Everyone knows that when you gulp down a poppyseed roll filled with steak, golden onions, American cheese and hot pepper relish on Haddon Avenue, you’re enjoying an iconic South Jersey treat at “one point”. national landmark”, as the late Anthony Bourdain considers it.
And The place of the donkey customers are loyal and loud.
Fans are sharing photos from Arizona to Doha, Qatar, of themselves and family members sporting the company logo on the bar’s Facebook page — everything from t-shirts to hats to the sleepers.
The bar opened 75 years ago in Camden. He was named after founder and Olympic heavyweight boxer Leon Lucas – as it is said his punch was like the kick of a mule.
The Donkey’s brand is led by grandsons Rob Jr. and Joe Lucas. Rob took over ownership of the Camden site when their father, Robert Sr., died in 2015.
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Joe expanded the brand with The donkey too in Medford in 2001. Additional sites opened in Ocean City in 2005 and Vineland in 2008, but both sites are closed.
More recently, Joe opened a third location in downtown Mount Holly called Donkey’s Place Downtown.
We caught up with the brothers to give loyal customers a sneak peek at what’s new and what’s to come from this South Jersey favourite:
Expansion in South Jersey, not Philadelphia
In August 2021 Rob told the Courier Post he was looking to open a fourth Donkey location in the Northern Liberties area.
“I’m looking for a place where I could just have a window in the front,” Lucas said. “No one can get in. Order at one window, watch us cook at the next, then collect the next window, that’s what I’m looking for.”
But plans have changed.
Rob is looking to continue expanding the brand in South Jersey. It aims to add a location “a little further south,” he shared.
“Philly is getting a little tough lately, which is pretty much why,” Rob said, citing an increase in violent crime.
Joe said he’s always looking for new locations, but doesn’t have any on the way yet.
“I would like to do something else; I just don’t know what,” he laughed.
Order churros and wings with your cheesesteak
Next time you visit Camden Bar, be sure to order their new menu item: the wings.
On April 11, Rob spread his wings – selling them until they ran out.
The wings are dry rubbed with the same seasonings used for steaks and fries.
“I like the wings; they’re great,” Rob said. “We’ve tried them many times over the past two years, right around the Super Bowl and everyone loved them.”
At Donkey’s Place Downtown in Mount Holly, Joe has added cinnamon and sugar churros to his menu.
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At the moment, customers can order churros for dessert at Mount Holly. He works to include a Nutella dip on the side and also to serve dessert at Donkey’s Too in Medford.
“They’re awesome,” Joe said of the churros, which rhyme with a Spanish word for donkeys, burros.
Looking for your next read?
Author Russell Lloyd has nearly completed his biography of Donkey’s Place and the Lucas family.
“I had the draft at home,” Rob said. “We have a few things to add, so we’re reviewing it now.”
The book titled ‘DONKEY’S PLACE’ focuses on Donkey’s impact on Camden and how the Lucas family has supported the town over the years.
“I’m trying to say there wouldn’t quite be the Camden of today without Donkey’s and there wouldn’t quite be Donkey’s without Camden,” Lloyd told the Courier Post in 2021 I’m trying to get – that emotional connection between Donkey’s and Camden, and all the things the family has done.
The Lucas and Lloyd family have lived side by side in Medford for many years.
Lloyd, a longtime friend of the family, decided to tell the story of the iconic restaurant “because of my friendship with them over the years,” he said.
Lloyd illustrates the significance of Donkey’s name – paying homage to Leon’s boxing career as well as the history of donkeys used as transport in Camden
“It was a pretty common sight to see a donkey,” Lloyd explained. “So look at it like that, you can see why it would be – like getting hit by a donkey, getting hit by it.”
The book will be filled with family stories and stories of famous people, especially in the boxing world, who share “what kind of person not only Bob Lucas was, Rob’s father, but also what kind of nobody was Leon Lucas” with sourcing help from the Lucas brothers.
Lloyd retired after 50 years in the hydraulics industry and now pursues his lifelong ambition of being an author. He has published other books like “The Boxer: A Detective Ellis H. Parker Mystery Story”, a detective novel based on the career of the real Detective Ellis H. Parker in Burlington County.
“DONKEY’S PLACE” will be sold in stores, online and in Donkey’s Place stores.
In Case You Missed It: Takeout Cheesesteak in Mt. Holly
Nestled in the heart of Mount Holly, the small building just behind the Municipal Utilities Authority building now offers the famous cheesesteaks through a takeout window.
