Last summer, Jalen Hurts picked up the apron, stepped behind the grill at FoodChasers Kitchen and attempted his first cheesesteak. And that’s when the quarterback, who has looked flawless at times this season in leading the Eagles to the Super Bowl, revealed his shortcomings as a shortstop.
“He wanted to put mozzarella on it,” said Maya Johnstone, who owns the Elkins Park restaurant with her twin sister, Kala. “We said, ‘No.’ He says. “But I like mozzarella.” This is Philly. You can’t.”
Hurts gave an audible squeal, swapped the mozzarella for a Cooper sharp, and went to work. The sirloin steak also includes fried onions and mayo and has become a staple on the menu, aptly named the “Jalen Special.”
Hurts was at the restaurant the sisters opened in October 2021 after retiring principals in the Philadelphia school district to shoot a Pepsi commercial, and her attempt at a cheesesteak was an added wrinkle as she wandered into the kitchen.
As he left, Hurts pulled the twins aside and said he would continue to support them.
“We thought he was going to come back and buy a cheesesteak,” Maya Johnstone said.
Instead, it has been so much more.
Isaac Johnstone took his kids to Eagles training camp every summer, listening to the sports radio blaring all the way as they drove from Mount Airy to West Chester to watch the two daily practices. Johnstone was a hard worker until his son, Lance Johnston, was drafted by the Raiders in 1996.
The Eagles drafted Johnstone twice, who starred at Germantown High and Temple before playing defensive end for 11 years in the NFL. That was enough for Dad to pass on to the Birds. Johnstone’s other son, Brent, reminded his father that 29 other teams also declined to draft his son. It was not important.
“We say: “Sorry to hear that, but we can’t jump ship,” Maya Johnston said.
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When Lance Johnstone returned to Philly with Minnesota in the 2004 playoffs, the twins rooted for the Eagles and prayed for their brother to do well. Their father, who died in 2012, was still upset, but even their brother understood.
“He says. “I grew up an Eagles fan, I totally get that,” Kala Johnstone said. “Dad is just dad.”
Lance Johnstone retired after the 2006 season and the whole family, even their father, started rooting for the Eagles again.
“We changed our lives”
As he left, Hurts pulled the twins aside and said he would continue to support them. He posted the ad on his Twitter account and tagged the restaurant. He mentioned FoodChasers in October when he was Monday night football‘s ManningCast and told the NFL a month later that his Thursday night football The interview was to be filmed at his favorite location on Montgomery Avenue, which tells the story of the mail route from the Elkins Park Regional Rail Station.
According to the Twins, the quarterback’s stamp of approval brought a lot of buzz to their small business. But that wasn’t it.
That Pepsi commercial won them a $10,000 grant. She next connected the twins with Truist Bank, which donated $5,000 to the sisters’ foundation, which provides meals to Philly students. Louisiana Hot Sauce, which recently launched Hurts sauce, is now looking to partner with FoodChasers. Hurts even gives the sisters marketing ideas.
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“He’s just a good guy,” Kala Johnstone said.
Lance Johnston warned his sisters before the ad that Hurts would probably be a badass. He met enough NFL superstars and figured Hurts would be just like the others. So Johnstone felt reassured when a production assistant told the twins that Hurts would need a private room while filming the ad.
But when an aide asked the twins’ nephew to turn off their video games and leave the room for Hurts, the quarterback stepped in and told the kids to stay. Hurts sat on the couch, hung out with them and played PlayStation while he waited until he was needed on set.
“My brother is like that. “Okay. Not too bad,” Maya Johnston said.
When Hurts came back to fire Thursday night football Lance Johnstone said in an interview that Hurts was growing on him. And when Truist Bank called and told the twins that Hurts said he was letting them choose how to give back to the community, Lance Johnstone finally admitted that this superstar was different from the stars he knew. Hurts agreed to have the twins eat lunch with the Roxborough High football team after freshman Nicholas Elizalde was killed after practice in September.
“He says. “Okay. OK. I like him. He’s my son,” Maya Johnstone said. “He said. “That’s why I really like him. He is at the peak of his career and sharing his platform. It doesn’t happen often.” »
FoodChasers Kitchen, open Thursday to Sunday 10am to 3pm, is thriving in the heart of Hurts. The Eagles QB, they said, “truly changed our lives.”
“Dad, you’re not going to believe what’s happening,” Maya Johnston said. “This is unbelievable. These are dreams that we didn’t even have for ourselves. He puts us in a room with people we would never dream of meeting. We got laughed out of the banks when we tried to open.
“This would never have happened if he hadn’t always told people, ‘Call the twins.’ Call the twins. Call the twins. »
Hurts’ marketing agent texted the sisters on Saturday to see if the restaurant could be opened for Hurts and his family if the Eagles win the NFC championship. Of course they said. In the morning they prepared the food, walked down the Broad Street Line to the Linc and cheered like mad for the Birds because they knew a win meant they were cooking for a quarterback.
“We’re cheering really hard,” Kala Johnstone said.
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They hurried back to Elkins Park and jumped into the kitchen. A few hours after the win, Hurts (with his NFC championship hat still on his head) arrived at FoodChasers with 15 friends and family.
They stayed until after midnight when they ate dinner that included ribeye, chicken, sweet potatoes, Jalen pasta, macaroni and cheese, Hertz’s wings and, of course, the Jalen Special cheesesteak.
The sisters said they were in tears. The Eagles just punched their ticket to the Super Bowl, and the quarterback chose their restaurant to celebrate, a black-owned business that opened less than two years ago that they’ve dreamed of owning for years. They told Hurts how grateful they were. He stopped them.
“He said, ‘I see what you’re doing with the kids in the community,'” Maya Johnston said. “Actually, I admire you. All I want to leave you with is a bigger dream. Let’s do something bigger now. I give you something, you give someone else.”
A day later, they brainstormed ways to meet the QB challenge and pay it forward. Their relationship with Hearts has inspired them to pursue their dream. And it started with the mistake of putting mozzarella on a cheesesteak.
“That’s the only flaw we’ve found with Jalen, and we don’t even think of it as a flaw,” Kala Johnstone said. “He can’t always have a perfect game.”