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Steelers As close as you get to Primanti's in Nashville

Saturday, January 11, 2003

By Lori Shontz, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Back in the day, when Mike Hanlon was a student at Thiel College who visited his friends at Pitt on the weekends, they always ended up at the Primanti Brothers in Oakland. "We'd drink until two or three in the morning," he said, "and then we'd need something to eat."

Mike Hanlon, ex-Pittsburgher and owner of Piranha Brothers sandwich shop in Nashville -- "You should see the people who call and say, 'I ordered corned beef, what is this?' They don't understand the French fries and cole slaw." (Peter Diana, Post-Gazette)

Primanti's served both purposes, especially because Hanlon's best friend's father owned it, and his best friend worked there. The friends had been hanging out there since the eighth grade.

Years later, when he was working as an assistant manager at Bar Nashville, a Downtown watering hole, Hanlon got a craving for a Primanti's sandwich. Specifically for cheesesteak, his favorite. And he suddenly decided that the best way to satisfy that craving was to open his own place.

He called his best friend's dad, who said it was fine, as long as Hanlon didn't use the Primanti's name. And two years ago, Hanlon worked out a deal to open his own sandwich shop at Bar Nashville and named it Piranha Brothers.

He chose the name because it sounded like Primanti's and makes for a cool logo. Piranha's serves the same huge sandwiches, piled with French fries and cole slaw, that are synonymous with Pittsburgh.

The sandwich shop serves -- and delivers -- lunch on weekdays, and it's open from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday for the late-night munchies crowd.

"It's hard to get people to try it -- it's just so different," said Hanlon, 29, who grew up in Oakmont. "You should see the people who call and say, 'I ordered corned beef, what is this?' They don't understand the French fries and cole slaw. I tell them, 'Just try it, and if you don't like it, I'll come up there and bring your money back.' "

No one has taken him up on the offer.

Hanlon said Southerners don't get the fried-egg-on-a-sandwich concept, but they are gradually agreeing to try. He also purposely put "pop" on his menu, even though none of the locals have any idea what that is. They order thinking they'll be drinking something exotic.

But Nashville residents are adjusting, and the restaurant is doing a steady business.

Piranha Brothers does particularly well when the Steelers are in town, as word spreads of a place for black-and-gold clad people to get a taste of home.

The kitchen is located at the front of the bar, and from the order window patrons can see Hanlon's Steelers memorabilia -- newspaper clippings, T-shirts and hats, photos of Jack Lambert and Joe Greene, a Lynn Swann cereal box and jerseys of Lambert (Hanlon's favorite player in the old days) and Jerome Bettis (his current favorite player.)

After Hanlon graduated in 1995, he worked with mentally handicapped students in Armstrong County. He eventually found himself in Nashville, interviewing for a job in pharmaceutical sales when he happened to meet the general manager and assistant manager of Bar Nashville, and they became friends.

He became the assistant manager, and after about a year he decided, as he explained to a friend, to "quit my big management job to make sandwiches."

Hanlon has no regrets; in fact, he's hoping to expand to a different location, with enough room to make Piranha Brothers a bar serving food. (He thinks I.C. Light will sell well.)


Lori Shontz can be reached at lshontz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1722.

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