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A Culinary Icon: The Steak Sandwich at the Old Pink

Many Allentown frequenters know of the Old Pink on Allen Street, a local dive bar, and its memorable status within Buffalo nightlife. However, unlike most other bars, Old Pink earns as much attention for its steak sandwich as it does for its beverages and musical guests. While most people would assume a steakhouse would be the first-choice option for a steak lover, The Old Pink’s steak sandwich can prove this assumption wrong. Not only does the Old Pink steak sandwich have over 1,000 Facebook fans, its Facebook page is devoted solely to the sandwich and is unendorsed by the Old Pink! So how does an unadvertised menu item at a bar earn such a following? Buffalo Rising decided to talk with Molly Brinkworth, who has managed the Old Pink for 20 years, to learn about the steak sandwich’s history and how it became a Buffalo icon.

According to Molly, the Old Pink created its steak sandwich in 1968 after her father and uncle, Dennis and Kevin Brinkworth, drew inspiration from a small restaurant in New York City. For their grilled steaks and steak sandwich, the restaurant used the entire loin of a strip steak. Although today the Old Pink does not use the entire loin for their sandwich, Dennis and Kevin found the recipe so delicious that they brought the idea home with them. The steak sandwich uses the best quality rolls available, similar high-quality steak today and with traditional toppings of peppers, onions, and cheese. However, these familiar toppings are spiced up with a secret ingredient that adds a special touch to the steak.

Although Molly was reluctant to reveal the secret to us today, she hinted that another employee told Buffalo Rising in the past what that secret ingredient is (so look in the archives!)

Almost immediately after Dennis and Kevin Brinkworth brought the new steak sandwich idea to Old Pink, the restaurant began selling the item. It has been offered since with no hiatuses, even as the restaurant management occasionally changed. As Brinkworth noted, “[when my father] rented [the Old Pink] out to another person, they offered the sandwich too, so it’s kept up.” Still today, the steak sandwich has retained its status on the restaurant’s menu while other aspects of the restaurant have changed. Even the recipe has never been, and never will be, altered in the slightest. As Molly noted, “for 20 years it’s been like this, and we’ll keep it like this for the next 20.”

The traditional recipe has rightfully been kept consistent, as it made an indelible impression in the Buffalo community that has not wavered over time. The sandwich, which gained widespread attention due to word-of-mouth recommendations, was revealed to be a hit to the Brinkworths as other local restaurants and bars started to prepare their strip steak in a similar way.

The sandwich’s popularity in the Buffalo community expanded as the item became part of a Buffalo tradition. As Brinkworth notes, “everyone has their own favorite steak sandwich story,” sharing many of the restaurant’s stories. She tells of one memorable moment in the history of the Old Pink steak sandwich. Nelson Starr made a visit to the Old Pink to premiere the steak sandwich and the popular grilled bologna sandwich on No Reservations, a television show highlighting food from different cultures and locations.

Additionally, she shared another humorous story. When the Old Pink received a call from GQ Magazine asking about the sandwich, she misinterpreted the call as a prank call from her brother and acted sarcastic to the caller. Although she says she feels bad for being rude to the legitimate caller, she says that in retrospect “it is a pretty funny story.” However, word-of-mouth and storytelling have worked as trustworthy advertisements for the steak sandwich on their own. The reliance on customer satisfaction has gained the local favorite attention nationally from popular television shows and magazines!

What is even more incredible is the Old Pink’s dedication to maintaining the quality of their sandwich is the fact that the restaurant earns little profit off sandwich sales. As Molly notes, the business “likes the sandwich so much, we keep the sandwich [on the menu] although it only makes 50 cents per sandwich. [Since] the sandwich uses steak that would cost 18 dollars [at a minimum] in another restaurant, and we only charge 10 dollars for the sandwich, we are making no real profit.” However, the sandwich’s positive impact on the business as a whole exceeds the slight drawback of the sandwich’s lack of profit.  As she notes, people often come to the bar solely for the sandwich itself, but then buy a drink or two, and become frequent customers to the bar. The unique influence the sandwich has on the bar, and the bar has on the steak sandwich itself is one that cannot be found elsewhere.

For a restaurant that has taken such a distinctive approach to their business, a Facebook page devoted to the sandwich seems to be an uncharacteristic marketing choice. However, it made more sense when we learned that the Facebook page was an unofficial fan page that even Molly herself was unaware of! When Molly learned Buffalo Rising decided to cover a story based on the Facebook page, she said, “I was not aware of the Facebook page, but I am flattered [to hear about it].” However, she would like to contribute her own opinion to the page. As she replied, “I’d like to look up the page now and add my own two cents!” The fact that the page became so popular without the business owner’s knowledge of its existence is an impressive testament to the sandwich’s profound impact on the business.

Our visit to the Old Pink also provided another testament to the one-of-a-kind environment at Old Pink beyond Molly Brinkworth’s comments and Facebook reviews. The bar’s atmosphere also likely plays a role in the success of the sandwich, and the business as a whole. Its close-knit atmosphere reflects Buffalo’s reputation as a friendly city. When regulars visited the bar, Molly and bartender Nick remembered their favorite drinks down to the smallest details. They included their customers in their conversation about the Facebook page about the sandwich, clearly valuing their customer’s input. Perhaps the social atmosphere at the Old Pink also contributes to the steak sandwich’s following.  If you are exploring bars or even looking for great food in the Buffalo or Allentown area, it is worth checking the Old Pink out. The sandwich costs $10 and Old Pink is located on 223 Allen Street, and can easily be spotted on Allen Street due to its wall, a bright blue background covered in yellow and orange flames. Try a steak sandwich in the near future and celebrate this marvelous Buffalo business.

Old Pink | 223 Allen Street | Buffalo, New York 14201 | 716-884-4338 | Facebook

Lead image courtesy David Rivers

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