Piper Gi’s brings a delectable, freshly made Philly to Gainesville.
The restaurant business is tough, the old adage goes. It often takes years of planning, preparation, and funds until you serve your first customer, but for long-time Gainesville chefs Jacob Riesch and his sister Shanti Aura, all it took was a craving for a Philly cheesesteak.
Reisch and Aura had something specific in mind, dreamed up from summers spent in Philadelphia as kids. They wanted shaved ribeye with cheese whiz on a freshly baked hoagie. But no such Philly existed in Gainesville.
“The town just didn’t have it,” Jacob said. “So, that’s what started it and we took off from there.”
Last December, Reisch, Aura and her husband Tommy Newman opened Piper Gi’s, a downtown sandwich shop located in a former drive-thru, where they prepare and serve their own Philly cheesesteaks.
The chefs drew from their over 50 years of combined experience at multiple Gainesville restaurants to create a menu stuffed with 16 sandwiches that fulfill any nostalgic, comfort food craving. And don’t worry if the craving strikes at odd hours—Piper Gi’s is open till 3 a.m. during the fall and spring semesters, and is located just a block from downtown bars.
They wanted shaved ribeye with cheese whiz on a freshly baked hoagie. But no such Philly existed in Gainesville.
In addition to their Philly, Piper Gi’s serves “The Thanksgiving,” a roasted-turkey sandwich with gravy and cranberry chutney. They also have “The Big Sexy,” a meat-lovers fantasy of prime rib, cured bacon, capicola and oven-roasted turkey. And the owners are happy to accommodate vegetarians; tempeh or mushroom caps can be substituted on any sandwich free of charge.
All the sandwiches and sides are made from scratch; Piper Gi’s even cures their own bacon.
“As chefs we’re making the food we wanted to eat, and it turns out the food that we wanted to eat is just really complicated and made from scratch,” Newman said.
Every week they rotate different types of potato and macaroni salad, with flavors like roasted red pepper and oven-roasted barbecue. You’ll also find hearty northeastern sides like poutine fries and cheese curds on the menu.
The only exception to the scratch-made rule is the hoagie for their Philly cheesesteak, which they ship all the way from Amoroso’s Baking Company in Philadelphia to create the most authentic Philly possible.
In the future, Reisch hopes to franchise Piper Gi’s and possibly expand to Key West, where the family once called home. The restaurant’s pastel decor and multi-colored picnic tables are a nod to these origins.
At the end of the day, the restaurant’s namesake is at the heart of everything they do. “Piper” is Aura and Newman’s daughter and Gianna or “Gi” is Reisch’s. The girls are also the reason for the moody titles on their kid’s menu, such as the “I Don’t Care,” a grilled cheese, or the “I Don’t Want That,” three chicken tenders breaded in Captain Crunch.
“Why do we get up and work 13 hours shifts?” Newman said. “Why did we gamble our lives possibly to go broke? It’s for our kids.”
The first thing you’ll see as you walk up to the order window is a photo of Piper and Gianna in chef hats, big-eyed and smiling.
“Got to leave a legacy for them when they get older,” Reisch said. •
Piper Gi’s Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Salad