Bob Neville was at a life crossroads. After working for 13 years at the B.L. England Generating Station in Marmora, the Upper Township resident and Philly native found himself out of a job after the plant’s closure.
“I was literally trying to decide my next chapter,” Neville said. “And I thought about franchises. I looked at a lot of them, and when I looked more into Primo Hoagies, the more and more it made sense.”
Neville’s infatuation with the hoagie – yes, they are called hoagies in Philadelphia, where Primo Hoagies started in 1992 (see sidebar) — began when he was a youngster and frequented the still-functioning Martin’s Deli on Kensington Avenue in Philly.
“I liked it there because they made a great sandwich, and the hospitality was awesome,” said Neville, a longtime fan of Primo who used to drive to the Wildwood location frequently. “When you went in there, they knew who you were and how you liked your sandwich. I thought that I could do that with Primo. Everyone always complained around here that they couldn’t find a good hoagie. So I thought this was a great opportunity. I went driving around looking for a location, got off Exit 29 and knew this was the location as soon as I saw it.”
A lot has happened since that day, including the onset of COVID-19, which almost destroyed Neville’s plans completely because banks were “not giving out loans to restaurants after that happened,” according to Neville.
“I found out three days before closing they were pulling the loan out from under me. Luckily, I have the greatest in-laws in the world, and they hooked me up with enough money to get this going,” he adds. “I was supposed to be open April 20. I didn’t open until Nov. 12.”
And although Neville missed out on months of sales – including summer – some good things did happen, most importantly that a Target will open in the same Somers Point Plaza Neville’s Primo Hoagies is located in.
“When I signed the lease, I was told (the former K-Mart) was going to be a World Gym,” he says. “Now, they think they will have this Target open by August. That is going to be huge for us and all of Somers Point.”
The Primo Hoagies in Somers Point resembles the other franchises, except Neville’s location is a little bigger than most and also features little touches to take it to the next level, including beautiful faux hardwood floors made from ceramic brick.
If you have never eaten in a Primo Hoagies, it will shatter your preconceptions of what a chain restaurant should be. All of the sandwiches are made from scratch. They only use Thumann’s meats, considered the best cold cuts you can buy. And, as everyone knows: the bread makes the sandwich. And all Primo locations receive their soft, Philly-style bread – make sure you get the seeded rolls — par-baked from Liscio’s Italian Bakery that are then baked off fresh daily in the store.
“I think between the bread and the quality of the Thumann’s meats, which is gourmet lunch meat, we make a heck of a hoagie. There is nothing even close,” Neville said.
In an area full of great sub places such as White House, Sugar Hill, Rose’s Garden Grill, Pete’s and many others, Primo Hoagies holds its own and is one of my favorites.
The menu is huge and the portions generous, answering any hoagie craving you may have. Order them in three sizes: small (6 inch, starting at $6.99), Primo size (9 inch, starting at $10.49) and whole (22 inches, starting at $23.99).
Primo is best known for its Italian classic hoagies, including their signature Italian with prosciutto, Genoa salami, hot capicola and mild provolone. Ingredients change slightly for the four variants, including the Old Italian with dry-cured capicola, sharp provolone and prosciutto.
There are tuna hoagies, meatless “delights,” deli classics such as bologna and cheese and an American, and “specialty” subs that include: the Nellie with roasted pork and sharp provolone with roasted red peppers; the R special with Genoa salami, hot capicola and pepper shooters; the Crusher with cracked pepper turkey, Cooper sharp American cheese and pepper shooters; the Suprimo with prosciutto, fresh mozzarella and roasted peppers; and many more.
Some of the most popular hoagies can be found in the Diablo section, of the menu which includes about a dozen spicy options such as the Italian with hot soppressata, sharp provolone, hot capicola and a spicy blend of cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes and more; the roast beef with hot pepper cheese and spices; and the veggie with eggplant, sharp provolone, broccoli rabe, long hot peppers and spices.
There’s even Schwartzies, which are basically Jewish specials on a sub roll with choice of corned beef, roast beef and turkey with Swiss cheese, cole slaw and Russian dressing.
“I was never a fan of those kinds of sandwiches until I opened this place and my wife made me try it,” Neville says. “Now I am hooked. The cole slaw really does the trick there, believe me.”
Primo’s latest menu items include a venture into hot sandwiches that are baked, not fried, including cheesesteaks in a variety of styles – yes, they thankfully have Whiz, which any good Philly sub place should – chicken cutlets and meatballs.
Standouts include the Bada Bing chicken cutlet with sharp provolone and broccoli rabe; the buffalo chicken cheesesteak with Italian diced grilled chicken breast; and the Whacked chicken with sharp provolone cheese, pesto and bruschetta.
In the cooler, make sure you grab some potato or macaroni salad, pepper shooters and marinated mozzarella, and there are even desserts including cookies, rice pudding and brownies.
As for his new career path, Neville thinks he made the right decision.
“I am already looking into the possibility of another Primo franchise,” Neville says. “I am not sure it will be around here. It might even be in another state. I am not rushing into it, but Primo is a great brand and they really help you out as a franchise owner. It’s been great!”
More About Primo Hoagies
Primo Hoagies started in South Philadelphia in 1992. Even though there were hoagie shops on what seemed like every corner, Primo wanted to be different, baking their award-winning bread every two hours and only using Thumann’s gourmet meats and cheeses to ensure quality. Every hoagie was made to order, the produce was sourced locally and the recipes were kept top-secret.
After realizing they had something special, they started to sell franchises. Now, there are more than 85 franchises stretched across eight states with at least 20 more in the works. Many of the franchises are owned by people who grew up in the South Philly and want to bring good hoagies to areas where good hoagies are hard to find so that no matter where you are, if you see that Primo Hoagies logo, you can feel like you are back home.