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Building A Kingdom Through Cheesesteaks

Building A Kingdom Through Cheesesteaks

Mitch Hooper

It started as an idea while he was attending school at Ohio State in the mid-1980s. After taking a trip to New York, Charley Shin had his first ever cheesesteak. That day brought a new love into his life, and that love is flat-iron grilled, covered in mushrooms, peppers, and onions, and smothered with melted cheese.

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Charley Shin is the founder and CEO of Charley’s Philly Steaks. His first ever restaurant grew roots at OSU’s campus on High Street in 1986 when he was still a junior in college. Though the dollar signs were increasing while he was still finishing out his degree in business administration with a focus on finance and real estate, Shin said he knew he had to graduate from college before he completely went in on the business.

“There was just something nudging me [saying], ‘It’s just not the right thing.’ I decided to go back and finish, and I am so glad I did!”

Thanks to the recent overhauls and remodeling on High Street and the businesses located near it, Charley’s Philly Steaks was placed on the chopping block and had to leave the area in 2016. That little break away from campus didn’t last long, and three years later Charley’s has returned to its original home spot as an off-campus eatery. Just like High Street and its changes, Shin has been able to stay adaptive and perceptive of growing trends with his restaurant.

The fast casual experience is an ever-growing trend, and Shin is aware of that. Consumers want food that is both tasty and not full of processed ingredients and preservatives so they can feel better about eating their meals. Shin said Charley’s is a part of that trend—as they only use ingredients like 100% choice USDA beef. But rather than focusing on the health benefits, Charley’s focuses on the indulgence factor. 

Shin said he wants Charley’s to be a place for someone to come and grab a meal that just tastes great, and if they want to try something a bit healthier, his wildly successful Asian fast casual restaurant, Bibibop (which originated in Grandview in 2013), is a nearby alternative. This indulgence factor also explains the addition of chicken wings to the menu: people can’t get enough chicken wings.

“The generation has changed. When you look at Millennials and Gen-X, their lifestyles are very different and we want to be a lifestyle brand,” Shin explained. “The people who come to Charley’s are not exactly the same customers who go to Bibibop. One is looking for indulgence and the other is looking for healthier ways of eating.”

That mindset of keeping it simple is what Shin said he loves about Charley’s. And it’s a model that he uses to determine locations. If you haven’t noticed too many Charley’s posted up with storefronts, it’s because Shin predominantly sets up his restaurants in places like Army bases, airports, or malls where limited options are available, and a reliable cheesesteak with fries probably won’t let you down.

“A cheesesteak made right, I think there’s nothing comparable,” Shin said laughing. “I used to eat a cheesesteak every single day,
and now, I’m a few years older…. Cheesesteak is something I still enjoy, and I want to be proud of everything I do. So […] all the ingredients that we use I can really say, ‘This is some good stuff.’ ”

The new Charley’s Philly Steaks is located on 1980 N. High St. To find their many of its other locations across Columbus, check out the website at charleys.com.

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