Forget Elvis and Vegas. Keep Austin weird when you get married or renew your vows at Way South Philly.
By Tiffany Harelik, Photos by Elizabeth Shear
After an economic downturn, Willy Pearce was laid off in February 2011.
“My brother and his wife and I opened the truck two months later,” Pearce shares. “It was spontaneous. During South By Southwest that year, I talked to a lot of the truck owners to learn how they did it. I came across a trailer we could rent, and that was our springboard.”
Way South Philly opened in April 2011 with one truck in the East Sixth and Waller lot.
“Being from Philadelphia and trying the cheesesteaks out here, I didn’t find anything that was authentic enough to represent home,” Pearce says.
So using the business as an homage to his past and a key to his future, Pearce found that cheesesteaks have paved the way for his food-truck success.
“I’ve lived up and down the East Coast,” Pearce shares, “and I was trying to get back to Nashville. The company I was with had a manager spot open in Austin, and being a former musician, I decided to give it a shot. I fell in love and a year later, I bought a house here. I wanted to do the Rocky theme because it goes hand in hand with Philadelphia. I wanted the menu and atmosphere to be a fun, interactive experience. We play Rocky music when people order sandwiches.”
“We started offering marriages in February of 2012 after I was ordained online,” Pearce says. “As a goof on Valentine’s Day, we decided to offer free marriages and vow renewals on Valentine’s Day. Virginia Wood heard about it and put an article in the Austin Chronicle and we started getting phone calls from Austin, Houston and Dallas to do weddings. I decided to get all my employees ordained so we can do walk-up weddings at any time.”
To date, Way South Philly staff has married four couples and performed 20 vow renewals. The wedding special for two cheesesteaks, two tots, two drinks and one ceremony costs $59.99. In the spirit of entertainment, Way South Philly also offers the Italian Stallion Challenge, the equivalent of six sandwiches containing two pounds of meat on sourdough bread smothered with Cheez Whiz, onions, mushrooms, peppers and tater tots.
“We have had 16 attempts and only two complete it,” Pearce says.
A respected member of the food-truck community in Austin, Pearce brings a positive perspective to the table.
“I turn a negative in to a positive,” he says. “Instead of feeling sorry for myself during the recession, I turned it around and now I have employees and I’m contributing to society. I’m kind of like a Rocky story; it is a Rocky story.”
Now Pearce has two trucks. The second is located at the Barton Springs Neighborhood Food Court, and is also his catering truck for special events.
For more food truck recommendations, check out trailerfooddiaries.com, or follow along on twitter @trailerfood.
Willy’s Way South Philly BBQ Cheese Steak
Courtesy of Way South Philly, as featured in Trailer Food Diaries Cookbook: Austin volume 3. This cheese steak is Way South Philly’s take on Austin barbecue. This recipe makes four sandwiches.
- 1 medium yellow onion, sliced very thinly (almost shaved) in long strips
- 16 ounces of sirloin steak, thinly sliced
- 4 Philly rolls or your favorite sub roll
- Kraft Cheese Whiz
- 12 Kosher dill pickle chips, sliced
- 12 ounces of Willy’s BBQ Sauce
- Salt and pepper to taste
Way South Philly calls their onions “the magic.” In order to get the magic right, peel the outer skin of the onion and discard. Next, cut the onion in half and then cut very thin strips, almost shaved. No caramelization necessary for this recipe, as true Texas barbecue uses raw onions. Saute the thinly sliced sirloin steak over medium-low heat, stirring often to brown for three to six minutes. Do not drain the fat! (Fat equals flavor.) Add salt and pepper to taste. Next, get some real Philly rolls (or your favorite sub roll). Slice them down the center long-ways and toast for a second or two. Spread Kraft Cheese Whiz all over the inside top (crown) of the roll and smear Willy’s BBQ Sauce on the bottom (inside the heel of the roll). Then pile the steak inside, layer with two ounces of raw yellow onions. Place three oval pickle chips on top of the onions and garnish with one ounce of Willy’s BBQ Sauce by cross-hatching a design on top of pickles.
Willy’s Way South Philly BBQ Sauce
This recipe yields a little more than 2 cups. Pearce suggests tripling the recipe because your friends will want to take some home.
- 1 cup yellow mustard
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar
- 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon black coarse pepper
- 1 teaspoon white pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Austin Made Honey
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon liquid smoke
In large pot over medium-low heat, mix all ingredients except the honey, soy sauce, butter and liquid smoke. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring continuously. Add the honey and remaining ingredients over low heat and stir for an additional 15 minutes. Put some sauce in a squirt bottle. You will need this to garnish Willy’s BBQ Philly Cheese Steak. As you eat, squeeze the sandwich gently. Lean forward so the end of the sandwich points away from you. Have napkins ready; if prepared correctly, it’s going to get messy. And they mean Texas messy!