In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Jim Pappas – a Delaware County native who worked in financial services – was unsure of what to come next. After divorcing and being diagnosed with leukemia, then giving up his career, Pappas was looking for a fulfilling new way to spend his days. He decided to ask his family and friends where their favorite cheesesteak places were, and then go and try them out. It was a simple and modest mission, rooted in a curiosity to try new things and meet new people, and a way to spend time.
In 2018, Pappas started the Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure with a new friend, with the goal of eating 1,000 cheesesteaks from 1,000 different restaurants. His modest pursuit of great sandwiches quickly grew into a community of devoted and voracious fans nationwide who followed him as he prepared to eat 250, then 500, then 800 cheesesteaks in Pennsylvania, in New Jersey and Delaware. On January 13, 2022 – four years after his debut – Jim Pappas will eat his thousandth cheesesteak.
One Saturday afternoon in December, Pappas tasted his 986th cheesesteak at Cook and Shaker, a corner between Fishtown and Kensington. Pappas is chatty and engaging, filled with endless tales of cheesesteaks, parenthood, and life, politely taking breaks in the middle of the conversation to snap photos of his cheesesteak before and during the meal. He was dressed like new in the Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure loot, including a T-shirt with a cartoon designed by fans of Pappas himself driving a sandwich like a car.
“Do you know why Philadelphians love cheesesteaks?” Pappas asked. “These are the memories attached. “This is my father’s favorite place. The back of mom’s station wagon before the big game. ‘”
It is for this reason that Pappas has formed such a dedicated community. Philadelphia takes its cheesesteaks seriously, and its people seem particularly (and notoriously) sensitive to any classification of “better” or “worse.” Perhaps it is Pappas’ sense of humor, dedication and relentless respect for the process that has made him one of the region’s most reputable sources on the matter.
With the stakes going so far as to disrupt Philadelphians’ nostalgia for childhood, creating a range of preferences is a tricky feat. But Pappas devised, despite a few occasional setbacks, what looks like a foolproof system, a system that informed its carefully updated spreadsheet of the cheesesteak locations visited.
On the sheet, Pappas rates their cheesesteaks according to five categories: bun, meat, cheese, extras and overall experience. Although each category is unique, Pappas says, “It all starts with meat. I grew up in the suburbs, so our cheesesteaks were always chopped. I want the fried onions and mushrooms on the grill with the meat. Let them all mix.
The cheese must therefore be melted all over, chopped with the meat and placed in a roll with a “thin crust and bread that collapses”.
The obvious wildcard of its ranking system is “Overall Experience”, a category riddled with subjectivity. This category tends to generate the most controversy.
It’s really just a way to capture the spirit of Pappas’ overall pursuit. The experience of a restaurant, its staff, a great beer and all the edible standards – bun, meat, cheese – overlap its ultimate goal: a cheesesteak adventure, an adventure steeped in the memories of friends, family. and Philadelphia. .
In April 2019, Pappas hit his first major benchmark of 250 cheesesteaks and wrote a top product list that garnered national attention and thousands of followers, providing enough momentum for him to commit to reaching. 500 before the end of this year.
As with all ambitious ventures, it can be difficult to go it alone, and by the mid-400s the adventure almost came to a halt until one of Pappas’ friends insisted, “Let’s go. They grew together.
Once he finally hit the staggering benchmark of 500 in January 2020, Pappas figured he might as well keep going.
A thousand cheesesteaks became an arbitrary finish line, but one that kept the adventure alive. The fans made art. He sold goods. His follower count has grown with fans nationwide. He finally landed on an all-time favorite. With a score of 96 out of 100, this is Charlie’s Roast Pork cheesesteak on S. 3rd Street in Pennsport.
Finding a thousand unique places for a cheesesteak has surprisingly never been difficult. “They are like deer,” explains Pappas. “They are hiding in plain sight.”
High in the 800s, he decided to start soliciting diners to join him on the ride, a move that resulted in over fifty guest meals and boosted his energy to hit four figures.
To celebrate the thousand cheesesteaks, Pappas will host a party at the West End Boat Club in Essington, where fans can watch Pappas reach his goal. Tickets for the event are available on the Pappas website. You will receive a commemorative t-shirt and a cheesesteak buffet. This is the opportunity to see Pappas write history.
What happens after reaching 1000? Pappas wants his community to decide and help guide him to new options. He’s not planning on stopping the cheesesteak journey anytime soon, but his ambitions are getting higher and higher. He would like to expand his reach, become the city’s go-to source for cheesesteak expertise.
For now, however, he’s happy with what he’s built and the people he’s met along the way – it’s been quite an adventure.