My QuickPicks
Register now to activate

Contents At A Glance

R&IEditorial Archives2004 — May 1 — Food

Every 'Wich Way
Any way you stack, wrap, press or pack them, sandwiches are more sophisticated and substantial than ever before.

Schlotzsky's Deli offers low-carb tortilla wraps for any of its sandwiches (top). Killer Bleu Turkey (middle) is one of Rising Roll Sandwich Co.'s 70 hot and cold sandwiches. BLT Steak's signature $15 BLT (above) features seared foie gras and apple-smoked bacon.

When the Earl of Sandwich stuck roast beef between two slices of bread during a high-stakes card game, the last thing on his mind was changing the course of culinary history. But that’s what happened: The famished nobleman’s late-night fix spawned a formula that, 240 years later, cures food cravings the world over.

According to Reed Research Group/R&I Menu Census data, 79% of all operations offer sandwiches. Additional studies confirm their cachet: Of all new foodservice dollars generated during the past three years, says Chicago-based consulting firm Technomic, about 40% stems from sandwiches. In 2003, Americans spent approximately $105 billion on sandwiches (up from $94 billion in 2000), with a quarter of the gains going to sandwich-centric chains such as growth leaders Denver-based Quiznos Sub and Richmond Heights, Mo.-based Panera Bread.

It’s little wonder, then, that a descendant of the snack-savvy Earl would angle for a slice of sandwich sales. On March 2, Lord John Montagu opened a quick-service sandwich shop in Orlando, Fla.’s Downtown Disney and named it for the title he now holds—Earl of Sandwich.

The unflagging success of sandwiches has everything to do with their customizable charm and convenience. Open-faced or closed, classic or ethnic, hot or cold, they appeal to all appetites, at any time, in any season. Sandwiches mirror America’s evolving tastes, from the Victorian era’s dainty tea sandwiches to healthful hippie pitas to today’s post-modern paninis.

“Customers look for adventurous flavors,” says Paul Seidman, vice president of food and beverage and product development for Cosí, the New York City-based quick-service chain that has dabbled in Japanese, Caribbean and Latin flavors. The company’s most recent limited-time offer, roast beef with wasabi mayo, pickled ginger and sesame soy, proves his point: The bold new option snagged 8% of all sandwich sales during its run.

Holly Smith, spokesperson for Sky Ranch Grill, a retail brand of Gaithersburg, Md.-based Sodexho USA with units in 23 university dining halls, says flavor globalization has paved the way for regional sandwiches. Sky Ranch’s coleslaw-topped Carolina Barbecue Chicken Sandwich is a perfect example: cool, creamy crunch atop warm marinated chicken on a potato roll makes a popular sandwich, whether menued in South Carolina or Northern California.

These increasingly worldly appetites provide opportunities to boost check averages with new, high-quality incentives. Austin, Texas-based Schlotzsky’s Deli recently replaced regular bacon with a premium apple-smoked variety and iceberg lettuce with romaine. The chain’s new hot panini line capitalizes on prosciutto, black-olive tapenade and artisanal breads.

“Ham and cheese may have been a staple years ago,” says Director of Marketing Lou Mabley, “but now customers look for Gruyre and other cheeses.”

Fortunately, these distinctive flavors stretch far. “I don’t have to put seven or eight slices of cheese on a sandwich” says Alex Adorno, owner of New York City’s Say Cheese!, a quick-casual cafe that offers as many as 15 cheese varieties. A slice of sharp Cheddar matched with sautéed chicken breast, onion, pesto and garlic, “delivers extreme flavor with every bite.”

Upper crust

D'Angelo Sandwich Shops' Steak Tips sandwich (top) successfully adapts center-of-the-plate flavors. At A Southern Season, panini are baked in batches and sliced to order (above).

Sandwiches also are darlings of fine-dining menus. “They’ve evolved in this country more than they have anywhere else,” says Chef Laurent Tourondel, whose signature sandwich—pressed BLT made with seared foie gras, oven-roasted tomatoes, apple-smoked bacon, arugula and mayonnaise—brings indulgent whim to his new Manhattan restaurant, BLT Steak. At $15, it’s equally popular in the dining room and at the wine bar’s communal table.

Other high-end restaurants have spawned sandwich-oriented sequels. Alice Waters of Chez Panisse does brisk lunch business with Café Fanny, a sandwich shop/wine bar in Berkeley, Calif. Last May, Chef Tom Colicchio’s Craft and Craftbar begat ´wichcraft, a cheery sandwich counter in New York City.

“Sandwiches are not second-class citizens,” says ´wichcraft Chef Sisha Ortuzar. “We give them the same respect as any other dish.” That means haute combinations—such as roasted pork loin with fontina cheese, cured coppa and pepper relish on grilled country bread—and a menu price around $9.

