The Old School Way
By: Erica Dunton
I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a bitterly cold afternoon in February, when a text came through from my brother, he wanted to know if me and my mom wanted to meet him for lunch, he knew this really good place he wanted us to check out. It was called Old School Sandwich Company. Sounds interesting I thought, and I like to try new things, so we went. The shop was a little one, located at the corner of a little strip mall, near AMC tilghman eight movie theater. Upon walking into this place, there was a black little chalk board with the daily specials written on it, in fancy colored chalk. One of them caught my eye, the Three Little Pigs, it did not give a description, but sounded really interesting. I had to order that. As we walked inside, the smell of bread and cheeses filled the air as we were greeted by hello’s and welcome to Old School. Wow I thought, this is great customer service, and the people all looked happy. It was packed in there only a couple booths open. The inside did not really look any different, looked like a normal sandwich/deli shop. As I walked up to the window to order, something caught my eye, a picture in a frame hanging on the wall, behind where you order. I put my order in, three little pigs, of course to a middle aged man behind the counter, and went on to investigate this picture.
When I walked over I noticed it was a article from the Morning Call, and a picture of the men who just had taken my order. Wow, come to find out he was the owner/chef of the shop, and he won three iron chef awards, three years in a row. I was shocked, this place must be slamming I thought to myself. Everything on the menu had some crazy names, and I mean everything. The three little pigs consisted of pork, bacon, hot dogs, with bourbon beans on top of it. I now get the idea as to why it is called the three little pigs. As we sat down at a booth, I was in shock when I seen the Steuben my brother had ordered. It was stocked full of meat like I have never seen a Reuben to look. I had to go back and talk to the owner and find out all about this company.
It was a Friday afternoon about a month after I had eaten at Old School, that I went back to have a little one on one conversation with the owner and chef himself. I walked in to the shop to find it pretty empty, but than again it was around two in the afternoon and lunch rush was pretty much over. As I walked to the counter, the smell of the fresh bread and cheese, caught my nose again. We meet again I thought to myself. The man from the picture was standing behind the counter, pouring a bottle of coke into a plastic cup filled with ice. He tried to trick me into thinking that no man named Mike had worked there. Ha-ha. To late, I knew him from the picture already. After we had our little laugh, he led the way over to a corner booth, near the rear of the shop, with him facing the counter so if they needed him he was in sight. He introduced himself as Michael Geary owner, and chef at Old School, and told me his partner Michael Lucia, would be there, but since he lives in New Jersey he is not at the shop everyday.
“How did this business get started, tell me a little about the history of the shop, and what made you want to start this business up?”
“OK, here it goes, I have always been part of the restaurant world, ever since I was thirteen.” His mother was a waitress and he was a dishwasher. At age fifteen he had the option of either going to work full time at the restaurant he was dish-washing at, or continue to be the bad child he was. He chose working, “I did not want to end up in jail, and that is what would have happened, if I did not choose to work.” he stated with a smirk. He learned everything about the restaurant business the whole time he was growing up. He has done everything from managing restaurants to, of course being the cook. He grew up in Southern Philly and has been living in PA for close to twenty years. When he came here he got a call saying that there was a building for rent, and when he heard the location he jumped on it. He never thought business would be what it is now, only four months down the road. “Business has been getting better and better everyday,” he says. He wanted something to call his own.
I was going to get him on this question… So tell me, how is this sandwich shop different than all the rest?
He chuckled and said “ I will tell you why, and I can sum it up in four reasons, 1) All products meats and cheese are made in house, 2) everything is made from scratch, 3) customer service, and 4) feel of establishment.” I was kind of confused what feel of establishment meant, but I think he picked up on that. He laughed and said let me define what I mean. “I believe everything that I do needs to be based around the customer, if I do not make them happy, I have no business. I always am smiling and I greet each and every one of my customers, if there is something on the menu they don’t see, all they have to do is ask. “I want to show old school service, the way it used to be, a time when it was all about the customer.” I was taken back by what he said, I wish every place seen it like he does. Feel of establishment meant that, he wants his customers to feel like they are at home. “When they come into my shop, I want them to feel at home, kick back and relax.” He told me that this one business guy comes in everyday for lunch. “He will be here for his full one hour lunch break, and put his legs up and relax.” He wants people to feel like “they are back home, and are comfortable.” He kind of got side tracked, talking to a customer that had came into the shop, I did not mind. Gave me a minute to regroup my thoughts and go to the bathroom. When I came out as we sat back down, he said to me” that is what I mean when I say customer service, taking the time out to get to know your customers.” I was impressed. As we got comfortable back in the booth, he was ready for my next question. I was so impressed by the way Michael aims to please so much with customer service. Most places are not like that anymore, rarely is the owner at the shop everyday, let alone be the one making the food.
“So how did you come up with the menu, and where in the world do you get the names for the sandwiches?”
