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Potbelly Sandwich Works - a Chicago-Based Sub Shop with Hundreds of Locations Nationwide, and Nearly $400 Million in Annual Revenue


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It's easy to use Potbelly as a symbol of corporate sandwich chains in the area, given their whiplash expansion, cookie cutter atmosphere, and non-local ownership. The faux-homely appearance and ad copy make Garrison Keillor look like a modernist, the name falls short of being inspirational, and the lines make it look like an airport security checkpoint.

But the sandwiches are pretty damn good. The menu is concise, the meat quality is much better than Quiznos/Panera/Subway/etc., and the toppings are more flavorful than all but a handful of more upscale places. They're all served properly warmed - not half toasted/burned - and the Wreck and the Italian are things of beauty. They're an efficient operation, something that's easy to take for granted until you're waiting in a slow line at High Noon. Their employees move people through with a quick but unfailingly polite manner that BreadLine staff should be taking notes on.

And all the sandwiches are $3.79, people. Are there better bargains around? Not easily accessible to most office workers. If this a bloodsucking, exanimate corporate chain, sign me up for zombiedom.

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I agree - Potbelly is a more reliable choice than any of the other big sandwich chains. I don't agree with those who think that these more upscale fast-food places are the devils handiwork. Places like Chipotle, Baja Fresh and Potbelly or even - gasp - Starbucks, while not local, artisanal places have a far broader reach and are slowly introducing a better product to more people than the fast food places.

And maybe, when people get a taste of the even better stuff being turned out at that beloved local, owner-operator shop down the street they'll be ready to make the step up.

Edited by bilrus
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Potbelly is loathsome! I had gone many times without loving it or hating it, until my last time a few months ago. I ordered a skinny turkey on wheat no cheese (I would rather use my calories elsewhere). They asked me what I wanted on it, and I said lettuce, tomato and mustard. A minute later I saw the man behind the counter pouring oil on it. First, oil on a turkey sandwich is disgusting. Second, my intention was to save calories, not add them. But, people make mistakes...

I pointed the problem out to him, and explained that I did not want oil on my sandwich. He insisted that it was just a little bit of oil, and it wouldn't hurt. I repeated that I would prefer a different sandwich without the oil. Finally, he relented, and said that he would make me a new one. All of this was really fine,....

Then I waited. I saw him discussing it with another guy behind the counter, and they discussed while looking at me. Then, I turned to speak to my friends that were patiently waiting for me. Finally - after about 5 minutes - the second man called me back and said that my sandwich was ready. I paid and I went back to my office.

I was very hungry so I scarfed down the first few bites without noticing, but after a few bites, I realized the sandwich was very slimy. I opened it up, and there was oil all over the sandwich. Not trusting my own judgment at this time, I went to my friends and asked them and they verified that there was oil all over the sandwich. I felt disgusted and extremely pissed off!

I will not be back!

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I agree (and am still thinking of the italian I just had for lunch). Compared to what is available in the downtown area (17th & Eye) I rather go there than any of the before mention places. To be honest, shelling out 10-12 bucks for a sandwich seems steep for me. Quiznos and Subway are tastless and overpriced compared to Pot Belly.

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It's easy to use Potbelly as a symbol of corporate sandwich chains in the area, given their whiplash expansion, cookie cutter atmosphere, and non-local ownership. The faux-homely appearance and ad copy make Garrison Keillor look like a modernist, the name falls short of being inspirational, and the lines make it look like an airport security checkpoint.

The folksy bullshit on the walls just pisses me off, and hippie anthems are the last thing I want to hear on the soundsystem while eating my corporate sandwich.

Plus, they toast their peanut butter and jelly - and won't take a request to make it untoasted. So as soon as your kid takes a bite the hot peanut butter gooshes all over. Eff them.

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Plus, they toast their peanut butter and jelly - and won't take a request to make it untoasted.  So as soon as your kid takes a bite the hot peanut butter gooshes all over.  Eff them.

I actually like their Peanut Butter and Jelly - but they really ought to be willing to not toast it.

Programmed or lazy service workers who can't make their own decisions or bend the slightest guideline on occasion are a big pet peeve of mine.

