Sandwich maker extraordinaire Ike Shehadeh was in Berkeley the other day, scouting out a location near the campus with a view to potentially opening a sandwich shop here with some business partners.
Shehadeh currently runs three sandwich spots: Ike’s Place in San Francisco, an outlet at the School of Engineering on the Stanford campus, and another shop on the Redwood Shores.
Shehadeh said he would like to be in Berkeley — the building he was looking at was on Bancroft Way, near the Bears Lair Pub — but he is wary of applying to the city to open a business. “There’s a history with Berkeley in the way it treats small businesses,” he said. “Everyone speaks about it.”
Because he believes there would be many hoops to jump through in order to open a store under his own name, Shehadeh said he is looking instead at a partnership with his friends at The Original Soupman (whose founder, Al Yeganeh, was the inspiration for the famous Seinfeld “Soup Nazi” episode). Soups and sandwiches are a winning combination, Shehadeh points out, and, this way, he would simply supply the sandwich recipes and avoid the vagaries of launching a new business.
Not that Shehadeh is a stranger to dealing with obstacles. “I’ve had terrible experiences in San Francisco,” he said.
His first shop, opened in 2007 in San Francisco’s Castro district, became a huge hit, with long lines of customers waiting to buy sandwiches with quirky names and a “dirty secret sauce”. Pretty soon, however, Shehadeh was fielding a barrage of criticism from neighbors and city agencies complaining about noise, trash and kitchen smells.
Eventually the saga, documented by writer Scott James in the New York Times, led Shehadeh to move to bigger premises across the street on 16th Street. “It’s a 3,000-square-foot factory,” he said. “The lines can be 60-people long but we can deal with them now. Nobody has to wait more than 30 minutes.”
It’s also not the first time Shehadeh has explored new locations. He has looked at opening stores in Los Angeles and Burlingame among others.
While he was in Berkeley, Shehadeh went to buy lunch at Ashby Marketplace which, earlier this year, opened a deli counter and is serving sandwiches of its own, starting at $5.00 a pop. While in line, Shehadeh spotted the actress Jennifer Garner and posted a tweet about it. Garner was in the neighborhood that day because she had attended a breakfast for First Lady Michelle Obama at the nearby Claremont Hotel — as reported on Berkeleyside.
Ashby Marketplace’s owner, Ramiz Hasan, who is a friend of Shehadeh’s — they went to high school together — said he served Garner a turkey and avocado sandwich with mayonnaise. He admits that once he realized who she was, he became a little flustered. “I think I may have forgotten to put dressing on the salad,” he said sheepishly.
Asked whether he was worried about competition from his friend Ike and his award-winning sandwiches, Hasan laughed. “Ike serves about 4,000 sandwiches a day. He’s in a different league. I could never be like him.”
Hasan’s sandwiches have a growing fan-base, however. On Thursday last week, Eddie McBenttes, who works near Ashby Marketplace in the Elmwood, came in to the store for the second day running to order a turkey pesto sandwich. “It’s freaking awesome,” he said. “You can expect me to be in here every day.”