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The sandwich generation

Sandwiches continue to surge in popularity, thanks to a convergence of several forces. Today’s diners see sandwiches as a healthier, fresher more affordable choice—especially in the quickservice segment. The competition is fierce among fast-casual players to build premium sandwiches that satisfy this customer demand and differentiate their menu.

Even fine-dining chefs are getting into the game, layering interesting breads and other carriers, globally inspired fillings and boldly flavored condiments in ever more creative ways. So it’s no surprise that sandwiches are up in menu mentions by 12 percent overall since 2008, according to Mintel Menu Insights. Six concepts show off their sandwich stars.

 

 SandwichBuildPoints of differentiation
 
Spicy Pickle
Denver, Colorado
29 locations
Italian Panini
$7.49
Rosemary focaccia, mortadella, capicola, hard salami, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and basil mayonnaise“Bread is very important to the success of a sandwich,” believes Lisa Saad, director of business services. “We partner with Grains of Montana to source our bread. The rosemary focaccia is a par-baked product made especially for us.” Saad adds that condiments are key too; uniquely flavored spreads elevate a sandwich into a signature. The combination of authentic Italian cold cuts, house-made basil mayonnaise and the proprietary bread are what make the Italian Panini Spicy Pickle’s bestseller. “Incorporating regional flavors and seasonal ingredients into our menu also sets us apart.”
 
Foumami Asian Sandwich Bar
Boston, Massachusetts
1 location
Chicken Katsu Sandwich
$7.35
Shao Bing bread, panko breaded chicken breast cutlet, shredded cabbage, tomatoes, katsu sauceShao Bing is an authentic Chinese bread that’s handmade at Foumami. “It’s basically wheat flour, water and vegetable oil, but the technique is what makes it unique,” explains owner Michael Wang. “It’s typically cooked on a griddle but at Foumami, we use special ovens that inject steam.” The result is a crisp outer layer and soft, chewy interior. Wang slits it open and fills it with everything from BBQ pork to fried tofu, braised brisket and curry chicken. “The bread makes the sandwich,” says Wang. The Chicken Katsu is a top seller, complemented by the tangy, fruity katsu sauce—which Wang describes as “Japanese Worcestershire sauce.”
 
Rising Roll Gourmet
Atlanta, Georgia
15 locations
Chunky Chicken Salad & Apples
$6.49
French boule or multi-grain roll, made-from-scratch chicken salad topped with blue cheese dressing, hickory-smoked bacon and Granny Smith apples“We cook whole muscle breast meat for the chicken salad and source locally grown tomatoes, when possible,” notes Mike Lassiter, president of Rising Roll. He also feels that bread is critical to a great sandwich, and Rising Roll offers boules, wraps, multi-grain rolls, tandoori and several varieties of sliced bread. Patrons can mix and match carriers and fillings to customize sandwiches. Breakfast and lunch have been the focus of the concept but “we’re now developing some entrée sandwiches to attract the dinner and late-night crowd,” Lassiter reports. In the works are roasted pork tenderloin with manchego and salsa verde and tuna with wasabi aioli and pickled ginger, among others.
 
Chedd’s Gourmet Grilled Cheese
Denver, Colorado
3 locations
Custom Grilled Cheese
$4.99
Marble rye, Wisconsin brick cheese, red onionWith a choice of 36 different cheeses, eight breads and a dozen vegetables, customers at Chedd’s can mix and match for the ultimate in sandwich customization. “We try to exclusively use Wisconsin cheeses to get the best products available,” says Dirk Bruley, president of Chedd’s Franchising Corporation. He works directly with three manufacturers and several distributors to source both basic and specialty cheeses. The latter includes three-alarm Colby, spring onion Jack and Chipotle cheddar. “We use restaurant-size bread, which is bigger than deli bread, in varieties such as sourdough, multi-grain and marble rye,” Bruley adds. “People get a big sandwich filled with melty cheese and an experience that takes them back to childhood…which adds up to great value.”
 
The Kati Roll Company
New York City and London
3 locations
Shrimp Masala Roll
$6.75
Paratha bread, grilled shrimp, chaat masala spices, sweet and sour marinated red onions, birdseye chilies, cilantro sauceWarm paratha, the Indian flatbread, is wrapped around various fillings at this fast-casual spot. TV’s Top Chef finalist Angelo Sosa created the Shrimp Masala Roll expressly for Kati; the coconut milk-marinated shrimp are cooked over an open-flame grill and topped with flavorful condiments that offer a nice balance of sweetness, tartness and heat. The Kati Roll, based on traditional Indian street food, is one of the latest global sandwiches to hit our shores.
 
Bruegger’s
Burlington, Vermont
300 locations
Harvest Turkey Ciabatta Panini
$6.49
Ciabatta bread, roasted turkey, cheddar cheese, sliced green apples, pickled red onions and cranberry mayonnaise“This hearty sandwich takes turkey two to three steps beyond the mainstream, and as an LTO, it ties into seasonality,” says Philip Smith, executive chef. Although Bruegger’s is known for bagels, they’re not the best carrier for all sandwiches. Smith is working with a European company, Groupe Le Duff, to supply the ciabatta. “They bake old world-style breads that work especially well in the panini press. The crust becomes nice and crunchy to complement the texture of the apples, turkey and pickled onions, which we prepare
in-house,” explains Smith. For another 50 cents, patrons can pair a sandwich with soup.

 

Q&A with Jon Davis

VP Concept Development
La Brea Bakery
Van Nuys,California

What trends are you following in developing breads?
Ethnic breads and whole grains are two trends we’re focusing on. Our new telera roll falls into the first. Although it’s Hispanic in origin and works well on Cubans and Mexican tortas, operators are using it for other builds. We’re also working with more whole grain flours, like spelt and teff, often combining them with wheat flours.

Describe the R&D behind the telera roll.
We considered several characteristics: shape, size and crust to crumb ratio were tops. Authenticity was also a factor, so we made the flavor slightly sweet and the crust slightly soft. Since toasting is another big trend, the roll had to toast up nicely. The telera also holds up well to high-moisture fillings, such as pulled pork and BBQ brisket.

What format are operators looking for in carriers?
Frozen par-baked products are the most popular in the QSR and casual segments. They provide the freshest tasting bread and are convenient—12 to 15 minutes in the oven and they’re ready. Others in the line are thaw-and-serve and can be used without a second bake.

How can an operator evaluate a par-baked bread product?
Note the color; it should be even and light golden before baking and golden brown after baking. The interior should have an open structure with medium-size holes. You don’t want a very airy or dense product. Flavor should be complex, reflecting the many hours of fermentation a quality bread goes through. It shouldn’t taste just of yeast.

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