He laughed when I asked that. “ To be honest, me and my buddies where drinking and came up with some crazy names and they kind of just stuck.” I laughed. He went on in depth explaining to me that ideas for the names come from his friends and family and different things he does, and random thoughts. The only thing that changes on the menu is the specials. “Why do you not change your menu?” I asked. “Everything sells, so there is no reason to change it.” I learned that unlike most sandwich or restaurant places, Old school does not have a best seller. All the sandwich sell equally,and it can depend on the day. I was really surprised at that, not to often to hear that. The only thing that changes are the daily specials. He grabs my attention by starting to laugh, “You know the hardest part about when I first opened this place?” No idea I thought. “Picking a name for this place was the hardest part.” Wow totally shocking, who would of thought. The Menu is really what makes this sandwich shop stick out. The names are so off the wall and unique, makes it like no other. The way in which the names where thought up, blows my mind, but the best part is that they sell, and I think it makes it different and makes people want to come see what these sandwiches are all about. It grabs the customers in, and keeps them coming back for more.
I knew it was close to time to wrap up my interview because it was getting close to dinner time and I knew it would get busy, so I informed him that I had two more questions. He took a final sip of cola, “Take your time, I am here till eight.” I laughed.
“Do you cater to any certain type of diets or specialty foods, organic?”
I think I kind of caught him off guard on this one. He sat up. “ Funny you ask that, and this is another reason we are like no other.” There is something at the shop for everyone. If someone looks at the menu, and can not find what they want,all they have to do is ask. “So even people with good allegories or someone that is vegetarian?” I asked. “Of course we have something here for everyone.” Mike says. I was so blown away how much this shop really does cater to the customers. All people have to do is tell them ahead of them if they are allergic to something, and they will help them in any way possible. I now understood exactly what the old school rule meant that is stated on the outside on their menu. “ If you have any special requests, please ask and we will make every effort in our power to accommodate your needs.” Now I can see why business is booming. They also offer gluten free bread, and pretty much everything a person can think of, even if it is a crazy request. Mike was born on Italian and French foods, but to cater to everyone “you have to think outside the box, and cater to customers.” I had one more question I really needed to know after learning so much about him and his shop.
So what is the future of Old School looking like?” As he stretched his arms, relaxed back in my seat, to hear what his plans where for the future. ” I hope to open more shops around the area, as long as business stays the way it is.” He signed the lease for five years so he laughs saying” I am stuck here for at least five, and then we will see where the business goes from there.” He wants to hire more people on and give kids between the ages of sixteen and seventeen the opportunity to work. Right now it is a pretty much a family business, but if he expands in the years to come, he wants to hire outside people. He goes on to say that “catering has really helped the shop expand and is up to almost seven days a week, which has kept me really busy, but provides a good outlook for the future.” Ask I sat listening to him a question popped in my head that I had to ask, “any plans to get involved with Iron Pigs or the new hockey arena when it opens?” He smiled a big smile and said “ Hell yea, I would love to, just got to see how business goes, and hope to get my name out there and talk to the right people.” I thanked him for all his time, and told him I look forward to seeing him again. He got me a couple to go menu’s and said “Thanks for picking my shop, I really appreciate it, and hope you get an A on your paper.” I laughed and said my goodbyes. I of course had to order my dinner from there. As I walked out the door and to my car, I was happy and felt accomplished with how the interview went and really learned a lot.
I was amazed how such a good shop like this could have such a great owner, who truly shows dedication and outstanding customer service. He really defines the old school way of service. The customers are the ones who make the business go round, and I really got that sense that to Old School, it truly shows that customer service and meeting needs are one of the many things that make them stand out. The shop really really did blow my mind. I knew the food was out of the world, but to be able to go “behind the scenes,” proved to me that this shop is an all around success. I want people to know that not only does Old School have the best food, but they also provide amazing customer service, and unique menu chooses that will make anyone come back for more. I think Micheal’s background of restaurant and working the food business, really shows not only threw his food, but also threw his wonderful love and devotion for his customers. People need to know that their are still places out there, that not only serve great food, but a place that has not lost what true customer service is all about, and making the customer feel that they are what matters, and that there is still the “old school” way. I was so honored to be able to do this interview and I hope that everyone stops in for a sandwich. Old School Sandwich Company is the way to go. Not only do they cater to every single persons food choices, or diets, but yet they provide superior customer service. All ingredients are made fresh and in house, so you know where the food comes from and nothing is pre-packaged. If you do not see what you want, all you have to do is ask, and I can almost guarantee they will have it. So do not be shy, stop on by.
Old School Sandwich Company is located at 4686 Broadway Allentown, PA 18104.
Visit their website for their full menu at http://www.oldschoolsandwichcompany.com. Catering menus can be found online.
Hours of Operation:
Geary, Michael. (2013, March 15). Personal Interview.