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Qwerty

Advice: Starting A Sandwich Shop

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Wow, thanks so much for all the great replies guys and gals--lots of cool information as well as food for thought. I don't mind that the thread has taken a few turns--I never thought there would be this many replies. I only got a little "testy" in my earlier reply about keeping the thread on topic because I didn't want it to devolve into a "don't do it" or "do you have any idea what you are getting yourself into" type of thread. I wanted to keep it constructive basically.

I will not be doing my own bread. It's just simply too much of an investment in both time and equipment to validate doing it. Not to mention space, as I will likely have to be very flexible in what size/type of space I can set up in. I also think ultimately that paying someone to bake my bread (I can make decent bread but I'm not a baker) as well as buying the equipment (and eating the depreciation) needed to do so would ultimately add to my prices, which I would like to keep down. In an ideal world I would love to have control over every aspect of production, but I would rather control things like making my own corned beef, roast beef, turkey, sauces, relishes, etc. than bread.

In my head I have things like meatloaf sandwiches, reubans, hot roast beef, chicken sandwiches, pork belly "BLTs" and such. Cold roast beef, turkey, etc. as well.

The city I'm looking at isn't in Texas...my profile says I am from Texas but I now live in Boston (maybe I should change it).

Thanks for the great replies everyone keep them coming...I'm getting a lot of cool ideas and things I haven't thought about.

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Wow, thanks so much for all the great replies guys and gals--lots of cool information as well as food for thought. I don't mind that the thread has taken a few turns--I never thought there would be this many replies. I only got a little "testy" in my earlier reply about keeping the thread on topic because I didn't want it to devolve into a "don't do it" or "do you have any idea what you are getting yourself into" type of thread. I wanted to keep it constructive basically.

I will not be doing my own bread. It's just simply too much of an investment in both time and equipment to validate doing it. Not to mention space, as I will likely have to be very flexible in what size/type of space I can set up in. I also think ultimately that paying someone to bake my bread (I can make decent bread but I'm not a baker) as well as buying the equipment (and eating the depreciation) needed to do so would ultimately add to my prices, which I would like to keep down. In an ideal world I would love to have control over every aspect of production, but I would rather control things like making my own corned beef, roast beef, turkey, sauces, relishes, etc. than bread.

In my head I have things like meatloaf sandwiches, reubans, hot roast beef, chicken sandwiches, pork belly "BLTs" and such. Cold roast beef, turkey, etc. as well.

The city I'm looking at isn't in Texas...my profile says I am from Texas but I now live in Boston (maybe I should change it).

Thanks for the great replies everyone keep them coming...I'm getting a lot of cool ideas and things I haven't thought about.

I would definitely add a vegetarian options, even the more unrepentant carnivore can have vegetarian friends :wink:

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Agree...some nice panini-type things with grilled veg/mozz/pesto and maybe a mediterranean style with hommous/veg. Not a fan of fake meat, good veggie sandwiches can be very satisfying.


"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast" - Oscar Wilde

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In my head I have things like meatloaf sandwiches, reubans, hot roast beef, chicken sandwiches, pork belly "BLTs" and such. Cold roast beef, turkey, etc. as well.

I would definitely add a vegetarian options, even the more unrepentant carnivore can have vegetarian friends :wink:

And please, something besides the typical grilled veggie panini that almost every other place offers. Boooooring. Especially when the meat sandwiches are so richly layered and well-thought out, it's such a cop-out. Whatever you're thinking for the meat, do something similar but with veggies (and cheeses and seafood, for many of us).

Think tapenades and pestos and relishes. Think unique combinations of cheeses. How about a vegetable paté? Humous?

One of my favourite sandwiches from years ago had thinly sliced green apple, swiss cheese, cream cheese and (I think) caraway seeds. A really nice wrap I had recently had shrimp, rice, spinach, tomatoes & goat cheese. Fabulous combination.

If you're buying your bread from a local bakery, think of some unique breads, like an olive loaf or potato bread.

