Looking both ways down the middle of a giant (?) cheesesteak

💡 Get Philly smart 💡
with BP’s free daily newsletter

Read the news of the day in less than 10 minutes — not that we’re counting.

💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.

Nothing brings Philadelphians together like a heated argument over a giant sandwich.

Laid out on tables that stretched three blocks, the 500 feet of collaborative cheesesteak created Monday night in the Italian Market drew crowds, commentators, and news helicopters to South Philadelphia.

The occasion: a birthday celebration for Rene Kobeitri, owner of Rim Cafe on 9th and Federal. The goal: a Guinness Book record for the world’s largest cheesesteak.

More than a dozen different restaurants and chefs participated in the effort, each taking a section and piling on their own variation of toppings.

Pat’s and Geno’s were in the lineup, of course, but so was Hardena, the lauded Indonesian BYOB, and South Philly Barbacoa, the famed taqueria. Greek spot Koukouzeli was in the mix, a Japanese take was offered by Yakitori Boy, and Curly’s Comfort Food contributed a Cuban twist.

The debate: Since it was constructed of many separate rolls laid end to end, it really count as one cheesesteak? And with all the different ingredients, was it actually a “cheesesteak” at all?

Rim Cafe’s Kobeitri, an exuberant native of France who peppers his conversation with shouts of “Make it happen!” and refers to himself as “Don Rene,” has gone for world records before. In 2013, he orchestrated an attempt to make the world’s strongest espresso.

It’s unclear whether Kobeitri’s rocket fuel/coffee pull was approved by Guinness, but the cheesesteak stunt was called a success.

Measuring 510 feet, the attempt bested the previous record, a 480-foot meat snake built five years ago by Steve’s Prince of Steaks. But not everyone was convinced.

Do several hoagie rolls lined up next to each other count as one sandwich?

That’s been debated among Philadelphians ever since Wawa began promoting the length or weight of the “Hoagie Day” efforts that make up part of the Welcome America Fourth of July festival.

What of the disparate contents of those rolls? Some sections were classic variations: pizza steak, a “cheesesteak hoagie” with lettuce and tomato. Others combinations didn’t follow cheesesteak tradition at all.

Instead of being canon, the sandwich, like the South 9th Street market itself, was a melting pot of all the cultures of people who live and work there.

As the record attempt on South 9th Street wound down, turning into a massive dance party, it was obvious people in attendance didn’t much care about the semantics. And it was obvious even the most adamant online critics were having a blast.

After 15 months of pandemic seriousness, Don Rene’s birthday cheesesteak appeared to be just what people needed.


Danya Henninger is director of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the...