Jalen Hurts borrowed an apron last summer, stepped behind the FoodChasers Kitchen grill and attempted to cook his first cheesesteak. And that’s when the quarterback, who has looked flawless at times this season while guiding the Eagles to the superbowlrevealed his shortcomings as a short-lived cook.
“He wanted to put mozzarella on it,” said Maya Johnstone, owner of Elkins Park restaurant with her twin sister, Kala. “We said, ‘No.’ He’s like, ‘But I like mozzarella.’ It’s Philly. You can’t.
Hurts called an audible mozzarella, traded for Cooper sharp, and got to work. The cheesesteak also includes fried onions and mayonnaise and has become a menu staple, aptly called the “Jalen Special”.
Hurts was at the restaurant — which the sisters opened in October 2021 after retiring as principals of the Philadelphia School District — to film a Pepsi commercial and his attempt to make a cheesesteak was an added wrinkle after wandering into the kitchen.
When he left, Hurts pushed the twins aside and told them 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 much more.
Isaac Johnstone used to take his kids to Eagles training camp every summer, listening all the way to sports radio buzzing as they drove from Mount Airy to West Chester to watch practices twice a day. Johnstone was a stalwart until his son, Lance Johnstone, was drafted in 1996 by the Raiders.
The Eagles twice passed Johnstone, who played at Germantown High and Temple before playing 11 years as a defensive end in the NFL. It was enough for his father to pass on the Birds. Johnstone’s other son, Brent, reminded his father that 29 other teams had also refused to sign his boy. It didn’t matter.
“We’re like, ‘Sorry to hear that but we can’t jump ship,'” Maya Johnstone said.
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When Lance Johnstone returned to Philadelphia with Minnesota in the 2004 playoffs, the twins rooted for the Eagles and prayed for their brother to do good. Their father, who died in 2012, was still irritated but even their brother understood.
“He’s like, ‘I grew up as an Eagles fan, I totally get it,'” Kala Johnstone said. “Dad is just dad.”
Lance Johnstone retired after the 2006 season and the whole family – even their father – once again put down roots for the Eagles.
“Changed our lives”
When he left, Hurts pushed the twins aside and told them he would continue to support them. He posted the advertisement on his Twitter account and tagged the restaurant. He mentioned FoodChasers in October when he was on Monday night footballof ManningCast and told the NFL a month later that his Thursday night football The interview had to be filmed at his favorite location on Montgomery Avenue, which is roughly a postal route from the Elkins Park Regional Railroad Station.
The quarterback’s seal of approval, the twins said, has brought their small business considerable buzz. But that wasn’t it.
This Pepsi ad earned them a $10,000 grant. He then connected the twins to Truist Bank, which donated $5,000 to the sisters’ foundation that donates lunches to Philadelphia students. Louisiana Hot Sauce, which recently released a Hurts sauce, now wants 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 Johnstone warned his sisters before the commercial that Hurts would probably be a jerk. He’s crossed enough NFL superstars and figured Hurts would be like the rest. Johnstone therefore felt validated when a production assistant told the twins that Hurts would need a private bedroom while filming the commercial.
But when the assistant asked the twins’ nephews to turn off their video games and leave the room to Hurts, the quarterback stepped in and told the kids to stay. Hurts sat on the couch, hung out with them, and played PlayStation until he was needed on set.
“My brother is like, ‘OK. Not too bad,'” Maya Johnstone said.
When Hurts came back to shoot the Thursday night football interview, Lance Johnstone said Hurts was growing on him. And when Truist Bank called and told the twins that Hurts had said he let them choose how he would give back to the community, Lance Johnstone finally admitted that this superstar was different from those he knew. Hurts was okay with the twins’ idea of having lunch with the Roxborough High football team after the freshman Nicolas Elizalde was assassinated after training in September.
“He’s like, ‘OK. OK. I like him. He’s my guy,'” Maya Johnstone said. “He said, ‘Here’s why I really like him. He’s at the peak of his career and he shares his platform. That doesn’t happen often.”
The FoodChasers kitchen — which is open Thursday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. — is booming with Hurts under the center. The Eagles QB, they said, “really changed our lives.”
“Dad, you wouldn’t believe what’s going on,” Maya Johnstone said. “It’s amazing. These are dreams we didn’t even have for ourselves. He puts us in rooms with people we would never dream of meeting. We laughed at the banks when we got tried to open.
“It would never happen if he didn’t always tell people, ‘Call the twins. Call the twins. Call the twins. ”
Hurts’ marketing agent texted the sisters on Saturday to see if the restaurant could open for Hurts and his family if the Eagles won the NFC Championship. Of course, they said. They cooked the food in the morning, took the Broad Street Line to the Linc and cheered like crazy for the Birds because they knew a win meant they were cooking for the quarterback.
“We are clapping very loudly,” said Kala Johnstone.
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They walked back to Elkins Park and jumped into the kitchen. Hours after the win, Hurts — his NFC championship hat still on his head — arrived at FoodChasers with 15 friends and family.
They stayed until after midnight as they ate a dinner that included ribeyes, chicken, sweet potatoes, “Jalen pasta”, mac and cheese, wings named after Hurts and of course the steak au Jalen special cheese.
The sisters said they were in tears. The Eagles just clinched their ticket to the Super Bowl, and the quarterback chose their restaurant — a black-owned business that opened less than two years ago and had dreamed of owning for years — for his celebration. 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 Johnstone said. “Actually, I admire you. All I want to leave you with is to dream bigger. Let’s do something bigger now. I give you something and you give something to someone else.
A day later, they brainstormed ways to take on the QB’s challenge and pay it to the next. Their relationship with Hurts inspired them to pursue their dream. And it all started with the mistake of putting mozzarella on a cheesesteak.
“That’s the only flaw we found in Jalen and we don’t even consider that a flaw,” Kala Johnstone said. “He can’t always have the perfect match.”