Food Service & Agriculture and Retail

Downtown orders taste of Philly

October 11, 2013
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Downtown orders taste of Philly
Fat Johnny’s in downtown Grand Rapids uses rolls from Philadelphia for its Philly cheesesteaks. Photo via fb.com

Grand Rapids’ South Division neighborhood has been consuming Philly cheesesteaks by the hundreds.

Second guessing

At first, New Jersey-born chef Dan Weiskopf, the owner of Fat Johnny’s, wasn’t so sure South Division was the right spot for his business.

“I was a little nervous,” said Weiskopf, of moving in this summer. “We’re the third our fourth company that’s been in this spot.”

Weiskopf said the former Mexican restaurant in the space was a bit high end and perhaps a “little too much for this neighborhood” and “before its time.”

Weiskopf originally moved into the South Division space, so he could use it as a kitchen for his catering and delivery business, The Box Lunch Company.

Philadelphia rolls

Today, his Philly cheesesteak restaurant, Fat Johnny’s, at 122 Division Ave. S, is averaging about 100 customers a day, due in part to the growing food options in the neighborhood — and Weiskopf says he can’t complain.

Fat Johnny’s main menu item, a Philly cheesesteak made with local rib-eye steak, Cheez Whiz and specially ordered Amoroso rolls from Philadelphia, has found a market downtown.

“What’s so cool about Grand Rapids is we have come so far in just the past 10 years,” Weiskopf said. “Look what we’re doing now. Look at this place. Look at ArtPrize. It’s an exciting time to be here.”

Jersey boy

Weiskopf came to Michigan from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, about 15 years ago.

As a kid, he’d jump on the high-speed line and in 15 minutes, he’d be in Philadelphia, where he learned to love and appreciate authentic cheesesteak sandwiches.

He’s come far since then, now fulfilling his lifelong dream of owning his own cheesesteak restaurant, he said, and establishing a little piece of the East Coast in Grand Rapids.

The map of New Jersey on his wall, with pins from customers marking their hometowns, shows he’s not alone, either.

“This place has brought more people from out East out of the woodwork,” Weiskopf said. “You’d be surprised who’s all from Jersey.” 

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