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I view Potbelly as quite a value, even though I am willing to be repulsed by the "flair" that adorns the walls in formulaic, corporate-home-office-prescribed patterns. I have eaten their chicken salad sandwiches many times, and have been pleased. The efficiency of the operation is mind-boggling -- I used to work a few blocks from the Chinatown location, and the lunchtime lines would snake around all the way out the front door. But, somehow, the line moved. And they never messed up on my requested ingredients. (It helps that they assemble the sandwich literally in front of you.)

Then again, I've been known to eat at McDonald's, so my opinion may not be worth the greasy wax paper it's written on.

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I view Potbelly as quite a value, even though I am willing to be repulsed by the "flair" that adorns the walls in formulaic, corporate-home-office-prescribed patterns.  I have eaten their chicken salad sandwiches many times, and have been pleased.  The efficiency of the operation is mind-boggling -- I used to work a few blocks from the Chinatown location, and the lunchtime lines would snake around all the way out the front door.  But, somehow, the line moved.  And they never messed up on my requested ingredients.  (It helps that they assemble the sandwich literally in front of you.)

Then again, I've been known to eat at McDonald's, so my opinion may not be worth the greasy wax paper it's written on.

The chicken salad is my choice there, too. A few years ago I went through a bad break-up that coincided with the 11th St. Potbelly opening. I was too sad to eat most things- but for some reason craved the chicken salad every day at lunch for a week. I still think of it as comfort food.

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The chicken salad is my choice there, too. A few years ago I went through a bad break-up that coincided with the 11th St. Potbelly opening.  I was too sad to eat most things- but for some reason craved the chicken salad every day at lunch for a week. I still think of it as comfort food.

If I had to break up with jenrus, I would hope that the food that would help me through it would be something more along the lines of Maestro's Lobster Ravioli, not Potbelly.

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I'm not not a fan. I won't pass Breadline to get there, unless Breadline is closed, but towards the end of the month (or....um...towards the middle of the month sometimes) when money starts running out it begins looking like a good option.

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I like Potbelly's -- when I lived in Chicago I used to go to the original store and was very happy that they decided to expand here first! I like that the staff are friendly and cheerful, that the food is good and fresh, that their Oreo shakes rock, and that it's consistently good from one sandwich to the next and from one day to the next.

As for the "flair" -- the original store started out as an antiques store, and they made the sandwiches to attract business; then they started selling the sandwiches, and now it's a sandwich store with "antiques."

There seem to have been some pretty crude, negative comments posted here without any information about why the poster felt so violently opposed to the place...care to share?

PS: To to the person who felt like the staff were standing around talking about him/her, each sandwich goes through the toaster -- they weren't making you wait around for no reason, they just had to toast a new sandwich for you.

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PS: To to the person who felt like the staff were standing around talking about him/her, each sandwich goes through the toaster -- they weren't making you wait around for no reason, they just had to toast a new sandwich for you.

I don't know what got the OP so riled, but I'm currently not eating at Potbelly's because they're trying to squeeze a local competitor out of the market via a frivolous lawsuit.
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In the interest of scientific research (and stuffing my gullet) I walked the five blocks from my office to the Potbelly at 14th and New York. I had never been before.

I opened the door and immediately walked into the back of a person rudely standing in the doorway. I excused myself, glanced around at the sea of humanity that had crammed themselves into this small little store. The man wasn’t loitering, he was merely at the back of the long line. I took my place behind him, and was easily the patron #50.

I settled in for the long haul and glanced at the surroundings. Awful. Kitschy, homey, artificially contrived. But a hell of a lot better than old subway maps and Coca-Cola table tents. I wasn’t there for the ambience. I was there for a cheap sandwich. But there was something warm and inviting about the place. Maybe it was the live music.

Yup, this corporate, money sucking, lifeless entity found enough soul and extra cash to pay some guy to sit in the corner with an acoustic, guitar microphone, and amplifier & warble out Tom Petty and John Cougar. He wasn’t great and I wouldn’t have stayed to listen. But I’ve paid to hear worse and I was actually impressed by the gesture.

