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Qwerty

Advice: Starting A Sandwich Shop

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So, I have it in my head to open a sandwich shop in the future. Time frame currently is about 2 1/2 to 3 years--and a lot of things have to fall into place for that to happen, but it should give me plenty of time to find a space, set up financing (I hope), etc.

I don't want to say exactly where I plan on opening, but its a small town (approx. 9-10,000 people) with a healthy tourist business (year round, peaks in fall and winter, however), many commuters for work every day, and a couple of small colleges. This town already has a few deli's and sandwich shops, ranging from a Subway to other more, "mom and pop" type places.

I don't think any of the places are really any good, so I see a gap in the town for a really good sandwich shop.

And what do I mean by really good? My idea is to just basically do as much as I can by hand--corn my own beef, roast my own beef/turkey/ham, dressings, relishes, sauces, etc. I have the expertise to do so (which I don't think my competitors do) and can still keep the prices down and competitive since buying that stuff is actually cheaper than buying pre-made roast beef/turkey, etc. Making my own salami, etc, as well as cheeses and such, as well as baking my own bread are about the only things I don't intend to do myself.

I understand that this is not a new concept in the sandwich business, but it would be in the city and area I would be doing this, so I feel it has potential to take off.

I'm posting this on eGullet to have you guys help me flesh out my ideas, help me think through the setup of the kitchen, etc, and to give me advice on what you guys think a great sandwich shop has going for it. What do you look for? Sandwich ideas, marketing, pitfalls, etc. are all welcome.

I don't think the market would allow me to go TOO crazy with sandwiches (no corned beef TONGUE, for example), but I think things like pork belly braised and crisped "BLT's" would work, for example, or having the best meatloaf sandwich in the area, things like that.

What is important to you guys when you go get a sandwich?

Any advice is appreciated, I would however, like to avoid anything along the "don't do it" or "do you know what you are getting yourself into" type of replies, only because I do know and it's not something I take lightly. I understand the risks but I feel with my experience and proper planning/financing it could be a hit.

Thanks in advance for the help.

EDIT: Forgot to mention that I intend to make fresh soups as well


Edited by Qwerty (log)

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My brother-in-law started what he thought was a sure win restaurant in a new location. He did it with his own money, no banks involved, and he is struggling because of wrong demographics and location.

So why do I tell you this? If he had involved a bank in vetting his business plan they would have seen the problems that he didn't. He wouldn't even have had to take whatever loan they might have offered, but he sure could have used the advice.

So that is my suggestion.


Edited by gfweb (log)

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I'm fortunate to count in my professional network some great chefs and managers, as well as a successful restaurant owner. My father is a CPA and well versed in business matters, so I fully intent to get them to dissect my business plan as soon as I have one in place.

I'm more asking about what types of things (in your opinions) you would like to see in an ideal sandwich shop, so I may take the boards' informed opinions and work it into my own ideas.

Sorry to hear about your brother, though...that sucks.

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My ideal sandwich shop has got to have great bread! There used to be a place in one town that I lived - excellent cold cuts, great cheese, fresh veggies - and the best freshest bread slices to put them on. I still think of those sandwiches years later.

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I'm more asking about what types of things (in your opinions) you would like to see in an ideal sandwich shop, so I may take the boards' informed opinions and work it into my own ideas.

Daily fresh good bread is what I find to be the hardest thing to find (a whole chain makes their living off this!) - or at least breads that you can only get in that one good sandwich shop. Options like onion rolls, egg bread, fresh/soft pumpernickel, sourdough loaves, rosemary ciabatta's, ficcelle's even something simple like whole wheat rolls & hoagie rolls are nice.

Near my work, there is a place that makes a lot of their own meats (brisket, roast beef, turkey, various chickens etc..), slices all the meats to order, has a ton of cheeses to choose from, veggies of all kinds... but their breads are cheap and they suck. So I eat there a lot less often than I would otherwise. Worth noting that if they didn't slice to order, I would never eat there, I really like that they slice to order.

So good or unique breads would be my guess as to your hardest challenge, since you aren't going to make your own, and presumably will have the same sources of bread as all the other places in your area.

A popular mom and pop type shop near me also does really well showcasing their fresh roasted turkey every day (customers get to choose white/dark or both) and herbal mayo combo, that alone attracts a ton of people to eat there (they have good bread too).

