Michael Casey grew up near Philadelphia and first came to New Orleans in 2002 to attend Tulane University. There he met Joe Seremet, and by 2011 they and Seremet's wife Alisha began planning their first business venture together. Liberty Cheesesteaks (5031 Freret St., 504-875-4447; www.libertycheesesteaks.com) opened in March, serving the famous sandwich of Casey's hometown.
Your menu is devoted solely to cheese steaks. Have you considered branching out?
Casey: There's this idea in America that variety is the way to go, but I just want to do one thing well. Saying no to customers in the restaurant business horrifies people, but we have to do that to protect our food and carve out our own ledge here. For people who come in looking for a vegetarian option? Well, we don't have one. And I'm on a personal vendetta against green peppers and mushrooms on cheese steaks. That was an addition from Delaware, and when was the last time a culinary innovation came from Delaware?
Would you compare Philadelphia's cheese steak obsession with New Orleans' love for po-boys?
C: Actually, I think it's closer to the city's relationship with red beans and rice. Back home we just expected cheese steaks at certain times. When you were a kid, it was always cheese steaks on Sundays. Then after a strong night out with your friends, you'd all get cheese steaks together to cap it off. When we're watching football, all the guys in my family go out to a different cheese steak shop, bring back their own sandwiches and then relentlessly harass the others about their horrible choices. It's just such a part of the culture there.
How important is it for you to be part of the restaurant row on Freret Street?
C: If we opened in any other part of the city, I think we'd have a much greater chance of failing. That's because people come to Freret now expecting great food, and every chef and business owner along the street has been incredibly supportive. I know a lot of them have sent regulars over to try us out. There really is a sense that we're in this together, and it's incredible because 10 years ago I wouldn't have walked down this street without an armed guard.