Sandwich shops, on the other hand, require far less equipment."Opening a sandwich shop instead of a full-scale restaurant saved me at least $100,000," says Stewart. Savoring the layers of sweet roasted beets, crispy Nueske’s bacon, and tangy aioli on sourdough that make up Meat Cheese Bread’s signature sandwich, the BLB, one hardly notices that the kitchen it came from is the size of a closet.
Stewart isn’t the only chef trying to minimize the financial gamble on a restaurant. Last summer, when the bank loan for his planned Italian restaurant didn’t come through, Habetz—a former chef to Mario Batali and mentor to Le Pigeon’s Gabriel Rucker—briefly considered opening a food cart before deciding there were better ways to spend a Portland winter than shivering in a six-foot-by-eight-foot trailer. Wanting to do the most he could with as small a budget as possible, he and Wood spent nearly a month in early fall renovating a shabby storefront on SE Morrison Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues with spare equipment—countertop electric burners, a small convection-style oven, and a sandwich press. Today, scores of hungry patrons queue up at Bunk Sandwiches for half a block to get their sandwich fix; on a good day, the shop sells as many as two hundred sandwiches.
Even established PDX pastrami kingpins Ken Gordon (Kenny) and Nick Zukin (Zuke) of Kenny & Zuke’s Delicatessen had to reconsider recent plans for a second full-scale operation after an investor backed out. "We wanted to make sure we had enough in cash reserves in case things got tough," Zukin says. So they nixed plans for an expensive kitchen ventilation system (needed to prepare fries) and opened a modest, minimally equipped alternative that would specialize in what they do best: sandwiches. The result has become one of Northwest Portland’s hottest lunch spots: Kenny & Zuke’s SandwichWorks, where such classic standbys as the pastrami Reuben are served alongside new favorites like a black bean, chorizo, and roasted-pork torta.
Despite the success of the local sandwich shop, the recent boom was born out of necessity more than a desire to expand Portland’s culinary frontiers. "We weren’t trying to start a trend‚" Habetz says while adding a thin slice of ham to his now-legendary Pork Belly Cubano sandwich. "It was all about the Benjamins."