It was lunchtime on Friday of Reunions last May, and Ryan McDonough ’93 was an alum on a mission. He and a group of classmates had just finished singing at the University Chapel in memory of friends who had died, and now McDonough was in pursuit of something more uplifting, so he decided to take his 10-year-old son, Wylie, to visit one of his old haunts. The McDonoughs crossed Nassau Street and turned right. They walked a couple of blocks, passed Princeton Violin, and there it was, in all its storefront glory, the humble, self-styled sandwich shop that has never met a combination it wouldn’t try on its 14-inch rolls, and that has been overstuffing Princeton students’ bellies for half a century.

Hoagie Haven.


It may not have the cachet of Nassau Hall or Blair Arch, but for generations of Princeton students, Hoagie Haven has been a destination in its own right, especially back in the day, when you could go there at 2 or 3 in the morning and find a line in front of you. The bars were closed by then, and the eating clubs were no longer serving. If you were hungry, you headed for the place students knew — and still know — as The Haven, which would often be as crowded post-midnight as it was during the lunch rush.

“It felt like I was back home,” McDonough said, smiling. “They do an amazing job. I wanted to have my son experience it for himself.”

Mac Daddy hoagie
And let’s not forget the Mac Daddy. Two bisected bacon cheeseburgers with macaroni-and-cheese wedges, fries, honey mustard, and hot sauce.
Photo: John Emerson

Hoagie Haven opened its doors in 1974, the year that brought us The Towering Inferno in movie theaters and the tumbling presidency of Richard Nixon in Washington. It still has the same orange sign out front, the same slogan (“We Serve the BEST HOAGIES on Earth OR Any Place Else”), and the same extended Greek family operating it. Some things have changed, certainly; the old, hand-cranked cash register is gone, as is the wall of photos of customers wearing their Hoagie Haven T-shirts at the Great Wall of China, the Grand Canyon, and other notable locations, and it takes credit cards now. The famously long lines have been shortened by online orders and an ordering kiosk out front.

But the soul of the place — huge sandwiches with, uh, an unusual mix of ingredients and a caloric count that could break your calculator — remains intact. The griddle sizzles. The deep fryer bubbles. The stomach awaits.

Let the creations begin.

After all, where else can you get a Sanchez, Hoagie Haven’s top seller? Chicken cutlet, American cheese, mozzarella sticks, fries, and special sauce.

Or The Phat Lady? Cheesesteak topped with mozzarella sticks, fries, ketchup, and hot sauce.

And let’s not forget the Mac Daddy. Two bisected bacon cheeseburgers with macaroni-and-cheese wedges, fries, honey mustard, and hot sauce.

Or The Bloch, which pushes the gastronomic limits even by Hoagie Haven standards. Chicken parmigiana, bacon, and eggs.

The Bloch deserves special mention, not least because it was created by Sam Loch ’06, a standout Princeton rower who went on to be a two-time Olympian for his native Australia.

Now a life counselor and wellness coach Down Under, Loch went into Hoagie Haven late one night after having a few drinks. He asked if they could make him a chicken parm, with the bacon and eggs folded in.

“I have no idea [how I came up with it],” Loch tells PAW via email. “I would normally have ordered a meatball hoagie. I assume my body was requesting dense nutrition and this was the result.”

Next time Loch was in the shop, he spotted a small sign adjacent to the menu.

“Rower’s Special — The Bloch,” it said. Nobody has any idea where the “B” came from.

“It’s a better name for a hoagie in the end,” Loch writes.

The McDonoughs, father and son, went slightly more mainstream with their lunch choices. Ryan ordered veal parmigiana. Wylie went with the cheeseburger hoagie. They dined together on a wooden bench in front of Hoagie Haven at 242 Nassau St. The bench had a small plaque affixed to the back in memory of Peter Craig Alderman, a Hoagie Haven regular who died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

The grill at Hoagie Haven
The grill at Hoagie Haven sees a little bit of everything, including cheesesteaks, peppers and onions, bacon, eggs, and hash browns.
Photo: John Emerson

Almost from the outset, Hoagie Haven was created to offer jumbo portions at reasonable prices in a town where restaurants skewed toward high end. Its first owner/operator was George Mandarakas, a Greek immigrant who had learned the food business working in A&S Deli, a Princeton shop that was operated by Mandarakas’ cousin, George Maltabes, who helped with the startup. When Mandarakas decided he wanted to return to Greece, he sold it to another cousin, George Roussos. (That’s three Georges if you’re scoring at home, and there was another to come. “It’s a Greek thing,” said Mike Maltabes, George Maltabes’ son, who is the current owner with his brother, Niko.)

With more than 10 years of experience in various New York coffee shops, Roussos and his wife, Emily, bought the business in 1975, and then purchased the whole building. They saw the possibilities of a robust college-town business and went after it, taking out ads in Princeton publications and promoting Hoagie Haven at St. Paul Catholic Church down the street, but mostly the marketing was by word of mouth, students discovering that they could get an overstuffed hoagie — don’t call it a sub or grinder or hero around The Haven — with any imaginable combination of items, at almost any hour of the day. The Haven had two official shifts — 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. — but would often stay open for hours longer, cementing its legendary stature among late-night studiers and revelers alike.

“George Roussos is the one who made Hoagie Haven what it is today,” Mike Maltabes says. As a thank-you, Princeton students bestowed a Master’s-in-Hoagiemaking degree and orange jacket on Roussos, an honorary member of the Class of ’88. Mike Maltabes received the same honor in 2009, the graduating class giving him a yearbook as well.

