July 24, 2013 • Ana Cuello
A friendly competition between two die-hard sports fans has evolved into downtown Orlando’s newest eatery.
Former Knights Carey Sobel and James Guerino have been close friends for ages, and the passionate Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears fans often got together to watch their respective teams take the field against each other.
“I always used to talk about the food from Philly and Jim always used to talk about the food from Chicago,” Sobel said. “I traveled to Chicago with him and he traveled to Philly with me and we took each other to different eating spots and it kind of just evolved from there.”
From there, Chi Phi was born. Fusing together the culture-rich cities of Philadelphia and Chicago, Chi Phi’s menu boasts iconic culinary items such as the classic Philly cheesesteak and Chicago Italian beef sandwich.
“One of the first things [Carey and I] would do when we’d go back to visit our families is that he’d grab acheesesteak and I’d go grab an Italian beef,” Guerino said. “No one does it to our expectations down here.
“It was a unique opportunity for us to bring a little taste of our cultures and homes to Orlando,” he said.
For Guerino and Sobel, the food from the speedy sandwich shop brings together their old roots with their new roots in Orlando. Chi Phi imports all of their condiments and bread directly from Chicago and Philadelphia, bringing an authenticity to the cuisine that only a “Chi Phi” native would detect.
“I got out of my car and a guy said, ‘Hey, you guys work at Chi Phi, you work at Basement,’” Sobel said. “I said, ‘It’s actually my concept. Have you been there? Do you know about it?’
“He just ranted and raved about how great the food was and how he’s from Chicago,” he said.
The rivalry still hasn’t ended between Sobel and Guerino. The restaurant also features a Chi Phi meal, where you can take half-portions of the sandwiches from each city and make it into one.
“It’s a taste of two cities. It’s a friendly competition of two cities,” Guerino said. “We want people to take sides with their sandwiches.”
Sobel and Guerino aren’t the only UCF alumni occupying 68 E. Pine St.
Three years ago, Brandon Geers and Logan Berkowitz opened up The Attic, a VIP-treatment lounge that sits atop the former Pine Street Bar and Grill.
This past month, the UCF graduates, along with Sobel, hosted their grand opening of The Basement, Orlando’s newest prohibition-style dive bar that opened up in collaboration with Chi Phi.
“We wanted something a little more relaxed for people that don’t want to go up there and dance the night away,” Geers said. “We get anyone from the 21-year-old college kid to the 60-year-old business worker for lunch.
“Our main goal is to be the neighborhood pub, something really approachable,” Geers said.
The previous owners of Pine Street Bar and Grill sold the location to The Basement, and the site already featured an open kitchen concept. Geers reached out to Sobel and Guerino in an attempt to get Chi Phi established at a permanent location.
“Logan and I didn’t want anything to do with food,” Geers said. “For these guys to come in and really take over every aspect of it, from managing the kitchen to expediting the food, really just took a weight off [our] shoulders.”
The owners agree that the most rewarding part of the business has been public acceptance of the bar-eatery concept within the community.
“Everyone seems to think that the concepts go together and work really well together and they’re accepting of the idea that it’s one entity,” Guerino said.
“We don’t really say that one side is one or the other. The Basement and Chi Phi are one in the same,” Geers said.
Chi Phi is growing, with inquiries coming from as far away as New York for a location to open up in Manhattan. Sobel is adamant about opening up a Chi Phi near every major university in the state of Florida, and UCF students looking to get Chicago- and Philadelphia-style cuisine might have something to look forward to.
“I want to get as involved with UCF as possible,” Sobel said. “Everybody that is involved is UCF alumni.
“We love giving back to UCF,” he said.