True to His Roots"I have everything I could want at any other city, at a pace that is comfortable."
Tony Luke Jr.'s name is synonymous with South Philly. Born and raised in the close-knit, working-class neighborhood, the 50-year-old local celebrity runs Tony Luke's eatery, where diners rave about the cheesesteaks and roast pork sandwiches. Even with multiple locations for his stores (including one in Bahrain), a frozen food line, a brand of knives, and an acting and singing career, Luke remains true to his South Philly roots.
re:discover: What's great about South Philly?
Tony Luke Jr.: It's the people and the city. The people are so eclectic, so many cultures, and it's so diverse and the food is just amazing. It's a big city with a small-city feel. I have everything I could want at any other city, at a pace that is comfortable. I have food, art, culture, boxing, sports, movies, theater.
What does it mean to have a South Philly attitude?
In South Philly you're embedded with that attitude of never giving up, always believing in yourself — a guy that can be amazing, kind to people, always helpful, always passionate about this city, but the same guy that doesn't take crap from anyone.
When did you start Tony Luke's?
Me, my brother and father started it on February 3, 1992. My father and brother had a commissary lunch truck and I had an Italian restaurant. My father came to me and my brother and wanted to do something to bring us all together.
What makes your cheesesteak different?
It's a thinner steak but cooked at very low temperatures, so all the juices are maintained. It's very, very tender and very, very juicy.
Is it mainly locals at your restaurant?
It used to be, but it's changed in the past year, since [I've been] appearing on the Food Network and the Travel Channel. Now we get people from all over.
Are you involved with the community?
I try to support as many organizations and events as I can. Through my record label, some proceeds go to Little Kids Rock, which refurbishes instruments for kids in public schools. I've also [co-founded] Eat4Peace, a nonprofit to help bring people together.
You recently lost 140 pounds. Do you still eat cheesesteaks?
Yes, but not every day.
Tell me some of your favorite places.
The High Note Cafe. The food is incredible. Between the opera [the staff sings] and the warm, inviting feeling, you feel like you're at someone's house.
Varallo Brothers Bakery is very old-school, the family still runs it. Their pastries are incredible, they have drinks imported from Italy, their gelato is just amazing.
Green Eggs Cafe. Hands down my favorite breakfast place. The quinoa porridge is addictive. You will crave it day and night.
Where do you live?
I'm five minutes from my store, five minutes from the bridges. I love living in the city. I can go anywhere and do everything.
Check out Tony's Philadelphia.