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Even when they reopen the interior, you won’t have to squeeze shoulder-to-shoulder to get your hands on one of the city’s most popular cheesesteaks.
Dalessandro’s has modernized its ordering system.
The Roxborough sandwich destination upgraded this spring, according to owner Steve Kotridis. He implemented the new computer system to ease customer frustration over wait times, which he said are inevitable.
“This is a really small shop, and it takes an average of 2 minutes to wait on every person,” Kotridis said. “We only have one register and can only process one person at a time.”
The new system informs a digital board that displays a queue of customer names so people can tell how long their order is from being ready. It also allows the shop to sends text notifications that keep people updated on their meal’s status.
Despite Philadelphans’ reputation of being resistant to change, regulars seem to love it.
“Now they got the whole screen,” said Robert Magdin as he waited for his order Thursday afternoon. “It shows your name and it makes things a lot easier.”
The 28-year-old Swedesboro resident, who said he’s gotten steaks at Dalessandro’s regularly for about six years, recalled the former effort of brushing past hordes of people on the way to the counter to order or pay.
“Crowded,” Magdin said, describing the indoor atmosphere. When announcements were made on the speaker, he added, it was often difficult to understand what the cashier said.
The corner space at 600 Wendover St. has been home to Dalessandro’s Steaks and Hoagies since 1961, a year after it opened in a different location nearby. Over the last half-century, its sandwiches have gained a devoted following. In 1987, Chubby’s Steaks opened across the street and started a bit of a rivalry. But the spot wasn’t really well known outside the neighborhood, said Kotridis, who described himself as a 30-year fan.
He bought the business in 2008, “just as social media was beginning to take off,” he said, and “a lot more people got to know it.” Nowadays, Dalessandro cheesesteaks are regularly shouted out by celebrities, and the shop lands on nearly every “best of” and “must-try” list published.
Kotridis credits the success of the steaks to the quality of the ribeye his workers slice fresh “all day long,” and to the fact that the beef is well chopped to remove any gristle. He lives just 15 minutes away, right outside the city limits, and his wife and two children work with him at the shop, so there’s always personal quality control.
In May 2020, the restaurant reopened for to-go orders after a few months shuttered completely by COVID.
As of July, service is still restricted to take-out only. But the process has been streamlined. The windows on the Henry Avenue side were turned into an ordering station. A separate pick-up station was added, so there are two separate lines. And the kitchen now starts on called-in orders before customers arrive on site.
Mt. Airy native Matt Glover, who said he’s ordered from Dalessandro’s since 1985, said that having the digital board is convenient because he can place his order and then walk around the neighborhood a bit, every so often glancing at the screen for his name. The text message system that notifies customers about pick-up orders is just the fried onion on top, so to speak.
Best of all, Glover said, with all the modern upgrades, the restaurant still manages to continue its hospitable traditions, such as staff thanking people who leave tips.
There are plans to reopen the interior at some point, but Kotridis is taking things slow in the name of safety. Like many in the hospitality industry, he’s struggling to hire enough staff, and is also battling inflation, with prices up “on everything.”
“We just ask for people’s understanding that … we’re doing our best,” Kotridis said, describing a rough year. “Everybody stay safe, and we’re all hoping to get past this pandemic.”