The line moved quickly. Apparently it is one employees job to yell at the customer from an extraordinary distance so that an order may be taken, and the base of the sandwich could be thrown onto the conveyor belt. It was hard to communicate with her over the 15 feet and 20 people that separated us, and I was sure my sandwich was going to be fucked up.

I got the turkey on wheat with lettuce, tomato, hots, & onions. I also got some shitty green olives on there, which I didn’t order. The sandwich quality was unexceptional. But for $4.38 it was a pretty good deal. I wouldn’t walk past the 100 or so restaurants/patisseries/falafel shops/hot dog stands etc. just to eat there. But if I was just ambling buy and my belly was grumbling, AND I only had $5 on me, I’d have no reservations about stopping.

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Yup, this corporate, money sucking, lifeless entity found enough soul and extra cash to pay some guy to sit in the corner with an acoustic, guitar microphone, and amplifier & warble out Tom Petty and John Cougar. He wasn’t great and I wouldn’t have stayed to listen. But I’ve paid to hear worse and I was actually impressed by the gesture.

That is actually part of their shtick, although I've only seen people performing at the one in Reston on about 20% of my visits.

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I don't know what got the OP so riled, but I'm currently not eating at Potbelly's because they're trying to squeeze a local competitor out of the market via a frivolous lawsuit.

This piqued my interest, and resurrected distant memories of reading of this dispute, so I did a little Googling.

The "local competitor" that Potbelly is suing is "Coggins Sandwich Manufactory," which is actually owned by a Cleveland-based company called Farro Enterprises, which in turn "owns 10 T.G.I. Friday's franchises in Northeast Ohio and 18 Baja Fresh Mexican Grill restaurants on the West Coast. Farro also is a major shareholder in Baja Fresh stores in Oregon and Washington state."

Further, "Farro plans up to 16 stores within four years in the D.C. market. All will be corporately owned.... The company plans to have locations in at least one other major East Coast city in three years."

Which sandwich shop is David and which is Goliath is debatable, it seems to me. I generally trust the legal system to determine which lawsuits are frivolous, anyway.

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PS: To to the person who felt like the staff were standing around talking about him/her, each sandwich goes through the toaster -- they weren't making you wait around for no reason, they just had to toast a new sandwich for you.

I believe that you are referring to my comments, but you missed the point (or I was not clear enough). My problem was that they discussed the issue and made me wait for a new sandwich to be made but then they ended up giving me the exact same sandwich that they had messed up earlier.

I have no problem with the wait for the sandwich generally; my problem is with them making me wait so as to believe that they were making a new sandwich. To me, that is just deceptive and a waste of time.

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That is actually part of their shtick, although I've only seen people performing at the one in Reston on about 20% of my visits.

When I was working in Crystal City the 'RotBelly' had someone performing just about everyday that I walked by the place. I was never quite sure how that did not drive away business. Their chocolate malts (with extra malt) were pretty good.

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This piqued my interest, and resurrected distant memories of reading of this dispute, so I did a little Googling.

The "local competitor" that Potbelly is suing is "Coggins Sandwich Manufactory," which is actually owned by a Cleveland-based company called Farro Enterprises, which in turn "owns 10 T.G.I. Friday's franchises in Northeast Ohio and 18 Baja Fresh Mexican Grill restaurants on the West Coast. Farro also is a major shareholder in Baja Fresh stores in Oregon and Washington state."

Further, "Farro plans up to 16 stores within four years in the D.C. market. All will be corporately owned....  The company plans to have locations in at least one other major East Coast city in three years."

Which sandwich shop is David and which is Goliath is debatable, it seems to me.  I generally trust the legal system to determine which lawsuits are frivolous, anyway.

I'm considering Coggins local since their first stores have opened here. A bit of background: the lawsuit is essentially sour grapes over a PB buildout at GWU that went bad. Potbelly was supposed to have their store done by the opening of the school year last year, and when they finally 'fessed up to Charles E. Smith that it wasn't going to happen, CES yoinked the location out from under PB and gave it to Coggins. The lawsuit features such highlights as claiming that having a beverage cooler, assembly-line style sandwich building, and a bin to hold chips constitutes trade dress infringement. If PB thinks CES did them wrong by their contract (which is entirely possible), then they need to go sue CES, not Coggins.

