Who hasn’t seen pictures or videos of Vice President Joe Biden enjoying a juicy cheese steak from Claymont Steak Shop? While still in the Senate, Biden often made time to stop by one of his neighborhood eateries for a bite to eat and a chance to greet old friends. That’s because Claymont Steak Shop has been serving up subs even longer than Joe has been in public office. Restaurants don’t stay in business that long, and they certainly don’t get repeat business from one of the busiest officials in Washington just because of their good looks. Owner Demi Kollias is always brimming with ideas to keep the business (and her food offerings!) fresh, attractive and on top. We caught up with Demi to ask about her strategy for success — one that just about any other small business owner might appreciate.
Town Square Delaware: What makes a Claymont Steakshop cheesesteak so good?
Demi Kollias: The better question might be, what DOESN’T make a Claymont cheesesteak so good? Unlike other restaurants who sell the sandwich, we start with fresh Grade A ribeye steak, cut under the supervision of a USDA inspector in our own factory. Then we use a classic white American cheese or provolone, which offers a savory, creamy flavoring to the already mouthwatering steak. Our fluffy rolls are custom made and delivered every morning from a local bakery.
TSD: We hear a lot of bluster and noise about these Philadelphia joints, but seriously, Cheese whiz? The “Claymonster” steak would crush those pretenders … Has there ever been a head-to-head competition?
DK: They can try all they want, but no one can compete with the taste of an authentic Claymont cheesesteak! We were featured in “The Great Philly Cheesesteak” book in 2010. We were compared head to head with other cheesesteak shops in the tri-state area, most of them in Philadelphia. Not only were we the only Delaware shop that made the cut, but we were singled out by the author as being her favorite among all the shops she visited! By the way, the book is for sale at all our locations. In addition, we consistently win “Best of Delaware” awards and News Journal‘s “Reader’s Choice” awards, among others. We are even Zagat rated! Finally, this year we have been honored with inclusion in Delaware’s Culinary Trail, as one of Delaware’s iconic restaurants.
TSD: Tell us about the history of the Claymont Steak Shop. What was your inspiration for involvement with the business? Also, how much of your business is now devoted to catering?
DK: The Claymont shop was initially opened in 1966 and was well known in the area for its cheesesteaks. We purchased it from the original owners in 2005. Being a foodie myself — and I absolutely love to create interesting food combinations and experiment with new ideas — we decided to expand the menu offerings to include dishes that would appeal to a variety of tastes while satisfying our existing and loyal customers. As an example, we added more than 10 varieties of tasty pizzas, featuring among others, the unique White Pizza, the “Spanakopitta” Greek Style pizza, and the Greek pizza, all based on delicious Mediterranean ingredients.
Our philosophy from the very beginning was to grow the restaurant business while keeping a watchful eye on our already happy customers. So we expanded our catering to include made-to-order dishes and Greek and Mediterranean specialties. This business is called Demi’s Flavors. Many of these dishes I have been cooking all of my adult life. So I know the right balance of ingredients to bring out the best possible flavors for a truly authentic Greek culinary experience.
We have also adapted to the transient nature of out customer base. We ship our sandwiches all over upon request, even having sent them as far as Hawaii. And we will soon offer online ordering.
TSD: You’ve opened a location in Newark, and now there’s talk of another. What can you tell us?
DK: Well of course, college kids love subs. So in 2009 we opened the Claymont Steak Shop on Elkton Road, a state-of-the-art location, which caters to the area of Newark and the University of Delaware. We spent a lot of time designing the restaurant and creating a fun and friendly atmosphere. Students browse and spend time using our free WiFi, and we often host events and meetings. In Newark we serve beer and wine, and every Monday we feature different craft brews.
Planning for the future comes naturally to me, so there will definitely be more locations to open shortly. All I can say for the moment is to keep your eyes and noses open!
TSD: Is there a secret to your management style? What do you tell your employees is the most important thing they should always keep in mind?
DK: We aim to keep our focus on our excellent quality while delivering the best service all the time. Claymont Steak Shop strives to improve by the day, by the week, by the month in order to raise its standards and acknowledge the loyalty of our customers.
To care, inspire, trust and teach are fundamental in the process of making people follow me in my vision for developing the future of Claymont Steak. I enjoy building individual relationships with my staff, earning their trust, and listening to their concerns. I define my expectations at every opportunity and last but not least, I engage them in our common goal of making Claymont Steak cheesesteaks the best across the country.
TSD: If there’s a charity auction or a fundraiser, you are often an integral part.
DK: As a company we love to be involved with the community and always give back to them in any possible way! We offer a fundraising programs at our stores for different organizations.
Organizations that we support on a regular basis or try to raise money for them include:
- Delaware Police Association
- Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition
- Fundraisers for several UD student organizations
- MS Society
- Rodney Street Tennis & Tutoring Association
- Claymont Community Center
- Friendship house
- Delaware Foundation Reaching Citizens with Cognitive DisAbilities (DFRC)
- Jason Gundel Bike Race
- Christmas Shop Foundation
- University of Pennsylvania Children’s Hospital
- A.I duPont Children’s Hospital
- Numerous local athletic leagues (high school & middle school)
TSD: When you aren’t making sure Delaware is well-fed, where might we find you having fun?
DK: I love spending time with my family: There is nothing I enjoy more than going out to shop with my daughters, or simply getting together to catch up and watch a family movie at home. I also enjoy experimenting outside of the cheesesteak kitchen: my mother and I are always coming up with new recipes, or fixing classic Greek meals for family and friends! This inspired me to offer these same dishes to our catering customers.
Demi Kollias is a Wilmington resident and mother of two who has owned Claymont Steak Shop since 2005. Husband Basil is most grateful for the delicious leftovers she often brings home.