Now 81, Roussos is still The Haven’s landlord.

“Those ideas I had for a long time,” he says. “I worked with the kids and created these sandwiches, and little by little people found out about it. Hoagie Haven was the right idea at the right time, [but] the main thing was the students. They would come and get their hoagies and then tell their friends and do the advertising for me.”

“It may not be the healthiest stuff to eat, but kids don’t mind that. It’s a cult-like following. People love us. I am happy to be a part of it.”

Mike and Niko Maltabes
Mike, left, and Niko Maltabes took over ownership of Hoagie Haven from their cousin, George Roussos, in 2005.
Photo: John Emerson

For almost 15 years, the Roussoses were fixtures at 242 Nassau, raising their three kids in the apartment over the store and spending long hours behind the counter, assembling such Haven classics as the Body Bag (capicola, ham, salami, provolone with cheesesteak, hash browns, eggs, ketchup, and hot sauce) and Heart Stop (cheesesteak, bacon, eggs, ketchup, and hot sauce). Sometimes Roussos would even make a plain old Italian combo, but it was The Haven specialty sandwiches that became their trademark.

“Everybody knows my name, it’s George,” Roussos says. “That’s all my life, that store over there. I make a lot of sandwiches all those years.”

Before deciding to pursue a new venture and open George’s Roasters & Ribs two doors down, the Roussoses signed a 15-year lease deal with George Angeletepolous and Konstantinos Liras, local businessmen who ran Hoagie Haven until the early 2000s, when Roussos said he declined to renew the agreement because the Princeton Regional Health Department was on the verge of shutting Hoagie Haven down for code violations. Roussos closed the shop for about a month in the summer of 2003, doing a complete renovation.

“I put in everything new,” he says. “The only thing I kept was the grill.”

When it reopened, George and Emily were back behind the counter, and by the start of the school year, the students — not just from Princeton University but area high schools as well — were back in droves. The Roussoses stayed two more years, until 2005, when they sold Hoagie Haven to cousins Mike and Niko Maltabes. (A third cousin, Costa Maltabes, is no longer involved in the business.) They kept the sandwiches big and the menu playful. One of their newer sandwiches is the Middle Finger (grilled cheese with chicken cutlet, pepperoni, and honey mustard). Irreverence is as much a part of The Haven’s DNA as the portion size.

“Bringing smiles to the people and keeping them well fed, it’s a pretty positive feeling for us and for them,” Mike Maltabes says.

A typical day at Hoagie Haven begins with the delivery of 400 or more rolls from Italian Peoples Bakery in Trenton. On busy days they will make as many as 600 hoagies, and on the busiest days — Reunions Saturday and Super Bowl Sunday — Mike Maltabes says it can go up from there. With only five employees on most shifts, it makes for a fast-paced work environment, and nobody knows it better than Noor Mohammed, 47, a manager who has been working at Hoagie Haven since 2001. He was not surprised when a Subway opened up down the street about 10 years ago and lasted only three years.

“All the time we have customers coming in from New York or Pennsylvania and other places, and say, ‘It’s good you are still here,’” Mohammed says. “When they come to Princeton, they have to stop at Hoagie Haven.”

Sitting in his basement office beneath the shop — “The dungeon,” he calls it — Niko Maltabes pointed to a wall of photos of customers in orange Hoagie Haven T-shirts — the one that used to be next to the cash register — and talked about The Haven’s profound customer loyalty. The prices have crept up, of course — a half Sanchez will cost you $8.25 and the full 14-incher goes for $15.50 — but then, these are sandwiches you could do curls with. When the Princeton men’s basketball team advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last March, the TV broadcast showed students in the stands wearing orange Hoagie Haven T-shirts.

“Everybody went nuts,” Niko Maltabes says. “It may not be the healthiest stuff to eat, but kids don’t mind that. It’s a cult-like following. People love us. I am happy to be a part of it.“

Hoagie Haven at night
Students have to get their Hoagie Haven fix earlier in the evening with closing time on weekends moved to midnight several years ago.
Photo: John Emerson

Like virtually every other business, Hoagie Haven underwent significant operational changes because of the pandemic. It started accepting credit cards, encouraged online orders, set up the kiosk out front, and shuttered a second Hoagie Haven the Maltabes brothers opened on the site of George’s Roasters & Ribs. Closing time became 10 p.m. during the week and midnight on weekends.

“I think people miss the craziness [of the late nights and long lines],” Niko Maltabes says. “But it works really good and is much more efficient.”

Certainly, Ryan and Wylie McDonough were registering no complaints during their visit last Reunions. An education program manager for Google, McDonough, 52, of Long Beach, California, is a man with an eclectic professional background. He wrote a screenplay and produced an independent film called Last Night in Rozzie in 2021 and previously worked as a party catalyst for the tequila company Jose Cuervo and other brands, entertaining and engaging fans and customers at such events as the Super Bowl and the NBA All-Star Game. (In one of McDonough’s bits, he would put a toilet plunger on his bald head and encourage people to toss rings onto the stick, but that’s another story.) His entire focus at the moment was lunch with his son, sharing a special place from his past over very large sandwiches and waffle fries. When lunch was over, father and son tossed their wrappers in a garbage can and headed down Nassau Street, arm in arm.

“It was all I remembered it being,” McDonough said.

Wayne Coffey is a freelance journalist and the author of more than 30 books who used to work in a Long Island hero shop in high school called The Sub Base. He lives in Sleepy Hollow, New York.