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Primanti's helps Beck offer food for thought

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Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010

Of course they were available at his beck and call.

When one of America's leading conservative commentators has a hankering for a sandwich or several hundred, a restaurant chain would be foolish not to fire up the grill.

So the grill was ignited Thursday, when Glenn Beck came to Pittsburgh and unexpectedly provided the locally based and legendary Primanti Bros. restaurants with national recognition.

The Fox News and syndicated radio talk show host appeared at Benedum Center to promote his book, "Broke: Restarting the Engine of America." He wasn't here just to pitch the tome to Yinzers; the show was simulcast nationwide in 537 movie theaters.

Beck is no stranger to the delectable sandwiches, in which meats, french fries and coleslaw commingle between two healthy slices of Italian bread.

"When he was in town two years ago, he stopped in the Strip District (Primanti's)," said Amy Smith, the chain's marketing coordinator. "So we already had a little bit of a relationship."

That relationship intensified suddenly and mercurially.

Hours after Primanti's delivered eight sandwiches to Beck during a morning radio station appearance, Beck phoned the restaurant's South Side headquarters. He asked whether a few additional sandwiches could be delivered to the Benedum in time for his 8 p.m. show.

Three hundred more, to be exact.

Moments after Beck's 2 p.m. call, Operation Coleslaw swung into action.

"The first thing we did," Smith recalled, "was panic."

The second thing was to establish an operations base. The Primanti Bros. on Cherry Way, Downtown, was chosen because it could assemble Beck's sandwiches exclusively after its early 5 p.m. closing time.

A three-member sandwich special ops team — headed by Mike Mitcham, general manager of Primanti's Market Square location — was deployed with orders to rapidly fire every weapon in the arsenal.

To say those orders were followed to the letter is an understatement.

"We started around 5:15 and finished around 7:15," Mitcham said. "We made 170 cheesteaks, 130 capicolas and the big one."

The "big one" was an enormous fish sandwich that Beck wanted to use during his performance as an onstage prop representing the federal budget. His intention was to illustrate how the budget could be trimmed by removing fries.

The special ops loaded the sandwiches into Mitcham's Trailblazer and sped down Grant Street toward the Benedum. Tensions briefly mounted as the trio encountered traffic from fans late for the Penguins game at Consol Energy Center, but they pulled up at the backstage door moments before showtime.

Mission accomplished.

With the fish sandwich's image beamed across the country, and the capicolas and cheesesteaks devoured by the Benedum crew and crowd, Operation Coleslaw proved wildly successful.

So, too, did Beck. He didn't just provide his fervent followers an opportunity to observe him outside his usual environment.

With the aid of Primanti's, he provided considerable food for thought.

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