Hoagies & Hops: Penn State Alum Serves Up Philly Culture To The Midwest

When the lunch rush hits in Pennsylvania, merely mentioning the word “hoagie” is enough to make mouths water and stomachs grumble across the Keystone State.

Declared the official sandwich of Philadelphia in 1992, the true Italian hoagie with all the fixings of ham, prosciutto, salami, and provolone cheese remains a staple for Pennsylvanians everywhere and is iconic to the southeast region of the state.

For Penn State alum Kristina Mazza, the classic sandwich is so much more than just a quick bite to eat. After relocating to Indianapolis with a degree in restaurant and hospitality management, this restauranteur opened Hoagies & Hops, a Philly-style sandwich shop bringing classic Pennsylvanian culture to the Midwest.

Since opening its doors close to seven years ago, Hoagies & Hops has grown tremendously in size, donated generous funds to charity, and has even served local celebrities and athletes, including the 15-time winner of Nathan’s Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating contest, Joey Chestnut.

Much like the nature of the hoagie itself, the origin of Hoagies & Hops is quite simple.

Courtesy of Kristina Mazza

After the Pottstown native moved to Indianapolis in 2007 to be closer to family, Mazza quickly realized there was one thing missing from her new home — a decent sandwich by Philly standards.

“It really was because I missed the food,” Mazza said. “I felt that there had to be other transplants, even though I hadn’t met them yet, who felt the same way.” 

In pursuit of passion, Mazza left her previous role as operations manager for the LUX Restaurants in Indianapolis and partnered with local brewery Flat12 to get started.

“I realized moving forward that when working for small businesses, there was a chance…to be more creative,” said Mazza. “You can have more fun, and they allow you to do a little more, [and] seek outside the box.”

Looking beyond the typical settings in Indiana, Mazza prioritizes the authenticity of the classic Philly hoagie. Shipping in ingredients from South Jersey and Pennsylvania to create all menu items, Hoagies & Hops stands apart from the rest, bringing the hometown feel from Philly to Indy for so many.

“It’s unbelievable the amount of transplants who are actually out here,” Mazza said. “A lot of my customers are from Philly, all over PA, all over Jersey, Delaware, [and] Maryland. It just keeps me going, too — the motivation of people who come in the shop and show enthusiasm and are taking pictures of everything or even with me.”

Courtesy of Kristina Mazza

In addition to serving up cheesesteaks, sandwiches, and everything in between, Hoagies & Hops also dresses the part with Pennsylvania memorabilia, creating the feel of a South Philadelphia deli inside. Partnering with Chilly Water Brewery, the shop is now located a few blocks from Butler University and maintains a distinct style decorated by picnic tables complete with Dietz and Watson umbrellas.

“A lot of my customers are like, ‘Where did you find this place, on the corner with a stoop across from a barbershop?’” she said. “They come in wearing their Sixers gear, their Phillies gear, their Eagles gear. They’ll come in for the first time and the whole family is decked out.”

Courtesy of Kristina Mazza

“Making people happy like that is the reason I did what I did,” Mazza said. “I left a good-paying job to take this huge risk.”

With drive and expertise, Mazza built the business from the ground up. After licensing under the shared LLC  “Phillyapolis” with partners, Mazza got to work developing Hoagies & Hops’ take on the Italian sandwich.

Liscio’s had sent me some rolls, [and] Dietz and Watson sent me cold cuts, and my goal was to come up with the oil, the vinaigrette,” said Mazza. “When I got the oil right, I cut it up, put it in a bag, and brought it to my parents. I said, ‘Just smell it.'” 

Building upon the recipe to create the brand, Mazza then centered her menu around the roll. For Mazza, the roll is starting point of the hoagie.

“I get people who still understand and appreciate good rolls,” Mazza said. “The biggest thing everybody likes to say is that it’s the minerals in the water that mix with the yeast a little differently to give it its flavor and texture.”

Courtesy of Kristina Mazza

Committed to the cause, Mazza has quite literally gone the extra mile to maintain her authentic recipe.

“I’ve had to go out two times where I drove all the way out just to get bread to get me through a week,” Mazza said. “I got up at 5 a.m. the next day, drove, and closed that night.” 

Hoagies & Hops furthers its authenticity with a deep commitment to philanthropy, which is present throughout the shop.

In addition to hosting various “Dine-to-Donate” events for local schools and community efforts, Mazza donates to multiple myeloma research at Indiana University in honor of her late grandmother, who passed away from the condition just a year after the shop’s opening. Every October, Hoagies & Hops has donated the proceeds from popular menu item and original family recipe “Nan’s Red Skin Potato Salad” directly to research efforts.

Hoagies & Hops also hosts an annual hoagie eating contest benefitting Helping Veterans and Families of Indiana. Participants must eat an 18-inch hoagie as fast as possible, with the most recent contest winner downing the hoagie in five minutes and two seconds.

“This is the only hoagie contest in the state of Indiana, so why not?’” Mazza said.

Aligned with competitive eating, professional eater Joey Chestnut recently visited Hoagies & Hops in person and filmed a private eating challenge with Mazza live at the shop.

“Last year, he had just moved here to Indiana. He came and ate my food and we talked,” said Mazza. “Then, he wanted to do the 18-inch ‘Hog Island’ and eat an 18-inch cheesesteak after it.” 

After a total 36 inches of pure Philly culture was consumed by Chestnut, Mazza received rave reviews from the competitive eating legend, as seen in the video clip posted to Chestnut’s YouTube channel. With other successes including attention from Pennsylvania native and Indianapolis Colts linebacker Zaire Franklin, Hoagies & Hops continues to grow quickly across many forums.

As this small business finds nationwide attention, Mazza remains thankful to her blue and white roots and is deeply grateful for the Penn State community that first uplifted her passions when she joined the Indiana chapter of the Penn State Alumni Association back in 2007.

Courtesy of Kristina Mazza

“The support that I’ve gotten from Penn State has helped drive my passion,” said Mazza. “When positive things happen…and when people acknowledge you, it motivates you.”

Hosting meetings and football watch parties in-house with the chapter, Hoagies & Hops demonstrates the tremendous network ever present around the country, uniting Penn Staters far and wide. Fostering Pennsylvania spirit in Indianapolis as a pillar of Penn State pride, Mazza shared a final thought of gratitude.

Courtesy of Kristina Mazza

“To be able to have these options and have people respect what I do…means the world to me,” Mazza said. “It’s a whole other level of respect and support that I never thought I’d get from a school.” 

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About the Author

Lizzie Palmieri

Lizzie is a senior majoring in Marketing and Psychology from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Ask her about Disney World, Diet Pepsi, or dancing on the Jumbotron at Beaver Stadium. When not causing general trouble, Lizzie enjoys playing golf, performing in the theatre, and being the CEO of reorganizing the fridge. Her favorite thing to do is hang out with her sassy sidekick, 19-year-old Italian Greyhound, Macaroni. Follow her on Twitter @lizziepalmieri if your deepest desire is bestie vibes only.

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