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Philadelphia Cheesesteak in CNY: Service with a Smile

Philadelphia Cheesesteak in CNY: Service with a Smile

Cheesesteak makes me smile. Just saying it makes me happier. When I want some real happiness, I go to Taste of Philadelphia in Eastwood.

In an age where human-to-human interaction appears to have fallen by the wayside, lifelong Eastwood resident Nancy Carni is looking to revive it— all with the help of a Philadelphia Cheesesteak and a disarming smile.

Carni, 52, has owned “Taste of Philadelphia” for the last 13 years, which is located at 2533 James Street in Eastwood. Cani believes in a very personal interaction with all of her customers in hopes of making them feel comfortable, even though they’re not really in Philadelphia.

Wearing a navy blue ball cap emblazoned with the Nike logo, a turquoise shirt and black work pants, Carni shuffles back and forth behind the grill, filling orders throughout the day while greeting as many customers as possible with a personal touch.

She’ll ask her customers how their day has been going, ask about what they’ve been up to recently, what their plans are for the week in an attempt to relax them and to keep them coming back.

“I want everyone to feel like they’re at home when they walk in here,” Carni said. “It’s about knowing my customers. Maybe it’s just me, but I like to know how things are going for you. It’s very personal here; it’s like a family here. I may not know your name, but I know your sandwich. I just love putting the personal touch on it.”

It’s a personal touch that she brings each and every day behind the counter.

But, for Carni, it’s all about the product in the end – the world famous Philadelphia Cheesesteak.

Located more than 250 miles from the original Geno’s Steaks in Philadelphia, Carni is the third owner in the 38-year history of “Taste of Philadelphia.” According to Carni, the original owner  – a cousin of Geno’s –  had family in the Syracuse area and wanted to open up a cheesesteak shop.

It’s been in Eastwood ever since.

“We used to be located where the Byrne Dairy is now along James Street,” Carni said. “It was just a small shop where you could come in and grab your meal and go. There wasn’t anywhere to sit down and eat.”

Now, located in the heart of downtown Eastwood, Carni has enough room for people to come in and eat and enjoy the atmosphere.

“We want you to feel like you’re in Philadelphia,” she said. “That’s part of the relaxing environment – an environment that people seem to enjoy.”

A look at the interior of Carni's shop decorated with Philadelphia memorabilia. (Photo courtesy Josh Carney)

A look at the interior of Carni’s shop decorated with Philadelphia memorabilia. (Photo courtesy Josh Carney)

A substitute teacher by trade, Carni switched career paths when she found out “Taste of Philadelphia” was for sale.

“I talked it over with my husband; we decided to make an offer for it,” she said. “It’s been a lot of fun; I really enjoy my job.”

One has to wonder though, how did a native of Eastwood become the sole owner of a Philly Cheesesteak shop?

“I have no idea how that happened; don’t ask,” Carni said jokingly. “I really had no idea how to prepare cheesesteaks, or what went into them. I had to learn on the job from the previous owner.

“But now? I think I do a pretty good job. People are satisfied.”

There’s the distinct clang of spatulas bouncing off of a hot grill; the savory smell of a juicy cheesesteak quickly fills your nostrils, leaving your mouth watering.

Walking into the shop you’re overwhelmed with the Philly sports memorabilia and city mementos that cover the wall.

If you didn’t know where you were, one could mistake that they were in Philadelphia based off of the decorations in the shop, as well as the quality of the product placed in front of you.

“I’ve had people from Philadelphia come in here and say they can’t imagine my cheesesteaks tasting like the ones from Philly,” Carni said. “I just let my work speak for itself.

“They usually tell me afterwards that it’s so good and tastes just like home. That’s the rewarding part of this job is satisfying people.”

With her youngest child a few years away from college, Carni isn’t quite sure what the future holds, but if she has a choice, she’ll still own “Taste of Philadelphia.”

After all, it’s been a major part of her life for the past 13 years.

“I don’t know what I’d do, honestly,” Carni said. “This place keeps me busy; I just love interacting with people. It’s who I am.”





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This site celebrates the people places, and culture that make Central New York one of the most vibrant and livable regions in the country. From Auburn to Utica, from Syracuse, to Ithaca, this is LivableCNY.

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