, Rick Olivieri of Rick’s Steaks, who moved his cheesesteak shop from Reading Terminal Market after an ugly court battle with market management. We sat down with Olivieri to find out how things are going in the new location and why he thinks his sandwich will win.

What sandwich are you entering in the competition?
It’s top-secret.

Can we have a hint? A clue?
It’s cheesesteak-based. It’s gonna be called the Rickter Scale and it’s a culmination of everything we have back here in one sandwich.

So how’s the new location treating you? Is the volume less than the Market?
It’s good. We’ve been open a month now and sales increase every day. My particular business in the Market had more tourists compared to locals. Here it’s a little less tourists. We’re trying to get the word out to more tourists that we’re down here and to tell them about the building. It’s an untapped treasure.

Are your regulars back? Any famous regulars now that you’re in such a prestigious building?
We see a lot of new faces and old regular customers. Ed Rendell was down here a couple of times. He was supposed to come to our opening, but was tied up with the budget. He’s got to do the budget first, then worry about eating a cheesesteak. Which I agree with.

Any plans for another new location? Weren’t you also down in the ballpark?

No plans. We’re not in the ballpark anymore. They didn’t renew our contract.

What do you think is your signature steak here? Why do you think yours are better?
Most people order the provolone and onions. That’s our most popular. If out-of-towners ask me what I like, I say ‘Cheez Whiz with onions.’ They look at me like, ‘that’s terrible’ and I tell them to try it and it if they don’t like it I’ll give them a new one or their money back. I’ve never had a customer return one. Ours are the best because we slice the meat fresh every morning and every steak is cooked to order. We don’t make them and let them sit around.

Does any self-respecting cheesesteak-maker not make a steak to order? I’ve never seen that.
Some do!

So how often do you eat cheesesteaks?
About once or twice a month. (Laughs). That’s about it.

Why do you think your sandwich will win the Make-Off?
Why wouldn’t it win?

The 4th Annual Sandwich Make-Off at the Bellevue, Broad and Walnut Sts., Public Voting: Mon. July 20, 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.; Official Ceremony: Wed. July 2, noon. Free. Canned goods being collected during the event for Philabundance.

Rick Olivieri Talks Sandwich Smackdown