I don't expect you to focus on vegetarians, but I also believe it's important to have a few options available to us. I think you might be surprised at how many of us are out there. And if the sandwiches (and soups) are well-designed and tasty, we won't be the only ones ordering them.

There's a soup place up the street from me that always has 6 different soups available on any given day – one or two of which are always vegetarian. And invariably the vegetarian options sell out first (which is not surprising in this neighbourhood). They've been doing this for years and yet I often have to walk out because they've sold out of the one soup on the menu that I can eat. When one product is consistently selling out before the others, why is this not a cue to them to offer more vegetarian options?


Edited by emmalish (log)

I'm gonna go bake something…

wanna come with?

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There's a newish place in our area that is part of a small (but rapidly growing) regional "chain". Though it's not a sandwich shop, sandwiches/soup/salad are a big part of their business. They also do pizza/calzones and burgers.

I don't care for the atmosphere of the place, but keep going back because they have great salads (house-made dressings, chicken fresh-cooked each morning, really nice greens that didn't come out of a bag) and wonderful house-made soups. It doesn't cost any more to eat there than at the big chain place across the street.

They are doing something right... the place has been packed every time I've been there. Some evenings, they have an hour wait!

Oh, and one of their "appetizer" items is a bucket of boiled peanuts!

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I think this is actually my first time posting on here :)

As I was reading your post I immediately thought of two sandwich places in the city (NYC that is) that are what I feel of the ideal sandwich places. The two places are called Alidoro and Abbondanza.

They both follow an italian/tuscan theme of ingredients. We're talking fresh mozzarella, a large variety of artisanal quality cheeses, salumis, viniagrettes and mayos. Abbondanza has it's own huge wood burning oven to get your sandwiches and toppings nice and toasty, and both have a very inviting, homey, quaint setting (Abbondanza has warm, exposed-brick walls, Alidoro looks like the living room of what I would imagine it would look like in a house decorated by an Italian grandmother.)

The prices are definitely a bit higher then what one would expect from a sandwich shop (but then again in NYC a sandwich in a deli could come up to $6 or so) but the quality of ingredients brings it over the top. And every time i've had a sandwich at Alidoro i've actually never been able to finish the whole sandwich in one seating. So i saw it as a sandwich that could be eaten for two separate meals. Abbondanza offers a large variety of toppings that include spans from amazing marinated mushrooms, to amazing mayos and pestos.

Both places, every time I've visited them have been packed (I try to go a little after lunch to avoid the lunch time rush) and the staff has always been very welcoming, very helpful and have just made me feel like I'm more then just a customer to them.

I feel that being able to balance good-quality food, value (Especially during these times), and customer service is the ultimate trifecta to having a good place that will flourish for years. People will travel out of there way for a place that is able to balance all three of these together. Even if a place is out of my way, I will walk those extra blocks, take that extra train, just so I can have a good meal. Even if there are new places popping up, it's discouraging when you go somewhere new and are letdown, the places that balance these three, are the places that stick in the mind of customers, and that customers will go to because it's a sure thing. They know they will get everything they are seeking, with no disappointment.

Even if where you are opening up your place isn't packed of foodies... you don't have to be a foodie to enjoy delicious food, for good prices, and welcoming customer service...

I wish you so much luck :) and hopefully we'll here more about you and this venture

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I've not been brave enough to open a restaurant, but when I was entertaining the thought more seriously, I stumbled onto a very good book called Guest-Based Marketing.

It's really about getting your shop's message coherent and using subtle-to-obvious tactics to push that message into the minds of every person who walks into your shop, and do so in a way that gets your customers to spread that message for you. The tactics are very, very frugal.

His point, more or less, is that you can do this for almost any category of restaurant business, by playing up your strengths in your messaging. Even things like portion sizes... emphasizing big portions works for some places, but you can sell quality ingredients in portion sizes that won't require you to have a cardiologist on speed dial. Emphasizing speed works in some places, but personalization/customization works in others. It also discusses tricks like giving an occasional meal away for free "at random" but obvious enough that other customers are going to notice, preferably always on your slowest day of the week, training people that their chances are better on Monday and Tuesday...

