Brady Kramer, 44, drove into the packed parking lot on Lancaster Avenue in Wayne and took one look at the big red-and-white banner that read, “LANDIS FAMILY RETIRING AFTER 50 YEARS.” He immediately confronted co-owner Jim Landis’ nephew Earl Platt, who’s been making salads and sandwiches there for the last 30 of those years.
“What is this?” Kramer demanded, waving his arms in mock fury. “No one consulted me. Where am I going to eat?”
Platt had no answer. Kramer walked inside and repeated his cry of desperation to the lunch crowd.
Platt remained calm. “Italian hoagie,” he said knowingly, watching Kramer.
“Italian hoagie,” Kramer said, then sat down to enjoy his customary lunch.
“I first came here when I was 5, and I’m 44 now,” Kramer said. “I left Wayne in 1991 and returned a couple of years ago. This is the only restaurant around here where nothing has changed.”
Landis, 79, said that is true. The booths have lined one wall for decades. The side-by-side table seating in the center aisle has always encouraged elbow-to-elbow conversations, the soundtrack of Landis’ homemade soups, salads and sandwiches lunches.
Terry Goodall, who has been eating lunch at Landis’ for 25 years, walked in.
“Tuna melt,” Platt said knowingly.
Goodall ordered a tuna melt. “You walk in, it’s like Cheers. You sit down next to strangers and by the end of lunch, you know them well. Jim comes over and introduces everybody. ‘This is Terry. This is what he does. This is Tim. This is what he does.’ So then what are you going to do? Not talk to the guy next to you?”
Then Goodall committed what might be considered blasphemy in Philadelphia. “The cheesesteaks here are better than in South Philly,” he confided. “More meat in them.”
Murph Wysocki walked in and told the lunchtime regulars, “I am the first Democrat re-elected to the Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors in 310 years.”
Landis said he was happy for his “liberal Democrat” pal, even though he himself is such a lifelong conservative Republican that when President Richard M. Nixon announced wage and price freezes in 1971, “we were good Americans here and never raised our prices, even though the guys delivering the boiled hams and the tomatoes did.”
The restaurant, Landis said, is a hotbed of political talk, “but it’s very old-school. Nobody takes it personally. It’s a great place for a civics lesson.”
Echoing a widely held belief among the faithful, Wysocki’s wife, Lois, who taught biology at Radnor High School for 36 years, said, “It’s Cheers. When we moved to Wayne in 1972, we looked around for a place to eat, trying to find a sandwich on rye. Everywhere we went was white bread with a little schmear of butter, until we found this place.”
“Going here for sandwiches over the years, you become part of the family,” she said. The Landis family warmth “has to come from the soul, and it does.”
Landis said he and his friend Phil were running Phil & Jim’s Deli in Parkside, just outside Chester, when he left to open a new restaurant with his brother Greg, his sisters Henrietta (“We all call her Ra, like the Egyptian sun god”) and Renee, and the rest of the Landis clan.
“Someone told us that King of Prussia was the spot to be,” Landis said. “There was no Blue Route in 1967. The only way to get to King of Prussia was on 320 or 252, and we took 252, which ran right through the heart of Wayne back then. We turned onto Lancaster Avenue, saw this place, and never got to King of Prussia.”
They opened their new restaurant, Mr. Sandwich Shoppe, in 1967. “The idea was, we were going to bring hoagies to the Main Line,” Landis said, smiling. “But we soon found out the Main Line didn’t want hoagies.”
Brother Greg added catering and it quickly took off. “But we learned that when you’re catering a Main Line wedding,” Landis said, “and somebody asks who the caterer is, they don’t want to hear, ‘Mr. Sandwich Shoppe.’”
So, Landis said, the brothers returned to their roots.
“I’m Greek,” he said. “Restaurants are in the genes. My father always had blue-collar, beef-stew restaurants in Chester. He could stir a pot of beef stew and read a scratch sheet at the same time. He smoked Lucky Strikes. His customers worked at Sun Ship and at Aberfoyle, the textile mill. He changed his name from Leonis to Landis because he felt there was prejudice against Greeks at the time. He always called his restaurants Landis.”
Since Mr. Sandwich Shoppe became Landis Restaurant & Catering in the early 1980s, it has made 6,500 hoagies a year for Villanova University’s orientation week.
Landis’ nephew, Platt, 50, who was chopping vegetables in the restaurant when he was 7, said, “I’m the tea-sandwich man for the Devon Horse Show. We made 30,000 tea sandwiches and 100 dozen deviled eggs last year.”
Although business is good and he will miss the daily camaraderie, Landis said, “I’m 79, my sister Renee is 85, my brother Greg is 69, so it’s just time to retire. If I could do this three days a week, I would do it. But it’s not a three-day-a-week operation.”
He said he put up the big retirement banner out front hoping that the 50-year Landis family tradition gets a last-minute reprieve.
“I’m not sure that we’re closing,” he said. “We’re hoping somebody will walk in the door and say, ‘Hey, I see your sign. Are you interested in selling the place?’ I’d really love to see the place go on.”