Donkey’s Place Downtown had its soft opening in October 2021 with bright sunshine, colorful balloons and a large sign inviting guests to grab a cheesesteak.
People were thrilled to have Donkey’s in town.
Medford resident and Mount Holly firefighter Julian Vallery visits Medford from time to time. So he was happy to have a location close to work, a new place in town for the community to enjoy.
“I love that once you eat it you can’t move,” Vallery told the Courier Post on opening day. “I like the roll and the way it’s made. The fried onions, the roll and the way it is cooked is completely different from any other cheesesteak place.
Since opening day, Joe said things have been going great.
“It was a nice, welcoming and inviting community,” he shared. “The locals – they’re great… Everyone’s really happy to have us (in the community).”
Options for everyone, including vegetarians
Just a reminder, Rob and Joe always offer their meatless options.
Rob offers a vegetarian sandwich made with onions, cheese, hot peppers and ketchup. For vegans, he takes out the cheese.
Joe does the same for vegetarian guests but adds fries to the sandwich.
“I wouldn’t call our establishment very vegan, but we do like a [vegetarian] French fries sandwich which is amazing,” Joe shared. “One of my ex-girlfriends was a vegetarian. It’s on our secret menu; it’s not like we put it there.
We recommend smothering the fries sandwich with chili oil for the full experience.
The brothers are always ready to whip up something special for guests, whether it’s a grilled cheese sandwich with onions or using halal (Islamic permitted) meat for their cheesesteaks.
“If you were to bring 14 ounces (of halal meat), I would bring it for you,” Rob said.
You might catch a celebrity or two
If you’re looking to meet a celebrity or two, Donkey’s Place is the place to go.
For years, the famous have stopped here to sample the iconic cheesesteaks.
The bar has been featured on TV – CNN’s “Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain” in 2015 (where he considered it a “national landmark”) and ABC’s sitcom “The Goldbergs” in 2018.
And star-studded guests can be found slathering their cheesesteaks in chili oil.
Kentucky Wildcats coach John Calipari, who was named Naismith College Coach of the Year three times and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015, recently visited Donkey’s Place.
“I had to make a pit stop at Donkey’s Place – Camden. Todd Bruiser, a Philly through and through, [told me] that this place has THE BEST cheesesteaks,” Calipari posted on Facebook.
Rob also served Danny Trejo, known for his roles as “Machete” and Navajas in “Desperado”, and his crew. They stopped to buy steaks for Monster-Mania Con at Cherry Hill.
Other previous guests include former professional basketball player Dajuan Wagner and members of the Philadelphia 76ers team, to name a few.
Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier comes in every two weeks for sandwiches and fries, along with William Sydney Wesley (known as “Worldwide Wes”), former Flyers player Orest Kindrachuk and boxer professional Sonny “The Bronco” Conto.
“I love it when I see a Bentley or a Corvette or a Ferrari in the parking lot any day,” Rob told the Courier Post last year.
Same hours, same cheesesteaks
Donkey’s Place is open Monday 7am-6pm, Tuesday-Thursday 10am-6pm and Friday 7am-6pm
The first Saturday of the month, the bar is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Since taking over the bar, Rob has kept his father’s weekend. But a few years ago, he decided to give customers the opportunity to come and relax on the weekend once a month.
“When I was born, my dad closed Saturday and Sunday, because he said he never had time to spend with his dad and they didn’t want that for us,” said Rob at the Courier Post last year. “So when I took over, I added the first Saturday of every month…and it’s a great time. Everyone is relaxed; no one is in a hurry. Nobody has to go back to work – and that’s great.
Donkey’s Place Too is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week. Cheesesteaks can be enjoyed at Donkey’s Place Downtown on Sunday and Monday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Donkey’s food truck is always off the road. For future updates, follow Donkey’s social media accounts.
Donkey’s Place: 1223 Haddon Ave, 856-966-2616; donkeysplace.com
Donkey’s Too: 11 Tomlinson Mill Road, 856-810-0445; facebook.com/donkeystoo
Downtown Donkey’s Place: 37 Washington Street, 609-685-1015; donkeysplacedownto.wixsite.com
Hira Qureshi covers food and drink for South Jersey at the Courier Post, Burlington County Times and Daily Journal. She can be reached at [email protected] or 856-287-8106. Help support local journalism with a digital subscription.