BOWLING GREEN—One might think starting a restaurant in these pandemic times would be a risky venture, but for the Thompson family, it is a risk they were willing to take. And judging by the amount of work they put into the operation, it’s not a risk at all.
Tom Thompson said they took over the lease of the building on Bus. 54, just across from the Pike County Sheriff’s Office, in February. They had planned on opening earlier this spring, but the governor’s statewide shutdown of non-essential businesses brought those plans to a screeching halt. Most restaurants, especially those without drive-through windows, had to drastically alter how they operate. The food service industry took a huge hit.
The coronavirus crisis set them back a few months, Tom said, “but it really gave us the chance to make it how we wanted it, before we opened.”
But for the Thompsons, the forced delay gave them that much more time to get everything right. Even so, with the amount of business they were doing just after opening their doors to the public, they realized it was going to be a big operation.
A Taste of Philly had been open only a week, and Tom and his wife, Lindsay, had needed to go and pick up more supplies from St. Louis almost every day. Tom, Lindsay and their son, McCoy are partners in the restaurant. But they are not the only family members who work there. Lindsay said their two daughters, Bella and Miley, do a tremendous amount to help out, as well.
“It’s been a crazy week,” Tom said. It was late Friday afternoon, and the lunch crowd was gone, but the evening supper patrons were starting to show up.
“This is a lot bigger than I imagined,” Lindsay said.
This is not Tom’s first foray into the restaurant business. In 1999, they had opened Champ’s Pub, which is now the Southside Bar & Grill on the square.
The coronavirus was not the only hurdle they had to face in the run up to opening their doors. Tom said finding good help was difficult at best. A lot of people, he said, were happy with getting unemployment pay.
“Finding a chef who was capable of making made-from-scratch food in an efficient manner, while providing good-quality taste” was tough, but they found one, Tom said.
“Adam found us, we didn’t find him,” he added.
“We could not have done this without Adam Wacker,” Lindsay said. “He said we created a monster here.”
“That’s a term I like to use,” Adam said. He had lived in St. Louis his whole life and he was looking for a change of scenery. It just happened to be good timing. He started cooking at age 14, rolling pasta down on The Hill.
“I had been a chef at The Villas as Del Mar and had taken some time off, came out here and decided to make a change,” he said.
“We built a kitchen together and got everything in place,” he added. “Thank God, because we’re operating pretty much like we were thinking. It exceeded my expectations.”
A family friend, who was originally from Philadelphia, Michael Doughty, had given the Thompsons the idea for the restaurant. Tom said he called a few places in Philadelphia seeking some recipes on what made the traditional Philly cheese steak.
“The guy at Pete’s Steak really took the time to talk to me,” Tom said, “and teach me how to do an authentic Philly cheese steak.
Of course, Adam brought some of his recipes with him, such as his meatballs. He and the others working in the kitchen make about 95 percent of the meals from scratch. Cooking that way takes a lot of prep time.
“But it’s worth it,” Adam said. “And that’s why we’re getting all the good feedback.”
The Philly cheese steak is their most popular menu item, so far. Tom said when he was in Philadelphia once, and he wanted to try an authentic Philly cheese steak sandwich. That’s when also he learned the proper way to order one.
“You either want one ‘wit or witout’,” he said. Wit means you get the grilled onions, green peppers and Cheese Whiz. It’s like the kind one gets in the can, but this Cheese Whiz comes in a 6.5 pound bag.
“I think it puts a very tasty spin on it,” Tom said. Some people want the white American cheese, but he said if they try the Cheese Whiz, he believes they will like it better.
“It’s for sure a family business,” Tom said. His family of five quickly grew to a family of 25 in the last two weeks, because he thinks of everyone working there as family.
Even though they’ve had a packed house every night since opening on June 22, he knows that might not be true in another month or so.
“We are absolutely overwhelmed by this community’s support of this restaurant,” Tom said. “We took this week to focus on what they had to say—good, bad or indifferent.”
He said even the negative comments were being used as constructive criticism, to help them make the restaurant even better.
They have an amazing salad bar, as well.
They recently partnered with State Farm Insurance agent Paul Schuchard to give out 100 Philly cheese steaks to first responders.
Adam said, “That was just our first go-round with them.”
Like any new business, it takes some learning how to get things done. The first night, Tom said, their printer went down, so they had to run hand-written food orders into the kitchen.
“One of these days we’re going to laugh about that day,” Tom said. Even a power outage that put half of the restaurant in the dark, is not something he would use as an excuse to the customers for a less than perfect meal experience.
Tom, Lindsay and Adam all said it was a successful first week. And that they’ve learned a lot from it. Adam added that he was impressed with Tom, Lindsay and McCoy’s work ethic, and their pitching in to help.
Tom noted that this is McCoy’s third business venture; and he’s only 18.
There’s lots of décor to let people know the restaurant is sporting Philadelphia style food, such as the cutout of Slyvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa. But the entrance foyer, Tom said, pays homage to the Bowling Green Bobcats.
Tom said he knows the south end of town may be the happening place, but he also knows that a lot of people from the community drive to St. Charles or St. Louis to get the type of food he’s now serving at the north end of town. He said he’s sure they would be willing to drive across town rather than all the way to St. Louis.
According to The Taste of Philly’s Facebook page, “a genuine Philly Cheese Steak sandwich is made of thinly sliced rib eye steak, topped with caramelized peppers and onions, and doused with a generous amount of Cheez Whiz, just the way they do it in ‘The City of Brotherly Love’.”
The Taste of Philly is open seven days a week. Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Find out more about the restaurant at their website: