Sandwich chain Potbelly is pushing past the Continental Divide, opening its first store west of Texas in Seattle next month.
The 200-outlet chain got its start in 1996, when an entrepreneur bought a decades-old Chicago antique shop with an extensive sandwich menu. While the chain is still concentrated primarily in the Midwest, Potbelly's pile of accolades from Washington D.C. area publications is bigger than a breadbox.
According to Potbelly lovers, the chain's sandwiches are "quick" and "tasty." I don't know. I spent the entirety of my single Potbelly experience griping about the store's location.
Potbelly opened in my hometown of Ann Arbor, Mich. in 2003, taking over a corner store that had long been home to Discount Records, the city's preeminent vinyl shop. Discount Records catered to students, which meant I could get Bangles' records there, but it was scruffy from the start. In the 1960s, Iggy Pop worked there as a stock boy.
When Potbelly moved in, it obliterated every trace of the venue's musical heritage. The restaurant didn't even have the class to throw an album in a commemorative frame. Instead, it embroidered its walls with pseudo-artifacts that suggested the sandwich shop had a lengthy local history. The décor deliberately advanced the fakelore that Potbelly got its start right there on the corner of Liberty and State - a believable story back when most Ann Arbor restaurants were independently-owned.
University of Michigan students were more concerned with the size of Potbelly's sandwiches.
"The food does not stand out from the numerous other venues on campus," the Michigan Daily reported. "For those accustomed to Subway, Jimmy John's or Quizno's, Potbelly's sandwiches would seem very inadequate."
My brother, who lives in Michigan, tells me eaters still complain about Potbelly's puny sandwiches.
"Potbelly's soulless, depressing and smells like mushrooms," he tells me.
Hungry yet? Potbelly opens at Pike and Fourth on June 7. Another location's slated to open in Bellevue this summer. A publicist offered to put me in touch with a general manager who could give me "great insight on how the shop will be integrating its culture into the Seattle community," but I didn't take her up on it. That non-call's for you, Discount Records.