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How do you differentiate yourself?

Everyone talks about quality, but it is so often poorl executed. Slicing meats to order would be great. When I get a good sandwich it has 2 things in common-good bread, and meat that has not sat around.

Jeff

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I agree with Kerry on the fresh bread...I also love to see unique condiments like homemade mayo and different mustards. I always like to try something unique I don't have at home .

One tip I will pass along on your planning - my friend opened a small deli sandwich shop in a quaint little town and 2 weeks after she opened her doors a chain shop broke ground down the street from her. She did not check with the local planning department to see what developments were in the works for the area. A very costly mistake for her, as she did not last 6 months once it opened.

Good luck with your new adventure.

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Thanks guys I appreciate it.

I have a bakery in mind that I would like to use...there are a couple of options. The one I want to use has great bread and I'm pretty sure I'd be the only one in town using it for sandwiches. The only thing I'm not sure of is wholesale prices--the other shops may very well not be using it because it is expensive. But, also, the bread is weak at these places and not fresh.

I know that everyone talks quality, but I definitely have the expertise to pull off high quality stuff like this--I've worked in some great restaurants in several different cities.

Beth--that is great advice. I may not have ever thought about doing that so thanks...much appreciated.

Keep it coming guys.

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Qwerty,

gfweb has given you the best input yet considering you are at least 2 1/2 years away from opening your shop. What you and what the people on this forum think are great ideas may not fit the demographics of your area. Your local banker, other merchants and the people who live and visit have the most insight into what will or won't succeed in your area.

The economy sucks and although it'll very likely change by the time you open up, now is the time to do your due diligence and know what your potential customers are able to spend and what they want to spend it on. I don't know about where you live, but in my neck of the woods (Philadelphia and NYC) the lower priced restaurants that don't serve the best ingredients and which lack innovation are doing quite well. Many truly excellent and reasonably priced places are struggling or going under.

Even when the economy was good it never ceased to amaze me how some quality conscious restaurants would fail in areas that fully supported mediocre food.


“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

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Listen, I appreciate what you and gfweb are saying...and believe me, I don't intend to rush into anything and I fully intend to explore the demographics, do research, etc. Right now, I would like to keep this discussion specific to what makes an ideal/great sandwich shop...not the likelihood of my business failing or succeeding. I would rather get ideas on the eden of deli's and then cater to the market once I have a horde of ideas.

So again, please, I understand the risks and fully intend to get my ducks in a row before I commit to anything. This is one of the reasons for a 3 year time frame.

Thanks!

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Going to a bank for financing for a new restaurant by a first time restaurateur was a waste of time in boon years unless one didn't need the money in the first place. In the best of times the bank may have accepted the collateral in one's house. Someone told me today that in the current situation, that won't happen.

A restaurant's take on sandwiches can be tricky. I had a restaurant in Center City where one of most popular sandwiches was a sliced turkey sandwich with remoulade sauce on a toasted English muffin with Gruyere melted over it A few months after selling the restaurant I took over a concession in Bala Cynwyd, a suburb on the border of Philadelphia and introduced my fancy Center City menu. Got all sorts of complaints about the funny tasting green mayonnaise.

I disagree on quality of ingredients. In South Philadelphia, hoagie shops such as Sarcones and Chickie's do so well in working class areas specifically because of the quality of ingredients. Quality is always a good method to hedge one's bet, as long as the end product makes sense and is fairly priced.

At the same time Subway does quite well in the Philadelphia area, even Center City. Has to be price. And advertising. Not sure I would want to go against Subway's mediocrity in a small town, even with top notch quality. Double that if said town has a sizable tourist industry and college students raised on fast food.

You don't talk about your restaurant experience. A support structure is nice, but I'd suggest that a person who opens a restaurant without experience is akin to the proverbial lawyer who defends himself. Hands on service and kitchen management experience is essential.

Restaurants are one of the few industries dealing in perishable products that take the product from raw ingredient to the consumer. So much can and will go wrong. Restaurants don't come with training wheels unless one's pockets are extraordinarily deep.

Edited to add: Was writing this while Qwerty was attempting to focus the discussion on menu. At the same time, the key to a great sandwich shop is an owner who knows how to run a great sandwich shop.


