I've always been intrigued by inventors. To hatch a completely original idea for a product that will go on to change people's lives in some way, shape, or form is something that's easy to respect. I love browsing each year's Inc. 500 to see which new inventions are on the horizon -- and which ones consumers are already talking about. Simply put, I like people who make things.
Equally intriguing to me, however, is the relative anonymity that many inventors retain, even after their garage projects go on to become household names (thank you, iPod genius, wherever you are). Cheesesteaks have become a mainstay of any self-respecting carnivore's diet over the years, but I'm sure many of those aficionados still have no idea who thought up the delicious, history-changing combination of chopped meat, a bun, and of course, cheese whiz.
With that said, I'm sorry to share the news about -- but happy to celebrate the legacy of -- Harry Olivieri, co-inventor of the cheesesteak and co-founder of the legendary Pat's King of Steaks in Philadelphia, who passed away this week at age 90. Like penicillin just a few years before, the Olivieri secret recipe was discovered almost by accident. In 1933, the story goes, Harry and older brother Pat became tired of the main offering at their family hot dog stand, and decided to buy some meat, slice it up, and make sandwiches for themselves. A cabbie came by for a hot dog, smelled the creation, and made an offer. And thus, the now world-famous cheesesteak shop at the corner of 9th and Passyunk (which has duked it out for years with its across-the-street rival, Geno's) was born.
I somewhat shamefully confess to not knowing much history about a sandwich I've come to enjoy so much -- despite having lived in Philly for several years and frequenting Pat's as recently as July 4th weekend, I knew little of Olivieri's story until now. But as I watch countless upstarts here in New York and across the country continue to try -- usually in vain -- to replicate a winning cheesesteak formula hatched more than seven decades ago, I'd like to tip my hat to a deserving inventor who helped spark an entire culinary industry.