Former Pennsylvanians are proud to offer their home state’s signature sandwich
The cult obsession with regional foods cuts deep: New York style pizza, Eastern v. Western Carolina BBQ, Chicago or Carolina hotdogs. But perhaps no loyalty is more fierce than a Pennsylvanian’s devotion to the Philly Cheesesteak. After all, Philadelphia is the city where they flipped and burned cars, tore down telephone poles, and rioted in the street following the Super Bowl — and that was after they won!
Needless to say, it takes a brave soul to venture into the Philly cheesesteak game. But Lynnette Wolfe and her family come with solid credentials.
“We’re from Pennsylvania, home of the cheesesteak, and the part of the state known for cheesesteaks,” says Wolfe, who relocated from Williamsport 16 years ago. Her kids had previously noted the lack of cheesesteak options in the area, and she opened Woody’s Cheesesteaks in downtown Hendersonville with her son and her grandson in August.
Her other two sons, Leonard and Steve Woodring, actually founded Woody’s in the foodcourt of the Biltmore Square Mall. After the mall closed and was revamped as the Asheville Outlet Malls, they tried unsuccessfully to return to the food court there. “The upkeep was high, the overhead was real high, and sales were really low,” says Wolfe, who began looking for a location in downtown Hendersonville. Her son Bud Woodring and grandson Claude Woodring took over operations when they finally opened on Church Street after a long delay due to the pandemic. The intention remains the same: to make classic cheesesteaks that celebrate the simplicity and blue-collar history of the beloved hoagie.
The sandwich originated in South Philly, and Pat Olivieri of famed Pat’s King of Steaks is often credited with its invention back in the 1930s, initially serving it with just steak and onions fresh off the flat top. The exact era when provolone cheese became a key ingredient is still hotly debated. Some — including Olivieri himself — say Pat’s King of Steaks added it in the ’40s; others cast the credit to Joey Vento, who opened the rival steak shop Geno’s Steaks directly across the street. This seems less likely, since by the time he opened Geno’s in the ’60s, Cheez Whiz was already a beloved ingredient on the sandwich.
Ask any Philadelphian and they’ll have a different opinion as to whether it should be provolone, American, or Cheez Whiz on a proper cheesesteak. But the folks at Woody’s are staunch proponents of provolone. “People think it’s supposed to be Cheez Whiz, but it isn’t,” insists Wolfe. “There’s one section of Philadelphia that uses the Cheez Whiz, and they are the ones that are always on TV, so that’s where everyone wants to go. But a real cheesesteak is steak, onion, and provolone cheese, and sometimes mayonnaise.”
The menu at Woody’s is as small and efficient as the restaurant itself, offering steak and chicken Phillies; burgers; turkey, ham, and Italian subs; chicken-tender sandwiches; salads; and side options of fries or onion rings. You can also customize your cheesesteak with upgrades of mushrooms, green peppers, lettuce, tomato, and mayo (and yes, they use Duke’s). Wolfe says they plan on extending that menu, but only slightly, to include regular specials like her scratch-made meatball sub, homemade sides including potato or pasta salad, and, eventually, her fresh-baked pies.
“The meatballs will be homemade from scratch,” she says, adding, “Some sales rep brought in these frozen meatballs, and my son said, ‘There’s no way we are putting a frozen meatball in here.’”
Woody’s is a true mom-and-pop shop. “We’ve never had anybody but family work for us,” says Wolfe. “It’s easy, because we know they’re going to show up for work, and we know that if things aren’t going well, we don’t get paid, and that’s just how it goes.” That’s been especially hard with opening the new location in the midst of the pandemic.
“Needless to say, it’s been a struggle. Everybody is in the same position we are in … you do what you have to do.”
Woody’s Cheesesteaks, 431 North Church St., Hendersonville. Open Monday 11am-3pm and Tuesday through Saturday from 11am-7pm. Woody’s offers free delivery within five miles of the shop, with delivery beyond that through Doordash. For more information, call 828-595-2991 or see Woody’s Cheesesteaks Hendersonville on Facebook.