The menu and waitstaff behaviors can emphasize your key messages without being annoying. Fresher ingredients, artisan ingredients, crazy combinations that work, thematic consistency, etc.

One tiny hamburger spot in Ballard, Seattle called Lunchbox Laboratory, run by eGulleteer Chefturnedbum (or whatever he goes by now) uses idiosyncratic decor and some unusual combinations as "daily specials", with extreme customization and nowhere-else-ingredients on another chalkboard, and customers do most of the marketing for him, explaining the entire complex system of ordering to new customers before they even walk in the front door. They seeded that by messaging it to the first few people to walk in the door, but probably only have to do their messaging to a small percentage of current customers.


Jason Truesdell

Blog: Pursuing My Passions

Take me to your ryokan, please

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I am not a vegetarian, but agree with offering a vegetarian choice. People wanting a more healthful choice will gravitate to this, not just the vegetarians. A nearby restaurant offers a smoked tofu sandwich- at least they are trying to offer something a little different.

Emphasizing any local aspects of your menu could be a valuable marketing tool. That seems to be a hot trend now. Are there any farms nearby you could buy from and advertise that fact. Maybe get them to grow specific items just for you. What about your meat-is it local? The 100 mile diet is something you could think about too.


Cheese - milk's leap toward immortality. Clifton Fadiman

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The city I'm looking at isn't in Texas...my profile says I am from Texas but I now live in Boston (maybe I should change it).

The good news is that there is decent sandwich bread in this area so you shouldn't have a problem setting up a relationship with a wholesaler.

Have you been to Hi-Rise? They have great sandwiches with a variety of interesting toppings and fresh bread. I'd go more often if their service was a bit friendlier and their prices a bit cheaper (I'm a student with a tiny budget). I have gone a handful of times and the place has always been packed. I happily come in for one of your meatloaf sandwiches.

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As much as I hate to admit it, I do find myself hankering for a Wegman's sub from time to time. In fact, I just had one last week. Even though it had been probably two years since my last one, something about that sub stuck in the recesses of my mind - and that is their bread. It's delicious. I don't know who supplies their meats but the bread is what makes it a standout.

That said, I run a small espresso bar in Suburban Baltimore. We've been selling sandwiches as a complimentary item to our menu for two and a half years. About four years ago, we tried making sandwiches in-house and went ahead purchasing equipment and setting up contracts with local vendors to supply the inventory. What we discovered is that we really weren't a sandwich shop - it just wasn't our focus. This time around, we contracted our sandwiches out to a local gourmet grocery with a great reputation for quality foods. It's been a win-win combination for us.

I think much of the thoughts shared here have been great. Consider them thoughtfully as you plan your business.

Since you're two to three years away from a planned opening, I strongly suggest that you take the first year and go to work for someone else. Work at local independent sandwich shop with a great reputation for service and quality. Even working at places like Subway and Quizno's will be of great service to you later.

A quality independent shop will help you learn and define your notions of quality and standards. The national chains will help you understand flow, design and systems - it's what they excel at doing. Work part time and combine the lessons of those experiences towards your concept and brand (ugh, such buzzwords!).

I'm one of those who had to learn the hard way - and I don't recommend it. Learn your mistakes on someone else's dollar. It's cheaper.

It helps if you can find a mentor in the sandwich business to help guide you. I was lucky enough to find one when I got into the coffee business and it's been a tremendous relationship.

Best of luck!

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For a couple of years I've been working at an independent deli / "sandwich shop" in a town of 30,000 in suburban NJ. (I'm the delivery guy, so I'm not there hands-on with the food, but as a retired systems analyst I'm pretty observant.) I'll try to give you some insights based on that experience + some others as a customer.

First, a question: are you planning a sit-down cafe type of place, or strictly takeaway? I ask because the place where I work is strictly takeaway. It's been something of a revelation to me that such a place can survive without offering an in-store place to eat; I wouldn't have thought it possible before seeing the operation from the inside.

