HOW IT ALL STARTED
You may not believe this but a gambler was responsible for the creation of the Hoagie in my mother and father’s grocery at 1212 W. 3rd Street in Chester’s West End. There was a pool hall about four doors up the street from Mom’s store and a group of gamblers held card games there from Thursday through Sunday every week.
One summer afternoon back in 1925, one of the men who cut the game decided to take a break and he walked into the store to get a pack of cigarettes. MOM WAS COOKING in the back kitchen and the aroma penetrated throughout the store.
The aroma apparently whet the man’s appetite and he asked Mom if she would make him a sandwich. “OK, pick out what kind of lunchmeat you want,” she said. He looked into the case and with an Italian hand waving gesture said: “Put everything you have in the case on it.”
Mom took a long loaf of Vienna bread, sliced it lengthwise and proceeded to put on all of the lunchmeats. INCLUDED were Proscuitto, Capicola, Salami, Hamcudighino, and Provolone cheese. She also cut a tomato and onion and wet the roll down with olive oil and sprinkled it with oregano and salt.
“What are you cooking that smells so good?” The hungry gambler asked. “I’m frying sweet and hot peppers,” she replied and without asking she put a few pieces of the pepper on the sandwich.
He left and an hour later the place was filled with hungry gamblers asking for a sandwich. Mom sold out of everything that day. It was the beginning of a new creation, soon to become known as the Hoagie.
THE NEXT DAY Mom went to Earo’s Bakery, a shop in the basement of the Earo home at 3rd and Broomall Streets. All bread then was hand-rolled and cooked in a brick hearth oven and Mom asked the baker to make a special roll one foot long and two inches wide. She then started making Hoagies on her specially designed roll not only for the gamblers but everyone else in the neighborhood.
The depression was on and not too many people could afford the 25¢ she charged but for those fortunate to buy one, it was considered a banquet. There was enough on the sandwich to feed four people.
IN 1932, with the war in Europe brewing, the country started to slowly come out of the depression. Railroads were moving again, the yarn mills were spinning the reels, the Ford plant was making cars, and industry in general was on the upswing.
By word of mouth, workers heard of the Hoagie and began buying them for their lunches. Some took them to their jobs in Delaware, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. The Hoagies were very popular with the many men working on the railroads at the time.
WAR BROKE OUT in Europe in 1939 and the draft started in 1940, bringing service men into town looking for a Hoagie.
Mom’s business was doing great. She had two sons — Joseph & John — and four daughters — Polly, Anna, Rose, and Mary. The sandwiches were still 25¢ for a large, with Proscuitto costing 10¢ more. Eventually Mom had a smaller roll made for the 15¢ sandwich and on Friday she had Tuna Hoagie Specials.
NOW, present day, Augie DiCostanza (third generation), currently operates the only original DiCostanza’s store located in Boothwyn, PA. The move to Boothwyn was made 1996 after his father, Joseph, retired from the original Third Street store location.
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