Cindy Lee stands perched inside her “The Great Philly Steak Sandwich” cart chopping a mix of steak, mushrooms, onions, and green peppers on a searing hot griddle. Steam rises up from the griddle as she continues to chop with a pleasant smile. Her skin is tan and weathered, but her brown eyes sparkle in the sunlight. She is wearing a pink tee shirt, matching baseball cap, and a bright blue apron. “This is made with love, booboo,” she says as she hands a regular customer her cheese steak. “Come back tomorrow, honey!”

Lee has owned the sandwich cart for 13 years now. She used to cook for one of her girlfriends, but after she tragically died of a brain aneurysm, Lee’s brother Doug helped Lee find funds to take over the business. Before she bought the sandwich cart, Lee spent over 20 years working and traveling for large companies that set up restaurants all over the country. She started out in Lawrence, Kansas and worked her way through Missouri and Kansas City. “Those were some of the best times of my life,” says Lee. “22 years old, making $400 a week with a brand new sports car.” She smiles and laughs as if her youth is long behind her.


Lee has never been married, but she has a boyfriend of 28 years who lives in California. “We’ve lived in separate states, that’s why we’re still together,” she says with a wink. Her boyfriend is a professional photographer, and Lee says that it has become her hobby as well. Lee has traveled to every state this side of Missouri and recently spent three weeks in Canada with her boyfriend. Lee confesses that she is surprisingly good at taking photographs with her digital camera.

Her youth may be behind her, but Lee seems to be enjoying her retirement. “I always told my kids to find something they love and figure out a way to get paid for it.” Watching Lee, it is easy to tell that she has found that for herself. She happily chats and jokes with her girlfriend who is helping on the cart for the day. Her brother Doug sits behind the cart, meticulously spreading cheese onto the steak buns and wrapping them carefully before handing them to Lee. “There’s an art to it, you know,” he says with the same warm smile as his sister. He jokes that the cart can become a mess if you wrap the buns incorrectly.

A crowd of largely tall, athletic college boys stands around the cart, waiting for their hearty sandwiches and taking in the smell. Customers seem to become loyal after a taste of Lee’s steak sandwiches. “We have great customers,” she says. “Some come twice a day to events! We’ve met some of the greatest people all over.” Lee takes the cart to just six events a year, and has been coming to the Street Faire for 17 years. She says her biggest sale at a single event was somewhere between seven and ten thousand steak sandwiches. “One guy even said ‘if you could bottle that smell I would so wear it!” she says with a big chuckle. With Lee’s personality and cheerful attitude, it’s no wonder they keep coming back.

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