15 Minutes: Tony Dana tackles cheesesteak debate
November 11, 2005
Tony Dana, 34, is the owner of Tony’s Cheesesteak, which has been in business near Stateline for almost a year. He’s been in Tahoe since 1995, riding dirt bikes, snowboarding and running restaurants.
Q: How did you end up in Tahoe?
A: I came up to Tahoe in 1995. My grandmother lived here and got sick. When she got sick I moved here from Maryland to take care of her. I’ve been coming to Tahoe since I was born.
Q: So you’re from the East Coast: When you came out here, did you notice a lack of good cheesesteaks?
A: When I came out here at first, there wasn’t a lack of good cheesesteaks, there were no cheesesteaks.
Q: When is the best time to have a cheesesteak?
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A: I’d say whenever you are hungry for some real food.
Q: What makes a good cheesesteak?
A: A good high-end steak, like top sirloin, not tri-tip. Using tri-tip is like a French dip with veggies.
Q: What about the cheese?
A: Cheese is kind of controversial. In Philly they actually use provolone or Cheez Whiz, which is cheep cheese sauce, not even cheese. In Maryland, we used provolone or regular cheddar, and that’s what we do here.
Q: So no Cheez Whiz if you go to Tony’s?
A: I can’t stand Cheez Whiz and I’m not putting Cheez Whiz on my sandwiches.
Q: Is there a secret to making a good cheesesteak?
A: Not really. It’s just good meat, good cheese and veggies. Mushrooms, peppers, getting it all grilled together is the fine point. Not overgrilled, not raw.
Q: What did you do before this?
A: I’ve always been in the restaurant business. I worked at McP’s Pub Tahoe for a while before opening Tony’s Cheesesteaks.
In Maryland, I worked as a cook at a place that did pizzas and cheesesteaks.
Q: I hear you are a pretty good host.
A: Running a restaurant isn’t just cooking people food and giving them a good product. Running a restaurant is also about entertainment.
Eating is an experience, it’s not, “Feed my face and get out of here.” That’s why you go to fast food.
You definitely have to have a good mind-set and personality and have people working there that people know will take care of them when they go in.
Q: Do you have a philosophy in life?
A: Live life until you die, basically.
I’m not down too much, I’m usually pretty happy.
Q: What are the benefits to living in a small town?
A: Living in a small town is absolutely good because we don’t have big-town issues. Before I lived in this town, I lived in South Beach Miami and Maryland. The traffic, the people and the bad attitude are just ridiculous.
In a smaller town, you have a lot friendlier people and a closer-knit community.
As far as the bad things: any little thing that happens in this town, everybody knows about.
People want to come to a small town because they want to get away from the whole world, but it’s the rest of the world that makes this town strive and survive, through tourism.
Q: What’s your clientele?
A: In the last 10 months, I’ve probably seen 60 percent local, 40 percent tourist, which is pretty good for being on this side of town.
Q: What’s on your menu?
A: We have a steak cheesesteak, a chicken cheesesteak, a homemade chicken and eggplant parmesan sandwich and side orders like salads and fried mushroom, zucchinis and fries. For drinks, we’ve got sodas, teas and seven types of beer.