OCOEE — When Bill Sauerwine retired to the Windermere area years ago, he noticed two things within five weeks.
One was that he was not ready to retire.
The other was an absence of truly authentic Philly cheesesteak in Central Florida.
So he found a way to remedy both.
Sauerwine became the owner of three Philly Connection franchises in Central Florida: one in Altamonte Springs, one on Kirkman Road around MetroWest and the newest location in Ocoee, which opened in early October in the Maguire Groves shopping center at the intersection of Maguire and Moore roads. Because the Maguire Groves addresses are listed as Moore Road, there has been some confusion for consumers attempting to find the restaurant via GPS, Sauerwine said.
“We tell them to look for the Publix, and we’re in that center,” he said. “People use GPS, and it takes them to Moore Road, so they don’t see a Philly Connection and think it must not be there.”
But Sauerwine already has regulars, especially among fellow snowbirds from the tristate area around Philadelphia who flew south for retirement. These kindred spirits have sought that special, real Philly cheesesteak as Sauerwine had, and he has delivered it to them.
“They don’t always get the cheesesteak — sometimes they’ll get the chicken wings or something else,” Sauerwine said. “But they’re coming in here every day, and I don’t know how they do it.”
Why they do it is no mystery to Sauerwine, though. A combination of that particular craving and the fresh ingredients used at Philly Connections has steadily grown demand, to the point that Sauerwine already is considering further expansion, to five Central Florida locations, by sometime next year, he said. In addition to exploring possible locations for a franchise in Windermere, Sauerwine plans to open a franchise by April in downtown Orlando, across from the courthouse, just off Interstate 4, he said.
As for the fresh ingredients, Philly Connection uses only all-natural products, including freshly prepared same-day vegetables and special breads exclusive to Philly Connection.
“They have just 80 calories, with nothing artificial and no preservatives,” Sauerwine said.
These proprietary, special-recipe rolls and marinated, 92% lean steak have made the Philly cheesesteaks of Philly Connection award-winning in other states, with the possibility of winning such awards here in Central Florida, said John Pollock, who started Philly Connection and has expanded it to states such as Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas.
Among those other items is a special type of funnel cake exclusive to Philly Connection, like the recipes for their wings, Sauerwine said.
“We have a funnel fryer we use to make French-fry-shaped funnel cake with powdered sugar on it,” he said. “No one else does that.”
Despite an array of unique foods, the menu at Philly Connection remains compact by design, not overwhelming the customers with too many options, Sauerwine said.
This could make it easier to start the food truck venture Philly Connection will have in the area, possibly as soon as January, for events all around West Orange County. Whether a second food truck will be necessary immediately is still up in the air, but that part of the business will ultimately expand, too, Sauerwine said.
Sauerwine’s daughter has gotten involved with the franchises, as well, working primarily on the finance side. She has been working with his construction business, also, which has built several homes in Keene’s Pointe in Windermere.
Sauerwine had several businesses centered on construction from the area around Philadelphia, with his former home having been in southern New Jersey. He was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, a town in the northeastern part of the state that was built on mining and energy industries. After he completed his education, he had found business as his first calling.
“I originally worked in finance, but then I traded in three-piece suits for something simpler,” he said.
And keeping things simple, unique, fresh and all-natural has made Philly Connection a destination for all, from everyday snowbird retirees looking for that true taste of home to the local suits who are looking for a quality lunch.
Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].