Sandwich shops saturate University area

Lynne Kozarek

It’s an unmistakable trend: sub shops sprouting on and around campus. At least six stores selling deli-style fast-food sandwiches have appeared since 1994 in Dinkytown and Stadium Village.
The ten sub shops within one-quarter of a mile of campus divide a customer base of more than 2,000 people, many of them University students and faculty. It is the presence of the large University population, especially at lunchtime, that makes the area a prime spot for entrepreneurs to sell the relatively healthy fast food.
Managers of area sub shops, all of which are locally owned, seemed unconcerned with the abundance of the restaurants in the Dinkytown and Stadium Village areas.
Alan Stricker, general manager of Big Mike’s Super Subs at Oak Street and Washington Avenue in Stadium Village, said newer stores help his business.
“It gives people an opportunity to see which is the best sub.”
Saeed Ghasemi, owner of the Big Ten shop in the Dinkydome, said that the other shops are not helping his business, but he doesn’t see them as competition.
The other stores “are only competition when we’re closed,” Ghasemi said.
Nick Balckum, general manager of Bon Appetit Inc. at 14th Street and Fourth Avenue in Dinkytown, was more confident.
“They’re not competition,” Balckum said.
Competition does not seem to have affected the business at area sub shops, but area road construction seems to have.
Stricker said that the construction has had a noticeable affect on his business on Oak Street and Washington Avenue in Stadium Village, but said he felt that improved roads will help his business in the long run.
Ghasemi said the construction was particularly bad for night business at Big Ten in the Dinkydome.
Some businesses have used the construction-induced slowdown to make changes to their services.
“The construction did affect us a little,” Balckum said, “but we made a few changes in the process.”
Among other things, Balckum obtained a liquor license for his restaurant.
Leah Cutter, administrative coordinator of the Dinkytown Business Association, a nonprofit organization promoting the Dinkytown business community, said that she doesn’t believe any new sub shops are planned for the Dinkytown area anytime soon.
Sub shop managers are doing their best to bring students into their stores by selling everything from fresh sandwiches to childhood memories; each seems to have a different take on why subs are so popular.
“We grew up with Mom making us sandwiches, and when we got out of the house, we didn’t get that anymore,” said Paul Nelson, general manager of the new Blimpie sub shop at Walnut Street and Washington Avenue in Stadium Village. “It’s kind of a throwback to childhood.”
Most managers thought that subs have gained popularity because of an increased emphasis on healthy eating.
Jeff Kasten, general manager of the Subway store at 14th Avenue and Fifth Street in Dinkytown, said that subs are the best things out there for health-conscious people.
“Subs are a good quality product that is healthy,” Kasten said. “Younger people are looking for a healthier lifestyle, and burgers just don’t cut it.”
Customers agreed that they were so popular because they were healthier.
Harmony Lewis, a junior majoring in child psychology, said that she eats at sub shops at least four times a week.
“I like Big Mikes and Erberts and Gerberts,” Lewis said, “Sub shops offer a faster, healthier product” than other fast-food outlets.
Christy Ebbers, a senior majoring in kinesiology, said her favorite place to eat lunch is Subway in Dinkytown.
“I like subs and not fast food,” Ebbers said. “I think people are getting to be more health-conscious and watching what they eat more.”
The proliferation of sub shops could even help University administrators in their push to keep more undergraduates on campus.
“Blimpie was the reason that David Letterman didn’t move his show to California,” said Nelson. “They don’t have any Blimpies in California, and we’re really big on the East Coast.”