Edited by Holly Moore (log)

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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Hey wait! You're describing my town, aren't you!? :raz:

My demo is identical, except we don't have any adjoining metro area. And I wouldn't call myself a sandwich shop although we're mostly sandwiches. Feel free to PM if you feel its worthwhile or appropriate as I'm in my 5th month of start-up.

My biggest issues are staffing to sales ratio. Keeping the menu fresh, yet keeping regulars from being disappointed if I drop an item. Having enough capital to put money where its needed (ie, I really want a pastry display case right now, but can't afford it). And while I agree with the fresh bread, I couldn't win that battle, so I do pannini style which has worked very well for me. Key variable that I'm still working out - all of the add ons (chips, cookies, drinks) - meaning finding the right mix to maximize sales and profits.

My specific battle that may or may not helpful to you is we want to be 75% carryout, but right now 75% want to sit in my very small space. That's a problem.

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Make a really good muffuletta with a truly excellent olive salad and I'd be a fan. That and a reuben with a really good sauerkraut. :biggrin: Other than that, I'd have to agree on the bread thing and would add that a great pickle can be a nice thing as well. Are soups part of the plan?


It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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Thinking specifically about the food - I think the moisture is key. Of course you need good bread, meats and cheeses, but a great sauce can make or break it. That's why Subway has all their squirt bottle flavored mayo crap...right idea, just needs better execution. In another topic I've been asking about a green chile tomatillo sauce for this very reason. It will go in two dishes. One is a bacon, green chile, cheddar pannini. Great ingredients, great flavor, but right now...kinda dry. I want to incorporate that chile in a sauce, add the tomatillo and I think I'll have a winner. So look closely at the wets. Then you'll have to look at the shelf life of the wets to see how often you'll need to make them, when then leads to consistency.

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Huge added expense BUT you can add open face French bread pizza or even pizza IF push came to shove. Otherwise, a BLODGETT PIZZA OVEN with deep dishes very useful for making HOT SANDWICHES, both pass-through, or hold dish at either end and do quick melts.

Toasting a piece of bread or roll, then warming the fillings, makes a sandwich much more welcoming; especially since you mention fall and cold weather. Are you in SNOW country? Are you targetting SNOW mobilers or skiers? Could you please let us know? Each of these demographics have different types of FAVORITEsandwiches from each other, as you might imagine. That index of favorites would change drastically if your target was to be holiday crowds with children tagging along. TARGET analysis very important.

I have much experience with various restaurants, sandwich places and ski concessions in upstate New York holiday resorts like Old Forge, very similar to what you describe. I know the competition and demographics of each season and all the pitfalls, each economic slice of the holiday crowd inside out. The types of labor who will be handling the FOH [!!!] etc., how long you will be open, whether purely take-out, whether extra relishes will be self-service, all these need careful thought.

The matter of extra relishes, be they pickles, sauces, mayo, blue cheese dressing, extra this that or the other:what will be your policy? Are you going to have a station outside where customers can customers can re-customize their orders, pus take away containers of dressing etc.?Or is it going to be strictly, what your counterpeople make?

What are you going to do when you are slammed? That is the nature of the business----- which is why i suggested the large capacity Blodgett oven. You are going to be driven crazy by requests for subsitution, thusthe utiility of a cusomer station fr them to fix thing to their own liking. BUT that comes at a big cost too, and every penny counts.

Your biggest headache will be finding good people. Russian/Ukrainian youth may be found on 3-5 month work visas and they work very, very well. How long re you going to be open? How many shifts, including closing, cleanup? Overtime? OSHA rules are you going to have a restroom for customers, handicap accessible? Huge fixed costs riving up your already high price points, therefore further restricting your customer base in a SMALL holiday resort [see below]. No sit-down or yes? More insurance & service issues!!

Beer, wine licence? What sorts of drinks, what refill policies? These all affect the bottomline. COOKING IS EASY, MAKING GREAT SANDWICHES IS FINE, RUNNING A FODSERVICE IN ALL ITS DETAILS IS DEVILISH. Do you have an experienced manager who can handle staff, lay down clear policies, manage FOH. I have taught small business with special focus on setting up sole ownership restaurants, and I repeatedly emphasize that the technical aspects, i.e. the food, is not the problem. The business owner needs to get a handle on the other aspects, the managerial apects, first. The business cannot succeed otherwise, no matter how impressive a line-up of friends and advisers are on call.