The place has been in business for 25 years. It was started by two Italian immigrants, who largely did things the way they did in the Old Country, so it's always had that authentic-Italian cachet going for it. They sold the business last year & the shop has undergone some changes under the new owners, but at the core it's still the same operation with the same food prepared by the same people. They still pull a mixture of the ultra-rich folks in town who are looking for the "real Italian" stuff as they perceive it, & the blue-collar guys with big appetities who are looking for a good, reasonably priced lunch.

The sandwiches: made to order, cold cuts & cheese sliced directly onto your sandwich, toppings & dressings added to your specifications. The shop's in-store marinated roasted peppers & hot peppers are some of the key attractions.

The breads & rolls are baked overnight at a bakery in a nearby town & delivered to the shop every morning. The guys arrive at the shop early to make a fresh batch of mozz every morning - another key item which makes the shop a foodie destination as well as a handy place for the locals.

There's also a rotating selection of standard hot Italian sandwiches, prepared with sausages & meatballs that are made right in the store's back kitchen. Soups in winter. There's a small grill in the kitchen for grilling chicken breasts for sandwiches & salads, which form a substantial portion of the shop's daily trade.

That's the picture. The shop was doing better business a decade ago according to the original owners, & things began to slow down years before the current recession/depression due to increased competition in town. But the place survives. As does the Quiznos down the street, & the newer Italian deli 3 blocks away that offers an experience similar to what you get in the shop where I work.

What makes our sandwiches great? To me, it's the freshness, the quality of the mozz & the roasted peppers, the imported prosciutto, the store-roasted pork & beef.

On a different note - my SO & I travel to Maine several times every year a/c family & vacation, & as customers we've come to know 2 favorite places up there, in the towns of Augusta & Bath. They bill themselves as cafes rather than "sandwich shops," but we go there for their sandwiches. Both are located in downtown business districts; the district in Augusta has been struggling for years, while Bath's is in better shape, in part because they're on the summertime tourist trail up Route 1. Both shops seem to thrive & have been around for well over a decade.

I think that they draw most of their business from local folks who work in the area. We like them & keep going back because everything they offer is of good-to-high quality, particularly the breads, & made with a distinctive touch.

I'm mentioning these places because it occurs to me that they all offer something else that's great, in addition to their sandwiches, to attract a different bloc of customers. In Augusta, it's great, freshly roasted coffee & pastries for a quick breakfast or snack; in Bath, it's a full breakfast menu; at the shop where I work, it's the store-made fresh pasta & the full stock of imported Italian goods.

My take is that it's difficult to keep an independent business thriving on sandwiches alone, unless your demographics & location happen to be exactly right, & it looks like most such places have to develop a second specialty that will pull folks in at times other than the lunch hours.


Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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I'd pay $50 for a proper Italian meat ball sandwich right now. I grew up in an area that had several competing shops that made the real stuff. The family home is now gone and it's possessions arrived today.

We now live in a teeny town, well actually 3 miles out of a town of 160. The restaurant business has been pretty bleak around here, with one notable exception. There is a tavern/pub in a nearby town of 26 and they have Saturdays where they get 200-250 covers. Their signature dish is a 1 1/4# burger for $6.50. I've actually never even seen one but the free publicity is one of the keys to marketing. Your idea has multiple markets and advertising to them can get pretty expensive so the word of mouth thing may be key.

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So many sandwich places these days forget the importance of a really good pickle. Indeed, many don't even give you a pickle any more unless you ask.

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

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Thanks again for all the advice guys. I'm still kind of working out in my head how I want this to go. I might do something along the lines of soups, sandwiches, salads for lunch, then go into a more traditional dinner service. We'll see. Obviously, a lot of things are up in the air right now and I've gotten a lot of good advice and feedback from this thread, as well as a lot of things to think about or I haven't considered thus far.

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For the past couple of years I've been toying around with a sandwich shop/cafe concept, so I'm really enjoying this thread. I think I'm finally convinced that, while I may be a pretty good baker, I have no business baking my own bread.

@Qwerty:

What sort of dessert options do you have in mind? Pie, cake, cupcakes?

Also, have you considered curing fish?

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