Primo Hoagies began on Ritner Street in Philly, the place many claim to be the birthplace of the original Italian luncheon meat sandwich. A hoagie by any other name is simply a sub.
In Italian, Primo means “first,” a name not lost on a company that has grown from a single store to more than 90 franchises up and down the East Coast in the short span of 15 years.
Enter Philly native Al Maiorani and partner Steve Konov, born and raised in Bulgaria.
Like many from the city, Maiorani moved to the shore full time in 1981 for a job as a bus boy in an Atlantic City casino. He met Konov when they both worked at the Tropicana Casino and Resort.
By the time they left the Trop, Maiorani was senior vice president of resort operations and Konov was director of hotel operations.
With food and beverage in their blood — Maiorani is even a certified sommelier — they began looking for a business opportunity in the area when things began to go south regarding their employment at the Tropicana.
When they found out the Primo franchise in Egg Harbor Township was for sale at a good price they made the jump in April 2012.
“We thought we could increase the business,” Maiorani says.
They did so well that by July 2013 that they opened their second store on Jimmie Leeds Road in Galloway and have been busy since day one.
The reason for their success is the quality of the ingredients used for each hoagie.
Top-quality deli meats come from Thumann’s, famous for their gourmet quality meats and cheeses. Liscio’s bakery provides the Italian bread, which arrives par-baked and is finished in the store.
“When you combine that fresh-baked bread with fresh-sliced meats, we believe once you get a taste of these sandwiches, you won’t be able to go anywhere else,” Maiorani says.
What makes a really good hoagie is the way the luncheon meats are handled — to Maiorani that means sliced thin.
“The difference between Primo’s and most places is we don’t pre slice anything,” says Maiorani.
The Primo’s menu includes a section called “Our Specialties,” which reads like a who’s-who of traditional combinations of Italian meats and cheeses.
The regular Italian hoagie ($6.39, $8.39, $20.99) includes prosciutto, mild provolone, Genoa salami and hot capicola. The old Italian ($6.69, $8.79, $21.99) uses dry capicola, which is air-dried similar to bresaola, along with prosciutto and sharp provolone cheese.
Three other choices include some combination of mild or sharp provolone with hot or sweet capicola, prosciutto and Genoa salami. Hoagies such as the Napolitano ($6.89, $8.99, $22.99) and the sopressata and sharp ($6.89, $8.99, $22.99) include hot or sweet sopressata, a smaller cured-pork salami.
Non-Italian sounding hoagies include roast beef and cheese ($6.89, $8.99, $22.99); and the Schwartzie ($6.89, $8.99, $22.99) made with corned beef, swiss cheese, cole slaw, and Russian dressing for an international flair.
All hoagies can be ordered as small, primo, whole, or as a hoagie in a bowl, without bread. Small-size hoagies are available on Primo’s signature wheat roll; all Primo size hoagies are available in a low carb or whole wheat wrap.
As to the ongoing controversy concerning North Jersey’s use of vinegar and oil versus the South Jersey and Philadelphia’s policy of oil only on a hoagie, Maiorani admits that while he prefers oil only he has readily available both red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar for those customers with a preference.
A section called the “Diablos” offers spicier sandwiches that include red pepper flakes and cayenne pepper.
The veggie diablo ($6.69, $8.79, $21.99) is made with roasted eggplant, sharp provolone, broccoli rabe, long hots and the special spice blend.
Hot hoagies include an old fashioned meatball ($6.69, $8.79, $21.99), an old-world-style meatball ($6.69, $8.79, $21.99) and the latest addition to the menu “The Cuz,” ($6.69, $8.79, $21.99) named after a famous Philly sportscaster, made with sausage, peppers, onions, grated Romano cheese, and homestyle marinara sauce.
Chicken cutlets come bada bing or bada boom — that’s not a threat but a promise.
Bada Bing ($6.89, $8.99, $22.99) has a chicken cutlet with sharp provolone and broccoli rabe while the Bada Boom ($6.89, $8.99, $22.99) is topped with long hots instead of broccoli rabe.
Healthy Choice, hoagies lower in fat or sodium, include offerings such as the Slim “T” ($6.19, $8.19, $19.99) featuring Thumann’s homestyle turkey breast, low-sodium ham and slender American cheese.
Meatless Delights include the Italian tuna ($5.69, $7.69, $18.99) made with tuna in olive oil; and Nonna’s Veggies ($6.19, $8.19, $19.99) made with in house baked eggplant, sharp provolone and broccoli rabe is topped with roasted red peppers.
“We have hoagie trays that feed anywhere from five to 25 people,” Maiorani says.
Party trays are made fresh, close to the time that people pick them up and available in five different sizes. Sampler platters (small $41.99/large $69.99) include marinated mozzarella, stuffed pepper shooters, pepperoni bites, sharp provolone, roasted red peppers, green olive salad and sopressata.
Maiorani says they are also big on customer service treating everyone like they’ve already been there a hundred times.
“We enjoy what we do,” Maiorani says.