Nothing in Venice has more local street cred than The Great Western Steak & Hoagie Company on Lincoln Boulevard. Hoagies, as people born here often call it, has been slinging its own variety of Philly cheesesteak to every imaginable segment of the population (except vegetarians and vegans) since 1973, outlasting countless fads and trends.
“Hoagies is a sanctuary,” says 37-year-old Sergio Perez, who’s doing everything he can — overseeing repairs to the foodstand’s aging structure, partnering with delivery apps, posting sizzling meat-and-cheese slowmos on Instagram — to keep it standing.
Sergio and younger brother Miguel, who grew up in the Lincoln Place housing projects, have been hanging out here almost their entire lives. Their immigrant father Sergio Sr. started working in the kitchen in 1983 and pooled more than $80,000 with business partner Jose Luis to buy the restaurant in 1990.
“The American Dream isn’t as tangible anymore,” reflects Sergio Jr., “but if you work really hard and believe what you’re doing affects people in a positive way, the payout in the end is not just money but feeling rich within yourself and your community. It’s a different kind of wealth than most people look for, but it’s what you need.”
The family has done their best to keep Hoagies the same while the Venice they came up in implodes around them, for better and for worse. In the early ’90s, when the streets were too dangerous for Sergio Jr. to go out after dark, the payphone outside Hoagies was a hotspot for daytime drug deals and prostitution. As a kid he remembers a policewoman dressing in thigh-high leather boots as part of a sting operation on Lincoln; as an adult he’s heard stories of drug dealers insisting their customers patronize Hoagies as cover. Now the crime is gone, but he has friends and former classmates who are homeless and coming to him for help.
Hoagies customers rave about the sandwiches — purists stick to meat, grilled onions and cheese; devotees add bell pepper, mushrooms and pizza sauce (aka “everything but the kitchen sink”) — but also come to remember a Venice that’s otherwise lost to history.
“Growing up I never understood the importance of this place and what it means to people — fond memories of hanging out after school, meeting your girlfriend or boyfriend here,” says Sergio Jr., who’s started collecting memories and photos for a time capsule when Hoagies turns 50 in 2023. “We had a woman who came and sat out here for an hour and a half. When she left she said, ‘Thank you, you just took me home.’”
— Joe Piasecki