At Tamayo, an upscale Mexican restaurant in Denver, Chef-owner Richard Sandoval finds sandwich inspiration in his successful entrées. He serves grilled strip steak with black-bean purée and guacamole on tomato ciabatta. “It sells very well because customers get the same flavors, balances and textures as with the entrée,” he says. “But they’re in and out, the price point is lower, and they’re sitting in a nice restaurant."

Lew Shaye, senior vice president of brand and product development for Dedham, Mass.-based D’Angelo Sandwich Shops, says he “often looks at menus from the casual- and fine-dining segments, and tries to adapt successful center-of-the-plate flavors to a sandwich.”

An example is D’Angelo’s new Steak Tips sandwich, made with marinated sirloin, caramelized onions, steak sauce, lettuce and tomato. Grilled to order, it lends an air of sophistication—and a higher price—to the menu, which helps bolster both the core lunch and secondary dinner dayparts. Other high-end offerings such as a lobster sandwich (soon to be offered in a double-stuffed version) further this effect, he adds.

While substantive stuffings geared toward dinner are on the rise, so too are casual sandwiches offering around-the-clock comfort.

“Breakfast sandwiches have become so popular we’ve put them on noon and evening menus,” says Mary Molt, assistant director of housing and dining services at Kansas State University in Manhattan, which serves 3,800 students daily. And sweet sandwiches—such as the $5 chocolate-hazelnut panini at ’ino in New York City—are big sellers at brunch, between meals, and with a glass of moscato for dessert.

Creative loafing

In New York City, Crestanello Grand Café Italiano's breakfast includes scrambled eggs and Parma prosciutto on croissant for $4.

In addition to improved fillings, operators are moving up the sandwich chain with bolder-flavored, diet-savvy and inventive breads. Huntington Station, N.Y.-based Whitsons Food Service, a regional contractor, uses grilled pizza dough at its Great American Sandwich Company concept. Brushed with flavored olive oil and draped with fresh herbs, the char-marked, grilled flatbreads “have high perceived value,” says Owner Michael Whitcomb. “A wrap sandwich looks much better, and only costs the customer 50 cents more.”

While many operators bake their own breads, others establish relationships with local artisanal bakers. Chef Stephen Woods at Cucina & Co. in New York City, a cafe/retail outlet managed by Charlotte, N.C.-based Compass Group North America’s Restaurant Associates, works with six bakeries to establish his sandwiches’ flavor profiles. Whether Janet’s Low-Carb bread (used for pressed tramezzini) or Balthazar’s ciabatta filled with prosciutto and mozzarella, these breads’ tastes and textures are strong selling points.

Despite delicious diversity, however, it’s been a bad year for carbohydrates, and some customers pay extra to avoid them, says Richard Arakelian, national executive chef and senior director of culinary of Sodexho’s Corporate Services Division. The company’s “Your Health, Your Way” program, which launched in March to address customers’ diet concerns, includes ginger-chicken wraps that use lettuce leaves rather than bread. “Customers don’t think we’re taking something away—we’re adding value,” he says.

Made to order
As with any menu item, smart merchandising can dramatically boost sandwich sales. In Chapel Hill, N.C., A Southern Season has always sold sandwiches in its The Weathervane cafe/retail store. When the company moved to a larger location last September, owners installed an 8-foot sandwich station flanked by a brick oven where sandwich makers interact with customers.

“I’m not exaggerating: sandwich sales are up 10 times,” says Sam Poley, former Weathervane executive chef. “We still sell grab-and-go, but now 85% of our sandwiches are made to order.”

Sandwich Stats
According to Reed Research Group/R&I Menu Census, the cheeseburger comprises the highest "on the menu" percentage, at 70%, and the highest sales strength.
  • The most-menued sandwich in fine dining is the chicken sandwich.
  • 14% of all operations offer some sort of wrap.

The operation’s open sandwich kitchen also encourages ordering among customers who might otherwise be intimidated by unfamiliar ingredients. Poley says chicken liver lends depth to The Weathervane’s sandwich of corned beef, pastrami and Swiss cheese on rye. Customers may not order liver on their own, but if it’s paired in a sandwich, “Hey, why not?” he says.

At Anadarko Petroleum in The Woodlands, Texas, Ben Wharton (executive chef of the Bon Appétit Management Co. account) uses a sandwich station to showcase offerings such as bahn mi, Vietnamese pulled-pork sandwiches on toasted baguettes with fresh cilantro and pickled vegetables. “Sampling also builds their confidence to buy,” he adds, noting an estimated 15% increase in sandwich sales since implementing the station last year.

In the front of the house or behind the scenes, well-organized prep lines and knowledgeable employees capable of composing consistent signature sandwiches are operational imperatives, says Jeff Weiss, co-owner of Atlanta’s two Rising Roll Sandwich Co. locations, which combined sell 600 sandwiches during an average lunch rush.

