What’s in a Name? The Origin Story of Philly’s Beloved Sandwich

While it may have many names across the nation, in Philadelphia, we love our hoagies. (And let’s face it — we make them better.) For Italian food caterers in Philadelphia, it’s an oft-requested staple for almost any type of function. Any way you slice it, hoagies are traditionally served cold on an Italian roll filled with various meats and cheeses, then topped with lettuce, tomatoes, and onions, and finished with oil, vinegar, and oregano.

Surprisingly, it is difficult to pin down exactly when the hoagie first came into existence, and there are numerous stories of its origin that are completely unrelated. Here are a few of the more well-known anecdotes about our favorite sandwich.

South Philadelphia, early 1900s: Around this time, the phrase “on the hoke” was used to describe someone who was down on their luck. Deli owners would sometimes give away sandwiches on Italian rolls with scraps of meat, which were called “hokies.” Supposedly, Italian immigrants mispronounced the word as “hoagies.”

Hog Island, WWI: Another story goes that during World War I, workers at the Hog Island shipyard were eating large sandwiches filled with cold cuts and vegetables during their lunch break. The workers were sometimes called “hoggies” because of the name of the shipyard, but eventually the spelling changed to “hoagies.” Another variation of this story involves a man named Al DePalma, who, upon seeing the large sandwiches that the Hog Island workers ate, decided to open a luncheonette with “hoggies” on the menu. Customers kept pronouncing it as “hoagies,” and the name stuck.

Chester, 1925: According to the DiCostanza grocery store, the hoagie actually originated in Chester, not Philadelphia. In the 1920s, the DiCostanza grocery store was situated near Palermo’s bar, and it would often stay open late to accommodate gamblers. As the legend goes, one night, a hungry gambler walked in and asked for a sandwich with everything from the deli counter. Catherine DiCostanza made the sandwich he requested on a loaf of Vienna bread. He loved the sandwich so much that he went back to the bar and told all his buddies. An hour later, the store was packed with customers seeking the sandwich, which later came to be known as a hoagie.

While we’re not sure which one of these stories is true, it doesn’t change the fact that we love hoagies. When you want a tray of hoagies with your Italian catering order in Philadelphia, be sure to call Village Catering!