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Saturday, October 25, 2014 | Last updated: 3:06pm

Potbelly promises to make every customer feel at home



Few sandwich shops have a picture of the lovable Don Knotts hanging in their lobbies, but the mission at the Potbelly Sandwich Shop is to make every customer feel like they’re at home.

Located underneath the cluttered collection of student apartments on Speedway Boulevard and Park Avenue, Potbelly has carved out a cozy little niche for its toasty sandwiches and antique aesthetics.

“We want to be more than your standard sandwich shop,” said Sergio Sierra, a shift manager at the new Potbelly location. With Subway and Silver Mine Subs operating within close proximity to Potbelly, the lunch hour can be an all-out war for luring the UA sandwich-eating demographic. However, Sierra said he’s not worried about the competition.

As soon as patrons walk through the door, they’re greeted with smiling faces from the Potbelly crew and will notice a massive, 19th-century iron stove sitting in the main entrance. This stove is the hallmark of the franchise, and is meant to symbolize the homey atmosphere that is reminiscent of the original Potbelly store that opened in Chicago back in 1977.

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By Rebecca Marie Sasnett / The Daily Wildcat
Potbelly Sandwich Shop's best selling sandwich is called "A Wreck" and includes roast beef, salami, turkey, ham and cheese. Potbelly also offers secret "underground" menu items with sandwich names like "The Elvis" and "Fireball."

What began as a small antique shop making sub sandwiches as a marketing strategy to draw in more customers has now expanded into over 280 eateries nationwide. This is the ninth Potbelly store to open in Arizona.

The menu consists of all the resident staples of any sandwich shop. Turkey, ham and roast beef are all deli meats listed in their various sandwiches, but Potbelly makes the added promise of serving only hand-sliced, made-to-order sandwiches in less than eight minutes.

Sierra said that the most popular sandwich with UA students is the grilled chicken and cheddar. Students looking for a bigger protein boost should try the store’s trademarked “A Wreck” sandwich, which includes salami, turkey, ham and roast beef all being piled together inside perfectly cooked bread.

Seasoned customers of the Potbelly stores will be familiar with the semi-secret “underground” menu, which is comprised of special items not listed on the regular menu. These items are a bit more daring, as they are typically concoctions of random ingredients thrown together in the Potbelly kitchen.

“As long as we have the ingredients,” Sierra said, “then we’ll make it for them.”
One such underground item is a sandwich nicknamed “The Elvis,” and consists of bacon, peanut butter and hot peppers.

As customers mosey along the front counter of the store, they will notice jars of Skippy Peanut Butter, Welch’s Jelly and Hershey’s chocolate syrup proudly on display. Transparency is another factor in the Potbelly manifesto, as customers are made to feel like they’re walking into their parents’ pantries from home.

These sweet condiments can be used upon request in one of the store’s delicious milkshakes, which are made from one of four ice cream flavors: vanilla, chocolate, coffee or Oreo cookie.

Guests looking for something extra sweet can try an ice cream sandwich made with two of the store’s homemade cookies, which are baked every morning in the store’s kitchen. Their cookie flavors range from the classic chocolate chip to the more decadent brownie fudge.

When Potbelly first opened its doors earlier this month, the store made a promise to donate the revenue earned from its first three hours of operation to the Arizona Assurance Endowment, a scholarship fund given to low-income students. A check for $2,227 now hangs above the counter in recognition to this charity given to the UA community.

“I wanted to pick a charity that was on campus and really introduced us to the community,” said Jamie Vassallo, general manager of this Potbelly location. Vassallo said that it is customary for every new Potbelly shop to choose a local charity as the recipients of its first-day earnings.

Not only is Potbelly generous with its wallet, but the sandwich shop is also hospitable to local Tucson artists. Customers can enjoy the soothing sounds of live music on the outside porch a few times during the week. Alaina Villanueva, a music student, was invited by Vassallo to display her talent with the ukulele to the Potbelly crowd.

The prices of most sandwiches generally cost about $6. Potbelly is in the process of being able to accept CatCash at its store in the near future, and Vassallo said that they’ve been placed on a waiting list until the end of September.

Follow Kevin Reagan @KevinReaganUA


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