Updated 12:46 p.m.
Something is missing from the Phillies lineup this year. The Schmitter is gone from Citizens Bank Park.
Born at 95-year-old McNally’s Tavern in Chestnut Hill, the sandwich had become an iconic part of home games in Philly — the stand opened during the ballpark’s first season in 2004.
Joe Pie, proprietor of the Schmitter concessions and husband to McNally’s co-owner Anne McNally, hopes the leave of absence is temporary.
“I’ve been telling people we’re sort of on injured reserve,” he says, “But I’m hoping we’re gonna get a call from somebody at the Phillies saying hey, let’s get back together.”
It was his decision to pull out this year, he says. The reason? It came down to quality control.
In 2013, the Schmitter was moved from its original location under the escalators in Section 140 to an open-air stand just across the concourse to make way for a new addition to the CPB food roster: Federal Donuts.
“I understand why FedNuts got that location,” Pie says, explaining that it had a big double-hood suitable for dealing with the massive amount of frying needed for the newcomers’ donuts and chicken.
But the Schmitter is plenty complicated itself. There’s the cheesesteak meat, each individual portion grilled to order. The thinly sliced onions of a specific type. The large, tomatoes (“in summer, always from Jersey”). The salami. The American cheese. The special sauce. The Conshohocken Bakery rolls. And then the careful layering of everything so the pile becomes more than the sum of its parts.
“If Anne’s father had invented this sandwich with an eye toward mass-producing it, he would’ve just done a hot dog in a roll!” Joe says. After trying for three seasons to make it work at the new stand — a modified pop-up shack, open to the elements, shared with another vendor (Wayback Burgers) — Pie put his foot down.
“I’m not gonna do the Schmitter unless we do it right and we do it well, and we weren’t doing that.”
Throughout the winter, he had what he calls “great, respectful conversations” with Aramark’s stadium management, trying to agree on a new CPB location for his family’s sought-after snack.
“Aramark was great, and they were working with me,” he says. But they never agreed to an alternate option, and “I wasn’t going back to that ‘quasi-temporary’ stand. I don’t want to say it’s a bad stand — it just didn’t fit the best for the Schmitter.”
Pie notes that he never tried to get the Schmitter into CPB in the first place — it came about because some of the Phillies management at the time had grown up with the sandwich in Chestnut Hill, and thought it would be a great fit — but he’s thrown his heart into the stand. Mostly, he loves being part of the ballpark.
“If you cut me open, I have 128 red cotton stitches inside me,” says the native Philadelphian. “I love baseball, whether it’s tee ball with the kids, or college baseball, or the pros.
“Bottom line, they don’t have the space for the Schmitter right now. But we’re hoping to get back on the active roster sooner rather than later.”
Asked for comment, an Aramark spokesperson provided this statement:
“Since the opening of Citizens Bank Park, the Schmitter has played an important role in helping establish Ashburn Alley as one of baseball’s premier food destinations. We had several conversations with Joe this off-season in an effort to continue serving the Schmitter at the ballpark. We respect Joe’s decision and thank him for his partnership and for bringing the Schmitter to Phillies fans for over ten years. We remain hopeful of finding a solution that will allow us to offer the Schmitter in the future. We take great pride in showcasing and featuring Philadelphia’s distinctive tastes and favorite sandwiches at the ballpark and we look forward to continuing to do so this season and beyond.”
(Eagles fans should note that the situation will not affect the availability of the Schmitter at the Linc; that stand is separate, same as it ever was.)