Whether you call ’em subs, grinders, heroes or hoagies, sandwiches are a no-brainer on pizzeria menus. After all, they’re quite similar to pizzas—utilizing a bread base that allows for endless variety and customization—and customers love them for their portability and affordability. According to Rosemont, Illinois-based US Foods, United States residents eat an estimated 300 million sandwiches every day—on average, about one per day for every American—and sandwiches are menued more frequently in restaurants than any other type of entree. Don’t hesitate to make the most of this popular item by tapping time-tested recipes and giving your creativity free rein.
Artisan bread and piled-high premium fillings help create standout sandwiches for hungry patrons.
When crafting a quality sandwich, start at the bottom (and top). Artisan breads are on the rise as customers crave upscale varieties with a flavorful twist. You shouldn’t overlook the classics (white and wheat remain perennially popular), but a few specialty breads can help make your sandwiches stand out.
America’s largest sandwich slingers understand that options are crucial for today’s customers. At Togo’s Eateries, a 250-location chain based in San Jose, California, artisan breads include Parmesan Cheese, San Francisco-Style Sourdough and 100% Honey Whole Wheat. Dallas-based Which Wich, meanwhile, appeals to health-conscious customers with the option to “skinny your wich” by scooping out the insides of the bread. Schlotzky’s Deli mixes up its menu with Dark Rye and Jalapeno Cheese buns, while Subway multipurposes its flatbreads for sandwiches and flatbread-style pizzas.
Whenever possible, pizzeria operators should allow customers to select their own breads, though they’ll also appreciate if you supply a “suggested bread” for each sandwich. In recent years, pretzel breads, Italian favorites such as ciabatta and focaccia, multigrain blends, and herb- or flavor-infused breads have gained in popularity, but even breakfast staples like croissants and bagels can be a great choice. Ron Eyester, chef/owner at Timone’s Pizza and Deli (timonespizzaatlanta.com) in Atlanta, notes that some of his most popular sandwiches are offered on homemade bagels, made fresh every morning.
However, if bread making requires too much of a time commitment, you can also partner with a trusted local brand. Gene Mongan, owner-operator (with partner Kurt Raepple) of John’s Pizza and Subs (johnspizzaandsubs.com), with four locations in New York, offers its submarine sandwiches on Italian rolls made by a local bakery, Costanzo’s Bakery, which has built a reputation in the area since 1933. “This third-generation, family-owned bakery bakes the best submarine rolls in the world,” says Mongan, who offers subs on its Wheat Roll, Sesame Roll and White Roll in 12”, 8” and 6” sizes. Local bakeries might even provide cross-promotional benefits, with which you can promote each other and share client pools.
—Todd Peterson, Togo’s Eateries
An Inside Job
Once you have a great bread base, the fun part begins: What’s going inside? Ideally, you can cross-utilize a lot of your pizzeria toppings to create delicious subs while stocking a few ingredients that are unique to your sandwiches or salads. In-house ingredients, from pickled onions to specialty condiments, can help differentiate your pizzeria. The most popular sandwich component at Timone’s is its corned beef, crafted over a two-week span. According to Eyester, the corned beef embodies Timone’s sandwich philosophy, which he describes as “a return to tradition, with top ingredients from local purveyors and chef-driven sandwiches. One of our most unique sandwiches is the Meatloaf Sandwich, with Tillamook cheddar, crispy onions and steak sauce from our sister restaurant, Rosebud, all served on a kaiser roll. But, hands down, the most popular sandwich is the Reuben: our housemade corned beef, Swiss, sauerkraut and Russian dressing on rye.” To keep its sandwiches interesting, the pizzeria also takes inspiration from customers’ feedback and sourcing unique local ingredients and produce.
Intuiting locals’ taste buds has also been a driving force behind John’s Pizza & Sub sandwiches. “We’ve been in business since 1982 and are famous for a popular combination in the Buffalo market—blue cheese and hot sauce—that we combined in the early ’80s for the Chicken Finger Sub,” explains Mongan. The combo, he adds, has been duplicated by nearly every pizzeria in its market and by restaurants hours away; even McDonald’s locations in the area sell a chicken sandwich with hot sauce and blue cheese. “When we began selling it, people would laugh and ask, ‘What the heck is a Chicken Finger Sub?’” he recalls. “Since then, we’ve sold millions of these at our four locations in the northern suburbs of Buffalo.”
Offering sandwiches bundled with drinks and sides appeals to families who seek value meals.
The Little Details
When you find a signature-sub winner, don’t be afraid to experiment by adding a new twist. On the heels of its Chicken Finger Sub success, John’s gained similar traction with an oversized spinoff called the Stinger, boasting almost ¾ lb. of chicken fingers and grilled rib eye steak on a roll with the signature flavors of Buffalo, blue cheese and hot sauce.
You can also score winning subs through unique details. Togo’s elevates tried-and-true meats—think pastrami, ham, turkey and roast beef—with flavor-boosting ingredients, including signature sauces (BBQ Chipotle Mayo) and texture-boosting add-ons (chile-lime tortilla strips). “You won’t fail or succeed until you try something new,” says Todd Peterson, senior vice president of franchise development for Togo’s. “New ideas, combinations and flavors allow you to find something fresh, new and delicious.”
Finally, don’t forget that cheeses can easily stimulate your sandwich selection. Amp up flavor with smoked Gouda, feta or Brie. Try an Italian-themed “grown-up” grilled cheese with Parmesan, Asiago, mascarpone or fresh mozzarella, served with your signature marinara. Balance tangy Gorgonzola with sweet ingredients (apple, grape, peppadew peppers or dried cranberry), or pair pepper jack with spicier meats for Mexican-inspired sammies. Play with flavor and texture for a sandwich experience that goes beyond the ordinary!
Some fad diets come and go, while a few look like they may be here to stay. Why not use them for sandwich inspiration?
1. Gluten-Free—Accommodate gluten-free guests by purchasing premade gluten-free breads for your sandwiches. Example: Cottage Inn (cottageinn.com), with 40-plus stores in Michigan and Ohio, offers the gluten-free Italian sandwich, with ham, salami, provolone, hot pepper rings, red onion, lettuce, tomato and mustard sauce.
2. Paleo—Paleo dieters may crave a breadless option, but “paleo breads” are gaining in popularity. Use other ingredients (slices of tomato or portobello mushrooms, lettuce wraps or meat patties) in place of a bun, or offer a bunless option for any of your sandwiches. Example: So Natural Organic Restaurant & Market (sonaturalmarket.com) in Harker Heights, Texas, offers its sandwiches on traditional, gluten-free or Paleo Bread.
3. Meat-Free—For vegetarians and vegans, move beyond the basic fixings on a bun. Add flavor and depth with meat alternatives, local veggies, vegan cheeses and inventive sauces. Example: Hillside Pizza (hillsidepizza.com), with three locations in Massachusetts, offers the Stupendous Seitan, with seitan, onions, peppers, cheddar and sundried tomato pesto.
4. Low-carb—Low-carb devotees appreciate the option of making any sandwich into a wrap for less of the white stuff without sacrificing flavor. Try flavored tortillas, pitas or lavash for an ethnic touch. Example: Wild Olive Pizzeria (wildolivepizzaspringfield.com) in Springfield, Massachusetts, offers white, wheat and low-carb wraps, including the Spicy Tuna, with white albacore tuna, bacon, banana peppers, roasted red peppers and provolone cheese.