Since Earl of Sandwich has set its sights on the DC market, it may be a moot point - if the extent and quality of EoS's offerings is the same here as at Disney, both PB and Coggins will suffer greatly by comparison.

Edited by Principia
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Day 2 at the downtown conference....was planning to take a solo walk over to Breadline but my plan was foiled by a colleague who waylaid me and wanted to go to Potbelly. I hadn't been there before and I didn't feel like explaining (or sharing) Breadline so I just went along for the ride.

The line wasn't too bad and moved quickly - someone was shouting for my order before I got to the counter, so I got the Skinny Wreck (salami, turkey, ham, roast beef, and swiss) on wheat. It wasn't too bad and was a decent break from the Subway downstairs in my suburban wasteland office complex. I actually was happy to see the green olives, although I didn't order them either. Maybe they were part of the Italian seasoning - I also saw pickled carrots and cauliflower that made me think of antipasto.

A decent enough sandwich for the price, especially since someone else was paying for it :lol:

I'm really only posting this so I can become a VENTWORM!

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Day 2 at the downtown conference....was planning to take a solo walk over to Breadline but my plan was foiled by a colleague who waylaid me and wanted to go to Potbelly.  I hadn't been there before and I didn't feel like explaining (or sharing) Breadline so I just went along for the ride.

The line wasn't too bad and moved quickly - someone was shouting for my order before I got to the counter, so I got the Skinny Wreck (salami, turkey, ham, roast beef, and swiss) on wheat.  It wasn't too bad and was a decent break from the Subway downstairs in my suburban wasteland office complex.  I actually was happy to see the green olives, although I didn't order them either.  Maybe they were part of the Italian seasoning - I also saw pickled carrots and cauliflower that made me think of antipasto.

A decent enough sandwich for the price, especially since someone else was paying for it  :lol:

I'm really only posting this so I can become a VENTWORM!

Nice. Rather than support a dynamic local business with a brilliant local breadmaker at the helm, you bought a mediocre sandwich from a loathsome chain. Because it was a break from Subway.

Why do you think restaurants in America suck?

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Nice.  Rather than support a dynamic local business with a brilliant local breadmaker at the helm, you bought a mediocre sandwich from a loathsome chain.  Because it was a break from Subway.

Why do you think restaurants in America suck?

:lol:

Have a bad day yesterday, Waitman?

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We see here again that all stores--retail, food, or whathaveyou--fly or fail based on their customer service. A lot of restaurants in this town--chain AND dynamic local business--should learn that.

I quite like Potbelly, but I only go the Dupont/Connecticut Avenue one after work from time to time. The folks in there are always *exceedingly* friendly and competant, and I always get the right sandwich (which is basically always a whole wheat wreck, no hot, no italian seasoning) (damn, that's a good sandwich).

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The thought of Potbellies reproducing like cancer cells while quality independent restaurants struggle makes me dyspeptic.

Jeez Waitman, If I were you, I'd try to avoid thinking about Potbellies:

Dyspepsia" refers to nondescript, nonspecific upper abdominal symptoms which may include discomfort, bloating, a feeling of unusual fullness with very little intake of food (early satiety) or following meals (postprandial fullness), nausea, loss of appetite, heartburn, regurgitation of food or acid, and belching.
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I'm ok thinking about potbelly, but get that sometimes after EATING it. Think it's the hot pepper and pickle mixture. But they're so good. What am I going to do, NOT get hot peppers? Come on, now.

(Yes, well.....um....I heard from a friend, anyway. What! It is that magic week between when rent is due and I get paid, and I had $8 and change in my checking account! I suppose you'll be wanting my badge and gun.)

Edited by shogun
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Nice.  Rather than support a dynamic local business with a brilliant local breadmaker at the helm, you bought a mediocre sandwich from a loathsome chain.  Because it was a break from Subway.

Why do you think restaurants in America suck?

