South Philly native William Pearce didn’t think he would get to catch any of the Super Bowl live on TV.
With five times his usual Sunday inventory prepared, Pearce, owner of Way South Philly cheesesteak shop and deli in Austin, Texas, was prepared to be in the weeds the entire night. He’d called in his entire staff to handle the probably Super Bowl rush, a decision he made right after the Eagles danced over the Vikings to win the NFC Championship.
But Pearce and all of his employees were done work before kickoff. By 5 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 4, they’d already sold out.
“We sold out of cheesesteaks, and hoagies, and Tastykakes, too,” a Way South Philly staffer who goes by the nickname “Beef” told Billy Penn the following Monday. “We’ve got WMMR on in here right now,” he added.
That Texas-size craving for cheesesteaks didn’t die down right away, either.
“Last week was solid,” Pearce said. “Our sales for that week increased 150 percent, year over year. People found us because of the Eagles.”
The surge in cheesesteak sales — fueled by Philadelphia’s first appearance in the Big Game since 2003 — played out at shops across the country.
“Today was the first day we finally rested,” said Diego, a manager at Philly’s Best in Chicago, on Tuesday of this week. “Out of the blue, suddenly, everybody wanted a ‘Philly.’”
Super Bowl weekend itself was the busiest in recent history for the Chicago shop, which was founded in the 1980s by Philly native Dean Markellos and his brother. Markellos called the Friday before the game “the craziest day I’ve had in years.”
Saturday at Philly’s Best was full of orders for “make your own steak” catering trays, he said, which come with separate packages of meat, onions, cheese and Amoroso rolls. Then on Sunday night, Markellos ended up missing the entire first half because delivery orders were so backed up, he had to personally help out.
“I was running up to people’s houses to drop off their order with my Eagles jacket on,” he said. “As I was leaving I’d say, ‘Hey, I don’t hear a Go Eagles!’”
All in all, Markellos estimated, business was double normal during that weekend, and up around 40 percent the week following.
At Taste of Philly in Denver, the Capitol Hill location of the mini-chain broke a record on Super Bowl Sunday, with more than $1,500 in cheesesteak sales — and the boom continued for several days.
“Last week was our busiest week in a while,” said Taste of Philly manager Hanson Burkitt.
Closer to Philadelphia, New York City shops were also slammed. Shorty’s, which has several outposts around NYC, did close to triple the normal business on Super Bowl Sunday at both its Flatbush and Hell’s Kitchen locations.
“We were stressed!” said Cornell Gary, one of the managers at the relatively new Brooklyn Shorty’s. “We had our highest delivery number ever.”
Things aren’t likely to calm down anytime soon at Liberty Cheesesteaks in New Orleans, noted Stephan, a bar manager there, because of Mardi Gras.
The NOLA shop had to take the phone off the hook and cut off delivery orders entirely on gameday, he said. The week after, there was probably a 30 percent increase in sales — and this week looks to be even busier as the city floods with tourists in town for the traditional Fat Tuesday fun.
“There’s lots of people here for the first time,” Stephan said. “They’re like, ‘Oh, saw you guys won the Super Bowl, so we had to check it out.’”
Pearce, of South Philly Way in Austin, is determined to be more prepared with plenty of cheesesteak ingredients next time.
“I keep telling everyone this,” Pearce said. “When the Eagles go to the Super Bowl next year, we’ll be ready.”