Richard Lussi always joked that when he died, he wanted to take something with him to eat in the afterlife.
His family asked what he wanted.
“He said, ‘What do you think? Pat’s cheesesteak! Pat’s wiz without — no onions because they’ll come back to haunt me,’ ” said Lussi’s grandson, Dominic Lussi.
And when Richard died last month, that’s exactly what he was buried with.
Even though he lived in Plains Township, Luzerne County, Richard was perhaps the world’s biggest fan of Pat’s King of Steaks in Philadelphia. At family gatherings, Richard would challenge his adult children and grandchildren to drive the two and a half hours to Philly and back, just to get Pat’s cheesesteaks, recalled his son, John Lussi. And they often accepted the dare.
John, 52, said his dad, a Philly sports fanatic, fell in love with Pat’s when he went with a friend before a Phillies game decades ago. After that, Richard always made a point to stop at Pat’s whenever he was anywhere near Philadelphia.
“We hear that there’s other cheesesteak places in Philly, but we haven’t seen them,” John said.
On Oct. 10, Richard — a father of four and grandfather of seven — died of heart complications at the age of 76.
“He’s always had a bad heart and doctors told him he had to watch what he ate, but he always said, ‘I’m going to die one day and there’s no way I’m cutting all this good food out of my life,’ ” Dominic said.
On Oct. 13, the day before Richard’s funeral, Dominic, John, and two of John’s friends drove to Philadelphia. They ate cheesesteaks at Pat’s and picked up two extra to put in Richard’s coffin the next day.
“We were just going to get one but my pop always said, ‘If you’re going to Pat’s you always get two, you never order just one. It’s a waste of time,’ ” Dominic, 25, said.
On the way home, the crew stopped at some of Richard’s other favorite Philly haunts, including Brownie’s and the Khyber Pass Pub, where Richard loved to dine on the bacon-grease popcorn. At the Khyber, the men told the bartender what they planned to do with the extra cheesesteaks. Astonished, the bartender poured them all shots. An extra one poured for Richard sat untouched on the bar.
The next day, as the family was preparing for the viewing, the funeral director gave a bit of advice about the cheesesteaks.
“He said I couldn’t put them in the casket before the viewing because people would take them,” John said.
A photo board displayed at the viewing showed scenes of Richard, his family, and his life. There were photos of Richard hunting, fishing, and coaching soccer. But aside from pictures of him with his loved ones, there were more photos of Richard with Pat’s cheesesteaks than anything else, John said.
“Other than family, Pat’s made the most appearances on the picture board at his funeral,” he said.
After the viewing, John and Dominic placed the bag of cheesesteaks by Richard’s hand. The coffin was closed and Richard was buried with his signature sandwich by his side.
“It shocked some people that we did it, but not the people that really knew him,” John said. “We joked about wondering if he was going to share the other one when he got to heaven.”
When Pat’s owner Frank Olivieri Jr. was informed that someone was buried wit two of his cheesesteaks, he was astonished.
“I’m flattered, bewildered, and proud that someone would hold the Philly cheesesteak and Pat’s Philly cheesesteak so dear that they want to take it to the afterlife with them,” Olivieri said. “Maybe it’s a bribe for St. Peter.”
Staff writer Tommy Rowan contributed to this article.