What’s the beef?

Charles Mostoller

In a tale as bitter as broccoli rabe, a feud has broken out in social media and in the courts between family members behind Philadelphia’s famous Tony Luke’s sandwich brand.

In-fighting between Anthony Lucidonio, Sr., (Tony Luke Sr.) and his sons Anthony Lucidonio, Jr. (Tony Luke, Jr.), and Nicky Lucidonio has resulted in the filing of a lawsuit that pits father and one son against another son.

The crux of the dispute is over the future of the Tony Luke’s brand and its 22 franchises, which now span the mid-Atlantic region and beyond.

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In order to compete with other cheesesteak variations served on corners across South Philadelphia, Lucidonio senior took the famed Philly sandwich and gave it a new spin, adding Italian roast pork and chicken cutlets to the menu and adopting the slogan, “The Real Taste of South Philly.”

In 1992, Lucidonio, along with his two sons, founded Tony Luke’s at Front Street and Oregon Avenue in South Philadelphia.

In 2007, Lucidonio Jr. teamed up with Ray Rastelli Jr. to acquire and own all the rights to the name and brand “Tony Luke’s.”

The company flourished, but this past sumer there was a falling out between Lucidonio senior and junior, according to the father’s attorney, Steve Angstreich, who is also representing Nicky Lucidonio.

In July, Lucidonio senior fired Lucidonio junior, according to court documents, and told his son he would no longer provide the sautéed vegetables and pork au jus to the franchises that Lucidonio Jr. had been running for the last eight years.

“The fact of the matter is that he didn’t work there and he was being paid by his father, but wasn’t working. So, his father decided the time for payments would stop,” said Angstreich.

According to a lawsuit filed last week by Lucidonio junior, Lucidonio senior and brother Nicky were the beneficiaries of millions of dollars thanks to Lucidonio Jr. being the face and spokesman for the brand “without putting up a penny.”

In return for the net royalties and other benefits the franchises provided, Lucidonio junior only asked that the flagship South Philadelphia location remain open, as they had been doing since 2007, as a franchise. But the father wanted to rename the restaurant “Papa Luke’s.”

Lucidonio junior claims “we’ve gotten rich off the publicity they’ve achieved through franchising. We say we’ve been successful 15 years before there was a thought of franchising, and we sell the best stuff around and people come to enjoy it,” said Angstreich.

Over the years, Lucidonio Jr. claims to have garnered international recognition for his family’s company by appearing on shows like “Throwdown with Bobby Flay,” “Food Wars” and “Frankenfood.”

As the brand grew and additional franchises opened, money flowed in, and Tony Luke’s became a household name.

Lucidonio junior claims his father and brother now resent him for his success.

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“Indeed, consumers now identify [Tony Luke Jr.] with the brand exclusively, much to the chagrin of his father,” language in the civil complaint reads.

Rich Gallucci, a lawyer for Lucidonio junior, said“we cannot understand why Tony Luke senior is having any issue of making more money than he ever made before,” he said.

Gallucci insists Lucidonio senior hasn’t paid any license fees and has made millions more from his South Philly store alone thanks to his son and the franchising endeavors.

“His son and his franchisepartner have made his father a millionaire, but theyhave not yet received the same financial benefits,” said Gallucci.

Last week, Lucidonio junior took to Facebook to express his regret over the family’s legal battle, saying “I am in shock of the allegations that have been made, especially as I am, and will remain, one of the owner’s of Tony Luke’s Front & Oregon. I ensure you that your experience at our Tony Luke’s locations will remain as consistent as it always has. I am saddened by the recent events that have taken place and have done everything I can to build the reputation of the Tony Luke’s name and family from a local legacy to a national one.”

Asked if there could be any future between father and son, Angstreich said,

“I doubt there will be a relationship. That’s the problem with family fights. It’s very difficult to undo what you say and feelings get hurt.”

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