This may sound a bit harsh, but I have been involved in restaurant families who have cut their milkteeth [literally] on several restaurants. These can tear families apart and destroy lives, including my own, due to the folly and overconfidence of one person who knows it all, who may know how to cook, but abhors any managerial responibilities.

Consequently, in reaction, I have spent years studying ad understanding restaurant & food service management. I have formally helped more than one beginning establishment. Where common sense advice was ignored, and the owner ran with her dreams, the restaurant folded within a year. The others are going from strength to strength because they exist on the premise that restaurants are there first to make a profit!! Second to not drive everyone, including the opertor, insne. This is not as trivial a it might sound Check out the alcoholism rate in the industry. Third to provide food customers demand, no matter how horrible that might be. Especially true of holiday crowds with children. CHEAP is in their radar. DINKs are demographically sprs, not enough to make your shop hum. They eat little, also. Critical mass of customers needed. Sorry to be such a bear.

True Ciabatta, mild sourdough, mild sourdough with jalapeno & cheddar are three I have found useful in open face sandwiches--- they are structurally robust.

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A few thoughts. First, the question of eat-in/take-out. Will you do both? If you're in a tourist area, you'll probably want to have seating for the families in particular who don't want to eat in their car or hotel room. If you're the only sandwich place that offers seating, then that might be a useful design and marketing element. You'd also want to have full amenities that you don't need at a Subway, especially if people are going to be trudging in with the kiddos and a bunch of wet snow needing to pee, change a diaper, and hang up their coats.

For both the out-of-towners and the regulars, you'll want a smooth take-out operation. Will you offer drive-through -- big demands on site, building, and staffing if so. Or do patrons have to come into the building (with their kids and snow and so on) to order?

The second thing that I'm wondering about involves the staffing expectations and related training. Are you going to have a Subway system model in which the patron establishes contact with the server/cashier and walks through the line building the sandwich with the person? That role requires terrific skill to pull off well and is easy to do poorly -- think of all the disaffected teens slapping portioned ham across the country. Or is someone going to be taking orders and cash and then others making the sandwich?

One of the benefits/drawbacks of the Subway approach is that you see everything that's going into your sandwich. I find that depressing at Subway, given their quality, but if you're going to have quality ingredients, it makes sense to showcase them. (Label the bins, too, instead of making people guess what's in them.) The Subway approach also, obviously, encourages patrons to believe that they've made the sandwich "their way," and that sense of power is probably appealing to many people.

I'm also a believer in signature sandwiches. My favorite sandwich shop around here (the Sandwich Hut on N Main in Providence) has what most believe to be the best Italian sub in town, the Alitalia with prosciutto and capicolla. Now, you can get an Italian sub at every pizza joint, sandwich place, and deli counter in town, but if you took a poll about "the best," they'll send you there. It's a great sandwich, but "the best"? I haven't had every Italian sub in town, but if someone asks my opinion... you get my point.

I'd go to those subpar places, do some research on sandwich types, and find one or two that you can make your own and that your clientele will want to try. What do people order there? How do they order it? When they complain, what do they complain about? What are the "favorites" or "bests"?

ET clarify a few sentences -- CA


Edited by chrisamirault (log)

Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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The information listed under his screen name says he's in Texas. I'm guessing snow is not a major concern and snowmobilers, skiers, etc. are not really his target market. :raz:


It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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While we have no idea where this would be (perhaps where the member vacations, say!) the relevant points still stand. Tourists living away from home have greater amenity requirements than regulars on lunch break or stopping on the way home.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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True enough. I was just seeing several comments about snow and winter sports. I thought maybe they were based on his saying the tourism increased in the fall/winter. Just wanted to point out that that may not be the case. Those of us who live in the lands of (almost) eternal winter like to vacation somewhere warm. :biggrin:


It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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It amazes me what works for sandwich shops. You should come up to Seattle and do a market review. We might not be known for sandwiches, but there are a few of places that really throw the book at Subway and appear to succeed. I think quality is the common ingredient.