Some of us aren't fortunate enough to work where we can support great local businesses like Breadline. I work in the wastelands of Bailey's Crossroads, so the choices are somewhat limited, especially when time is a factor.

However, on my own time, I am a strong and regular supporter of local businesses, local farmers, local restaurants, etc., and DO shop/eat/buy from them whenever it is possible (Cheesetique, the former Dreamery, Vermilion, my local farmers market, St. Elmo's, Misha's, an annual produce share from a CSA farm in Haymarket, to name but a few). Sometimes that just ISN'T possible - yesterday, there was limited time and another party in the mix.

Had I known this post would lead to a public flogging :lol: , I guess I would have rethought posting anything but the essential details. Will keep it in mind for future posts...

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Jeez Waitman, If I were you, I'd try to avoid thinking about Potbellies:

2. dyspeptic - irritable as if suffering from indigestion

For some reason they do drive me around the bend far more rapidly than, say, Cosi. I think it's that stupid "homey" interior that pushes me over the edge.

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The thought of Potbellies reproducing like cancer cells while quality independent restaurants struggle makes me dyspeptic.

The thought of restaurants reproducing like cancer cells based on ownership rather than customer service makes me dyspeptic. But then I'm just generally a curmudgeon.

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Whatever. Goldenticket, I'm with you.

You shouldn't have to apologize for eating at a chain. Chains are only chains because the first one was well-liked and it made money. If breadline got high-profile investors and opened up new locations (maybe even closer to where you work), are you then not allowed to support them any more? Or are you allowed, because you knew them back when? Silliness.

Buying from local business is great. It's always fresher, of better quality and it's a unique experience. There are times, however, when budget constraints, location, or time issues make a Chipotle burrito(gasp!) just the thing to eat for the next two meals. Or, maybe the $ 8 soup and salad bar at Ruby Tuesdays would hit the spot. There are days when I can't drop $10-15 for a meal, I'm between work and class, and spending more on dinner than I would on the groceries to make it is out of the question (usually brought on by my fondness for the good stuff in the first place).

Another good thing a bout a lot of chains (Chipotle) is that because they have a lot of money, they can afford benefits for part-time workers who probably would be more hard-pressed to find them at a local joint with less cash-flow. I have no problem supporting this practice.

Bottom line, if you don't want to eat in chains, then don't. But you should be more charitable to others and recognize that people do for a variety of reasons, and shouldn't have to turn in their foodie card for admitting it.

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Had I known this post would lead to a public flogging  , I guess I would have rethought posting anything but the essential details. Will keep it in mind for future posts...

I wouldn't characterize this as a public flogging, just one mean old man throwing a rock. Your first instinct was to go to the Breadline which was good. Your trip to Potbelly was out of your control. We should get someone to follow waitman around and take pictures when he happens to step foot into a chain store.

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I feel that it's important to note that Potbelly's started as a single, local, independent restaurant in Chicago -- which is where I started eating their food -- expanded the number of stores there, and finally moved here. Potbelly's provides good food at a good price with competent -- and often kind -- service. They are, from what I hear, decent to their employees, and they try to support local musicians by bringing them in to play.

Besides, what on earth is so wrong with chains? Are (some) people going to be spewing vitriol when Ray's opens their second location? How about Jaleo? Do you have ulcers about 5 Guys? How about Taqueria Poblano? Sheesh.

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I feel that it's important to note that Potbelly's started as a single, local, independent restaurant in Chicago -- which is where I started eating their food -- expanded the number of stores there, and finally moved here. Potbelly's provides good food at a good price with competent -- and often kind -- service. They are, from what I hear, decent to their employees, and they try to support local musicians by bringing them in to play.

Besides, what on earth is so wrong with chains? Are (some) people going to be spewing vitriol when Ray's opens their second location? How about Jaleo? Do you have ulcers about 5 Guys? How about Taqueria Poblano? Sheesh.

I think the general feeling is that once a good concept moves from the one or two location mom and pop operation, compromises in quality are made to improve efficiency and profit margins. Neverthess, chains employ people and they have shareholders, some of which are likely to be mutual funds in which you and I own shares.

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