Owners offer ‘authentic’ Philly experience

by Clay Neely


Emart Harley and Anthony Bonanni, owners of Steakholders on Millard Farmer Industrial Blvd., have seen a very positive reception to their product since opening in July. 

There’s something to be said about regional food.

Across the United States, locals often take the utmost pride in cuisine that is considered to be synonymous with both their people and their culture.

For two Pennsylvania natives now living in Newnan, the decision to create an authentic Philly Cheesesteak experience was an easy decision. Anthony Bonanni and Emart Harley were both working at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia when their friendship formed. Bonanni worked as a masterchef while Harley was lead dispatcher.

Both were promoted in 2012 to work at CTCA’s new Southeast Regional Medical Center in Newnan. During their brief tenure at the Newnan location of CTCA, Harley and Bonanni noticed how long the lunch lines were during Philly Cheesesteak days.

When Harley asked Bonanni, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” the answer was a resounding, “Yep.”

“We had a great run with CTCA and they’re a fantastic organization,” Harley said. “However, it just felt like it was time to move on. When your passion for a potential side-job eclipses your day job, you can’t misrepresent yourself or the company. It’s not fair to either side. Once we both knew we were on board with the idea, that’s when things really started to happen.”

Their initial vision for Steakholders came in the form of two food trucks that would serve the Newnan and Coweta area. But while the popularity of food trucks has exploded across the country over the past several years, the city of Newnan decided it wasn’t quite ready.

“The afternoon before we were set to pick up our business license, the city of Newnan told us that there was a change and we needed to meet with the city attorney,” Bonanni said. “Well, that meeting never happened.”

At that point, Bonanni and Harley found themselves looking at two food trucks with nowhere to go. Local landlord, Larry Tyre, saw what the two men were going through and offered them a small shop located in the Shops of Wahoo Creek on Millard Farmer Industrial Boulevard/Hwy. 34 bypass.

The vacant space on the bypass, previously owned by a restaurant, was a perfect fit. “Zoning, connecting and outfitting – it was a breeze,” according to Bonanni. Soon, the food trucks were sold and Steakholders had a home.

Since opening their doors in July, the owners have been overwhelmed with the response they have received from the public.

“I can’t emphasize enough how awesome the city and citizens have been,” Harley said. “It’s been an amazing thing to witness. We’re so very grateful.”

In just five weeks, their business already has jumped from three employees to nine and customers have come from Peachtree City, Carrollton and LaGrange just to confirm what they have been told. It’s the real deal.

Bonanni and Harley chuckle about the mythical status that a true Philadelphia Cheesesteak possesses – they recall the numerous Philly transplants who walk through their door who are skeptical, to say the least.

“I understand where they’re coming from,” Bonanni said. “So many places have attempted to do a proper Philly cheesesteak but never live up to the standard. It’s rewarding to watch a non-believer come in, go outside to eat their sandwich only to walk back, humbly saying, ‘You nailed it.’”

Moments like these solidify the gut feeling that both owners felt upon their initial idea for Steakholders. With jammed parking lots and lines out the door at 8 p.m., their newfound success speaks for itself. Harley recalls a customer giving them a thumbs-up from their car window as the family ate inside.

Harley is the admitted logistics man while Bonanni is the man with the golden grill. As a master chef, Bonanni understands the nuances of creating the perfect cheesesteak – no ingredient goes unnoticed and the process is precise.

“Food is food,” stated Bonanni. “If you want respect, you treat the product with respect, no matter what you’re cooking. A cheesesteak has a very discriminating fan base and they know if you’re being authentic to the recipe.”

Currently, Steakholders is an exclusively carry-out operation with several covered picnic tables outside. However, they do offer delivery within a six-mile radius from the restaurant and know how to make the most of what they have.

“And once football season starts, it’s going to be amazing,” Harley stated. With ideas on the horizon for flat-screen televisions outside along with the cooling, fall temperatures, both feel that the combination will be hard to pass up.

Since their opening in July, they have already been solicited for future franchises across the region. However, Harley and Bonanni want to take things slow – ensuring that everything moves at the right pace. Needless to say, they’re very optimistic about the franchise.

“Let’s just say we have some major surprises up our sleeve,” joked Harley. “To receive this kind of response to our product without any kind of marketing is reaffirming. It certainly validates our initial gut feeling.”

From winning over skeptical natives to giving Newnan’s locals a taste of Philly authenticity, Harley and Bonanni are grateful for the opportunity to win the hearts and stomachs of their patrons.

“Once they try it, they’re hooked,” said Bonanni. “It’s a product that most definitely sells itself.”

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