In Columbia City, there is a small bbq sandwich place called Roy's. They are open weird (and short) hours, use the nearby bakery's rolls for their bread, have an extremely limited menu, and not all that cheap. They rock out on quality, sauces, and seem to do well enough. go for gold

On Capitol Hill, try Baguette Box (and order the fries too!) In a town where you can spend less than $3.00 for bahn mi just a few blocks away, this place excels and has opened a second place in the Fremont area and I think in Toronto too? You easily drop more than $10 on lunch here. They have suffered from mouth killing rolls in the past, I think they have conquered the problem.

cool digs

Down in Georgetown, Smarty Pants is the king of sandwiches at lunch - they are also open at night for the drinking crowd. It's funky, the sandwiches are gigantic, and not really to my taste, but maybe I need to try again when I am really hungry and not eating with a new boss! They are opening (or opened) a second place with a different concept. Most are heated/grilled.

hip

Of course, there is Salumi, with lines out the door almost every day - waits up to an hour plus. It's all about the meat, and the people. Open 11-4, T-F. Give me a break! Again, bread is a problem - too dense, too filling. One of these days, meat plate for two, bread on the side. I love the onion/pepper spread and fresh mozz.

you know it

There are a few other places where the ingredients are not quite as much the key, but have great business - Bakeman's and Three Girls for instance. Those are places that have their niche, but also deal in volume. Bakeman's roast fresh turkeys and has fresh soups. They are known as the local version of the soup nazi, but have really mellowed over the years. They don't bark nearly as much. Still, better know what you want by the time you get to the front of the line. Three Girls is in the Pike Place Market - a great location. It's an odd place I don't think to go to, but when I do, I am always pleased with my choice. Known for meatloaf, and salmon sandwiches (though cold, not hot off the grill like Market Grill.) Oh man, now I want a salmon sandwich, blackened, with rosemary mayo, on a crispy baguette from the grill.

Good luck and happy dreaming.


Edited by tsquare (log)

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My favorite sandwich purchase ever was the heirloom tomato with the fresh mozzarella on this lovely corn meal dusted softish roll with pesto.

I mean where have you ever seen a tomato sandwich on a menu? That was killer. Few and far between if at all. Of course that'd be a seasonal special.

Then Chef-boy has one that is a grilled cheese with the cheese itself grilled and crispy in a non-stick pan and a dash of honey on thin sliced challah bread. Colby cheese I think. I haven't had one in over five years but the memory lingers.

I'd like a sandwich place to make it easy for me to get a soup take out plus some of thier homemade bread slices for toasting to dip in the soup.

I think the mixture of the familiar plus some of the new is the way to go.

Rotate specials in and out of the menu.

Sweet potato fries.

I think making your own dressings (you gonna have salad? may as well huh) and mayo and aioli and stuff is important.

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From working in the food industry for several years, I'm sad to see how often marketing matters more than the quality of the product.

The 'vibe' your customers get when they come to get your sandwich may affect them more than whether or not you use single-breast turkey and artisan pickles... unless the artisan pickles are part of what they're coming to get.

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From working in the food industry for several years, I'm sad to see how often marketing matters more than the quality of the product.

The 'vibe' your customers get when they come to get your sandwich may affect them more than whether or not you use single-breast turkey and artisan pickles... unless the artisan pickles are part of what they're coming to get.

I think marketing always matters more.

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What I want in a good sandwich is a variety of options on *excellent* bread. I don't like the crust to cut the roof of my mouth, but sometimes you have to suffer in the name of excellence :wink:

Other random thoughts:

I love chicken salad with dried cranberries and walnuts; I also love a really good tarragon (fresh tarragon!) chicken salad. I don't like it when the chicken is dry and tough to eat, then they seem to use too much mayo to cover it up.

I like lobster rolls where the lobster is the star and you can barely detect any mayonnaise on a nicely grilled buttered hot dog roll.

I don't like overly smoked meats (like turkey, it overpowers anything else you put in the sandwich). On the same note, I don't like overly wet sandwiches because they fall apart, usually onto my lap which means I'd be wearing my lunch for the rest of the day.

My personal favorite is fresh mozzarella, proscuitto, maybe lettuce or tomato (in season) and some basil olive oil or pesto.

I like to know that there's enough turnover to guarantee fresh meats and cheeses. (I don't like having to think to myself "it's Monday, don't go to X because it isn't going to be fresh).

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