Jamie Hall knew breaking the news about her father’s favorite cheesesteak destination closing wouldn’t be easy.
Rendezvous Steak Shop in Lancaster has been a Hall family favorite for decades.
“They’re just the best damn cheesesteaks,” Hall said.
So before she broke the news, Hall, during her lunch break Thursday, walked into Rendezvous and ordered a sandwich special for her old man.
“I figured it would soften the blow,” Hall said with a smile.
After nearly 70 years, the popular lunch, dinner and late-night spot will close at the end of December.
Now located at 239 W. King St., the steak shop debuted in 1951 at 242 W. King St.
Before coming to Lancaster, founder Romolo Joseph “Beans” Gaspari owned a steak shop in Coatesville. A story in the January 1955 Saturday Evening Post credited Gaspari with introducing the Italian steak sandwich to Lancaster.
“Whenever we get a hankering for a cheesesteak, we just roll down here,” longtime patron Brad Miller, 59, of Manheim Township, said.
Miller said his father-in-law would only buy cheesesteaks from Rendezvous. Miller had his first taste in his 20s and was hooked instantly.
“There’s something in their steak,” he said. “I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s really good.”
‘Too old to change’
In 1970, Rendezvous Steak Shop moved to its current location in a building constructed on the site of a former hotel. After Romolo Gaspari died in 1973, his brother Roger took over.
“Dec. 4, my birthday, I’m going to be 89 years old. It’s time to bow out,” said Roger Gaspari, who works at the shop every day, except for the three winter months he spends in Florida.
Not much has changed — neither the food nor the strict, cash-only policy — since the shop opened.
“The only thing that changes is the prices,” Gaspari said.
About the cash-only policy, Gaspari’s wife, Birgitta said, “My husband is too old to change.”
The two met serendipitously while vacationing in Spain in 1974. Birgitta moved from Sweden to Lancaster a year later and the two married.
Birgitta said it took a while to get used to the heavy, steak-stuffed sandwiches her husband and his brother labored over.
She asked for a fork and knife the first time she tried one of their cheesesteaks.
“I was used to open-faced (sandwiches) with one slice of cheese and one slice of bologna,” she said. “It was like a dinner.”
And she wasn’t alone.
Roger Gaspari, who worked at the shop with his brother, said business was tough early on because customers were leery of the new kind of sandwich featured at Rendezvous.
The Gasparis have put the building, and its liquor license, up for sale. While he doesn’t yet have a sales agreement, Roger Gaspari said he has some interested buyers. Regardless, he says he plans to close by Dec. 31.
Manning the grill Thursday was manager Larry Terrell, who began working at the shop in 1957. The 76-year-old recalled that in the 1970s and 1980s it was open until 4 a.m. every day, with a bustling late-night crowd.
“That’s when we were practically the only game in town,” Terrell said. “Now every Wawa and Sheetz and Turkey Hill sells sandwiches.”
Rendezvous didn’t announce the planned closing, but Terrell says “the word has got out.” And while he’s looking forward to getting a break from working, Terrell says he’s a little worried that he’s not going to be able to ease into retirement.
“I’m half afraid to tell people, because it’s going to be so crowded,” he said.
Rendezvous Steak Shop will close by Dec. 31. The shop first opened in 1951. pic.twitter.com/e9Qi0N3wzz— Chad Umble (@ChadUmbleLNP) November 14, 2019