To say that Frankie Santos is upset is an understatement.
Among Tucson restaurateurs, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more colorful personality than Santos, proprietor of Frankie’s South Philly Cheesesteaks, 2574 N. Campbell Ave. It’s often Santos himself who greets customers at the door with a shout and a smile, taking their orders and sharing stories about growing up on Philadelphia’s south side. His heart seems to overflow with the brotherly love for which his hometown is widely known.
But threaten his ability to sell TastyKakes to his customers? Hell hath no fury.
Santos grew up eating TastyKakes, a classic confection that first rolled out of a Philadelphia bakery in 1914. “TastyKakes and milk was every kid’s snack back then,” said Santos, and that snack soon made its way into neighborhood sandwich shops. “Cheesesteaks and TastyKakes, now that’s Philadelphia,” he routinely proclaims.
When he opened Frankie’s, there was never any question that these baked goods were a must for his menu, and he’s been selling nearly 2,000 packages a month ever since.
So why is he so upset? Recent developments at the TastyKakes parent company, involving complex mergers, debt payoffs and exclusive distribution rights, have resulted in Santos’ inability to sell them at his restaurant. The plot has all the makings of a Martin Scorsese thriller, with the requisite drama and mystery, and Santos — who I imagine would be played by Joe Pesci in the film adaptation — is loaded for bear.
In short, a corporate merger has dramatically changed the distribution mechanism through which Santos has historically obtained the product. As a result, TastyKakes are no longer being shipped to Southern Arizona. What is now available is what Santos calls a “TastyKake knock-off,” a competing product that looks similar to the original, but a poseur nonetheless. “It ain’t a real TastyKake, and I ain’t selling it!”
Santos tells me his customers are outraged, which my quick check of the restaurant’s Facebook page confirmed. Mike Evanoff posted, “Is it the end of days?” while Maegan Insignares predicts that her “world is seriously going to end.”
Santos pledges he is doing everything possible to bring TastyKakes back to Frankie’s, and remains in daily contact with company representatives in an attempt to rectify the situation. There is even some chatter about a possible petition drive, a card which Santos may play if he continues to hit obstacles.
In the meantime, his patrons can take comfort in the fact that Frankie’s still carries Amoroso Rolls, Hires Root Beer and Wise Potato Chips, as well as the latest Philly favorite to join the line-up, Habbersett Scrapple.
While the suspense is killing me, my instinct tells me that this saga will soon resolve with renewed shipments of TastyKakes to Tucson. Santos simply won’t settle for anything less.
Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at email@example.com. Russell is also host of “On the Menu Live” from 4-5 p.m. Saturdays on KNST 790-AM and does the Weekend Watch segment of the “Buckmaster Show” from noon-1 p.m. Fridays on KVOI 1030-AM.