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Original French fry sandwich now in Wheeling area

Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register photo by Ian Hicks Primanti Bros.’ signature sandwich, “The Pittsburgher” — a cheesesteak piled high with fries and coleslaw — has come to the Wheeling area with the restaurant’s opening this past weekend at The Highlands.
Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register photo by Ian Hicks
Primanti Bros.’ signature sandwich, “The Pittsburgher” — a cheesesteak piled high with fries and coleslaw — has come to the Wheeling area with the restaurant’s opening this past weekend at The Highlands.

TRIADELPHIA, W.Va. — Yes, they really do put the fries on the sandwich.

Sure, you can get them on the side – but why on earth would you?

Roughly seven months after announcing it was coming to the Wheeling area, Primanti Bros. opened its doors at The Highlands on Friday afternoon, and not a moment too soon with the height of Christmas shopping season fast approaching. After a soft opening over the weekend, the restaurant marked its first full day of operations Monday.

To judge from the crowd packed into the 220-plus-seat dining area at lunch time, the sandwich that’s become synonymous with Pittsburgh – meat, hand-cut fries, coleslaw and provolone cheese bursting from between two slices of Italian bread – has been a hit in the Ohio Valley as well.

“There was a line halfway around the building on Saturday,” said Michael Fleischauer, the restaurant’s general manager. “We feel very blessed.”

With the opening of The Highlands location, the Steel City sandwich maker now operates 20 restaurants in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Florida. The original location opened in Pittsburgh’s Strip District in 1933 feeding truckers and steelworkers, and continues to serve hungry patrons 24 hours a day.

One cold winter day, according to the company’s website, a delivery driver stopped by the restaurant with a load of potatoes to see if they were frozen. John DePriter, nephew of founder Joe Primanti, threw some of them on the grill and, finding them to be in good shape, began putting them on customers’ sandwiches. The business hasn’t looked back since.

If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, as the saying goes, Primanti’s must be doing something right. These days, there’s no shortage of restaurants offering “Pittsburgh style” sandwiches topped with fries and coleslaw.

The Primanti’s story is one with which many in the Wheeling area can identify, according to Ohio County Commissioner and Development Authority member Orphy Klempa.

“We’re so close to Pittsburgh. Everybody knows about Primanti’s but not everybody’s had an opportunity to be at one. … Ohio County is a hard working, blue-collar place. This is a hard-working, blue-collar type of restaurant with a sandwich to match,” he said.

According to Operations Manager Morghan McLaughlin, Primanti Bros.’ move into West Virginia – the restaurant opened its first location in the state earlier this year in Morgantown – was a “natural fit,” particularly the Wheeling area, with its proximity to Pittsburgh.

“It feels like a home away from home for us,” she said.

As The Highlands has grown over the last decade, leaving fewer and fewer available parcels, Ohio County Development Authority President Randy Wharton said there’s been an increased focus recently on seeking tenants that offer quality and stability – and Primanti’s had both.

“One of our goals has always been to bring things here that aren’t here already, and we were able to do that with Olive Garden and Cheddar’s and Quaker Steak and Lube, and now Primanti’s,” Wharton said.

The addition of Primanti Bros. provides another destination tenant that Wharton expects will draw more people to shop at The Highlands’ various retail options. Though he has yet to make it in for a meal – he hopes to do so sometime this week – he said a drive by during a weekend stop at The Highlands spoke volumes.

“There were no parking places, and we weren’t surprised at that,” Wharton said. “I think their decision to locate here speaks to their confidence in The Highlands and their confidence that they’ll be able to do well here.”

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