Drama Erupts Over West Philly Jim’s Steaks Reopening

The legal threats have begun.

Jim's West Steaks & Hoagies on 62nd Street in West Philadelphia

The outside of the original West Philly Jim’s Steaks, now known as Jim’s West Steaks & Hoagies (Photo by Victor Fiorillo)

Editor’s note: Since we published this story, Jim’s Steaks in Delco has asked a Philadelphia judge to stop Jim’s West from opening. Read the follow up to this story here.

When we told you on Wednesday morning that the original 1939 Jim’s Steaks in West Philadelphia was set to reopen in the coming days as Jim’s West Steaks & Hoagies, we made it pretty clear the situation was by no means cut-and-dry. We hinted that the whole thing could get ugly and wind up in court. Well, it didn’t take long.

Just hours after we published our story, a member of the management team at Jim’s Steaks in Delco reached out. Unlike the Jim’s Steaks on South Street, the Delco Jim’s Steaks is owned by the family of the late William Proetto, who bought the West Philadelphia Jim’s Steaks from its original owner in the 1960s. The member of the management team, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told us their company does, in fact, intend to take the owner of Jim’s West to court.

That owner is Delco filmmaker Cortez Johnson. His LLC bought the original Jim’s Steaks building on 62nd Street from members of the Proetto family in March. In an interview on Tuesday, Johnson told us he’s planning on a soft opening this weekend. He secured a food prep permit from the Department of Licenses & Inspections just weeks ago. And the Jim’s West Steaks & Hoagies sign went up on Monday night.

The anonymous source said the company warned Johnson not to open a Jim’s at that location. “But he’s ignoring our warnings,” said the source, who added that the company sent him a cease-and-desist letter last week. “And he’s apparently ignoring that, too.”

“We haven’t filed the lawsuit yet,” they said. “We couldn’t do so until he put a sign up.” Once the source saw our photo on Wednesday, they realized it was time. They say they’re in the process of filing the necessary legal paperwork to put a stop to Jim’s West.

In our Tuesday interview, Johnson insisted he’d received permission from all the relevant parties to open as Jim’s West. But the anonymous Jim’s source says that when the LLC purchased the building from the Proetto brothers, the parties had a clear understanding the building could never be turned into a Jim’s. “It’s right there on the deed!” they assured us.

So we obtained a copy of said deed from the city’s Department of Records on Wednesday afternoon. Sure enough, there it is: a clause that says the new owner cannot turn the building into a business named “Jim’s Steaks” or any business starting with the name “Jim’s” or containing the name “Jim’s.”

Not only that. The agreement in the deed indicates that this restriction must exist in all perpetuity. So if the LLC wanted to turn around and sell the building to someone else, the company could only do so with the express agreement that the next owner would never open a Jim’s of any kind there.

For those of you who enjoy legalese, here’s the full clause as found in the deed, emphasis theirs:

UNDER AND SUBJECT NEVERTHELESS, to the express condition and restriction that the said premises and any business conducted therein shall not, at any time, display or utilize the name “JIM’S STEAKS” or “JIM’S” or any combination thereof or contain any additional wording added thereto.

AND the grantee, for itself and its successors and assigns, by acceptance of this Indenture, agrees with the grantors, their heirs and assigns, that said restrictions and conditions shall be covenants running with the land, and that, in any deed of conveyance of said premises or any part thereof to any person, persons or entities, said restrictions and conditions shall be incorporated by reference to this Indenture and the record hereof or as fully as the same are contained herein.


Given that there is no active trademark on “Jim’s Steaks” or any variant other than “Jim’s South,” as our research revealed, we asked the source if Johnson could open a “Jim’s West” two doors down.

“That’s another question for another day,” they responded.

So where does that leave Cortez Johnson? Will we be able to eat cheesesteaks this weekend at Jim’s West?

Johnson says that while the deed may say what it says, he had an agreement with the Proetto family that he could open at 431 North 62nd Street so long as he did so under the name “Jim’s West,” even though that would seem to be counter to the language in the deed. (The Proetto brothers didn’t return calls seeking comment.) I asked him if he had a paper copy of any such agreement, and he said, “I’m not going to put all my legal stuff out there and have a bunch of back-and-forth with them. They knew what I was going to do from the beginning. I’m opening as Jim’s West and that’s final. They will do what they are going to do. Bring it on.”

One can only hope the cheesesteaks at Jim’s West are as juicy as the story surrounding it.

Editor’s note: In the original story we mistakenly referred to Cortez Johnson as Lorenzo Johnson. The story has been updated to reflect the correct name.