“Nothing takes longer than two minutes to make,” he says, referring to his 70 hot and cold sandwich varieties.

Though convenience is key, speed alone does not make a sandwich. Its ability to quell personalized cravings is its greatest strength, suggests Mary Spicer, director of food, nutrition and conference services at Presbyterian Hospital of Plano, Texas. She menus combinations, but her dining room and in-room guests are more likely to order wraps and sandwiches filled to their specifications.

“Being able to have what they want, when they want it, is worth the wait,” she says.

  • Santa Fe Wrap
  • Pepitas Torta (Steak Sandwich)

Spread 'em

Condiments give sandwiches their personality and set the tone that other ingredients follow. Co-owner Nancy Silverton of Campanile in Los Angeles, who orchestrates popular sandwich nights, calls condiments and dressings “supporting actors in the cast of fillings that make the star ingredients taste even better.”

She dedicates an entire chapter of “Nancy Silverton’s Sandwich Book,” (Knopf, 2002) to aioli, anchoiade, rémoulade, rouille, salsa romesco and tapenade. Here’s what other slather-happy chefs have to say about them.

  • Mix and Match: Alex Adorno of New York City’s Say Cheese! mixes and matches house-made spreads. Pesto pairs with garlic mayo on his Roma sandwiches, and sweet-sour balsamic vinaigrette plays double duty on sandwich and salads.
  • Extra Pickles: Pickles add tang and texture, and nowadays, they’re moving beyond bread-and-butters. At Anadarko Petroleum in The Woodlands, Texas, Ben Wharton’s house-made pickled carrots and daikon in sweet rice-wine vinegar, designed to lend acidic edge to bahn mi, are so popular customers ask for them on the deli line.
  • On the Side: When preparing grab-and-go sandwiches immediately before service, Stephen Woods of New York City’s Cucina & Co. puts spreads on the side of half of them.
  • Seasonal Shift: “It may seem hoity-toity, but we don’t serve fresh tomatoes when they’re not in season,” says Sisha Ortuzar at New York City’s ´wichcraft. Instead, he oven roasts tomatoes to deepen their sweetness.

Hooked on classics

Regional and traditional sandwiches have become launch pads for experimentation, at once feeding tastes for the new and the nostalgic. Here’s how operators around the country are reinventing customer favorites.

Egg salad sandwich with tarragon and lemon zest on house-made brioche toast
Bin 36, Chicago

Croque monsieur with rufumo cheese, red onions and pommes frites
Blackbird, Chicago

Oven-toasted roast beef dip sandwich, with sliced and stacked sirloin, caramelized onions, white Cheddar cheese and mayonnaise on baguette, with beef jus
Boston Market’s Rotisserie Grill, multiple locations

Muffuletta with ham, salami, provolone, olives, pimiento, garlic and olive oil on kaiser roll
Bullfrog Brewery, Williamsport, Pa.

Portobello cheesesteak with grilled red onions, sweet peppers and provolone
Continental, Philadelphia

Blackened Chicken Po’ Boy With Citrus Marmalade and Mayo
Maxie’s, Ithaca, N.Y.

Duck Sloppy Joes with chipotle, sweet onions and pickles
Pó, New York City

Pressed for success

Though “panini” is a buzzword in today’s sandwich operations, these pressed sandwiches aren’t widely menued. Operators who haven’t jumped on the bandwagon cite equipment costs and operational difficulties as culprits.

Sam Poley of A Southern Season is a panini preacher without a press of his own. He lightly brushes ingredient-stuffed Italian loaves with mayo, wraps them in foil, and lays them between two preheated cast-iron griddles in a 400F oven, which applies sufficient heat and pressure to create gorgeous, gooey sandwiches.

Instead of preparing them la minute, he bakes them off in batches, holds them in a showcase warmer, and slices off sections as customers walk up. “It’s an excellent food- management tool,” he says of the panini, which fetch $8.99 a pound. “I can use things that might code out that day.”

Dana Bowen is a New York City-based freelance writer.

You may also like...
Big Cheese
- August 1, 2005
Hot Spots: The Sweetest Thing
- June 1, 2004
Cold Comforts
- May 15, 2004
Shake It Up
- March 15, 2004
Reigning Sweets
- November 15, 2003
The Difference Maker
- July 1, 2003
Taking the Cake Walk
- June 15, 2003
Cultural Revolution
- February 15, 2003
Off-White Sales
- February 1, 2002
Cheese Stands Alone
- June 1, 2001
Copyright© 1999-2006 Reed Business Information, a division of
The Reed Business logo, Restaurants & Institutions, R&I, Chain Leader, Foodservice Equipment & Supplies and FE&S are registered trademarks. All rights reserved.
Use of this web site is subject to its Terms and Conditions of Use. View our Privacy Policy. .