Great grub: Authentic Philly cheesesteak shop opens in Little Haiti

Postal worker Steven Martin delivers mail in Little Haiti and stopped by Philly Grub for its soft opening on Feb. 26.
Postal worker Steven Martin delivers mail in Little Haiti and stopped by Philly Grub for its soft opening on Feb. 26. cportilla@MiamiHerald.com

Mark Scharnitz and friend Jen McCool had a hard time finding an authentic Philly cheesesteak in Miami so they decided to open shop and make ’em like they do back home.

Philly Grub officially opens Tuesday in Little Haiti, but Scharnitz is no newcomer to the Miami food scene. Years ago he owned The Corner Muse, a health food and beverage spot where Mignonette currently sits, that doubled as a consignment shop before the leased property was bought by developers.

This time he’s doing things differently.

Scharnitz purchased his current property and has been working out of a commercial kitchen in Little Haiti for seven years via his other business, Hearts of Palm Catering, delivering meals to homeless and rehab shelters and halfway houses throughout Miami, as well as selling nutritious boxed lunches to Miami businesses. The concept for Philly Grub has been in the works for two years, and it’s finally turning into a reality, with a separate kitchen at the catering company.

“I’m not going to get run out anymore,” Scharnitz said. “I’m a small-businessperson and I was constantly getting run out. I would have a 60-month lease, and by the time I built it out for somebody else and did everything else, they would sell it to somebody or raise my rent. There was no loyalty, and I have so much loyalty, so I finally just ended up buying the building.”

The entrepreneur owns other properties in Miami, including the What’s Your Vape space next to Philly Grub, as well as a warehouse behind the restaurant he’s planning to turn into a furniture consignment shop resembling The Corner Muse. Behind that, he’ll build a parking lot.

Next to the vape shop there’s an alley he revamped with patio lights, red bricks and repurposed pallets as tables, where guests will be able to sit outside with their food and enjoy the weather. For him it’s about recreating an authentic Philly sandwich spot with great music and fun vibes but respecting the culture that’s already here.

The outside of the venue sports a black and blue mural of Tanya Henry created by artist Christina Angelina for the Little Haiti Mural Project curated by Yo Miami.

“I hire people from the community first and foremost,” Scharnitz said. “If someone needs a little help, I’ll help them out. They know I’m not here to run anyone out. If I have any extra stuff, they know they can have it. I’ve been really welcomed. The homeless watch my property, I know them and they know me. We have a good relationship.”

The menu will consist of seven sandwiches, including the Original Philly, with fresh shaved sirloin and a choice of whiz, provolone or American cheese. Sandwiches include extras like onions, peppers, mushrooms and pizza sauce at no charge. For vegans and vegetarians there’s the “pheggie sandwich” with oven roasted balsamic seasoned vegetables they cook separately from any meat.

Another authentic touch is the Amoroso’s bread roll synonymous with the Philly cheesesteak. They bring it here directly from a Philly bakery. For Scharnitz, who was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and grew up in Philly, the bread is one of the most important ingredients for their sandwiches, and you can’t get it made here, he said.

“This isn’t a fancy place. You’re going to be able to come here and get a funky vibe,” Scharnitz said. “For 7.76 you’re getting ribeye and other sides. People see this menu and think there’s a one missing, but you’re getting a nice portion. We’re also going to have a value menu, so for under $10, you’re going to be able to get a sandwich, chips and a drink.”

Diving deeper into details, the prices for the sandwiches are all $7.76 because the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1776. The interior walls are splashed with forest green paint, and nostalgic black-and-white pictures of Philadelphia factories hang on the walls. The metallic stool seats resemble bottle caps, and as a touch of Philly reminiscence they sell “penny candy” behind the counter with options like vintage cigarette gum, blow pops and gummy sandwiches.

For people like Candace O’ Brien, originally from Rhode Island, Philly Grub will offer more than food. A fan of homemade pierogis, she broke her vegan diet to try them because it was like getting a taste of the Northeast.

“It’s pierogi heaven,” she said. “The cheese just melts, and it really reminds me of back home. Originally it’s a Polish food made with a cheesy potato filling, onions and a sour cream chive sauce. They are so good!”

Bringing people together for food and community is important to Scharnitz. His team consists of folks who were once at the shelters, as well as Little Haiti residents. He’s also going to be adding a Creole sandwich to the menu and hopes to open up more locations around Miami.

Scharnitz is also exploring a future concept of having a special night where he invites different Miami up-and-coming chefs to use his space as a venue to cook and serve guests. To him success means creating and giving opportunities to the people around him.

“We are your neighborhood sandwich shop,” Scharnitz said. “Come in — it’s going to be affordable, it’s going to be great — and just try something different. Variety is necessary to life.”

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If you go

▪ What: Philly Grub in Little Haiti

▪ Where: 99 NW 54th St.

▪ When: Grand opening March 1

▪ Cost: Sandwiches are all priced at $7.76

▪ Hours of operation: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/Philly-Grub-1664526413806305