Matt Forney
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A Comparison of Midwestern Sandwich Shops


There are three things that Midwesterners are absolutely obsessed with:

  1. Mopeds. I’m not exaggerating when I say that parked mopeds can be found in front of all the apartment buildings in downtown Madison. I saw them all over downtown Minneapolis as well.
  2. Self-serve yogurt shops. Joints like Forever Yogurt, Chilly Billy’s and Yogurt Lab let you dispense your own yogurt in one of a dozen different flavors, add your own toppings and charge you by the ounce ($.45 at Forever Yogurt in Madison, $.55 at the other places in the Twin Cities). They also let you serve your own free samples. Try making that business model work back East; a Forever Yogurt franchise in Syracuse would last all of two hours before hordes of ghetto trash stealing buckets of yogurt ran expenses into the red.
  3. Sandwich shops. There are a lot of fucking sandwich shop franchises in the Midwest, combining the price and portion sizes of Subway with the quality and class of Panera Bread.

I’m not the hugest fan of spicy food, seeing as it gives me gnarly acid reflux, so all these gourmet sandwich shops are heaven by my estimation. Here are my reviews of the top four franchises in the Midwest.

Potbelly Sandwich Works

  • Headquarters: Chicago, Illinois

My favorite by far. The Potbelly on State Street was a regular lunch haunt for me during my time in Madison. Potbelly’s mouth-watering grilled subs are very reasonably priced at $4.50, or $5.50 if the standard size is too small for you. Potbelly’s also gives you the greatest amount of customization over your sandwich, letting you pick out lettuce, tomatoes, onions and more. Their fruit smoothies are absolutely delicious. My personal favorite sandwich is A Wreck, a delightful medley of ham, roast beef, turkey and salami.

Erbert & Gerbert’s Sandwich Shop

  • Headquarters: Eau Claire, Wisconsin

Erbert & Gerbert’s is a close runner-up to Potbelly, mainly for their more expansive menu of sandwiches (three times larger than Potbelly’s). I ding them for lack of customization and their higher prices. One thing they do do way better than Potbelly is their bread, which is tasty and filling.

Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches

  • Headquarters: Champaign, Illinois

Jimmy John’s is the shop I’m most familiar with, as it’s by far the most widespread and popular: there’s a Jimmy John’s in the university district back in Syracuse, as well as one off of the Commons in Ithaca. In Chicago, there are dozens of Jimmy’s locations in each (affluent) neighborhood, including one in the gay village staffed by gay Puerto Ricans, and Madison’s State Street has two franchises barely two hundred feet apart. They’re that popular.

Jimmy John’s can best be described as “delighfully bland.” Their sandwiches are tasty, but they don’t pack the slap-in-the-face flavor punch of either Potbelly or Erbert & Gerbert’s. Their selection is bigger than Potbelly but not as big as Erbert’s, but the prices are the same as the former. Jimmy John’s provides a decent lunch for a decent price, but you’ll be better off with the former two franchises if you have the option.

Milio’s Sandwiches

  • Headquarters: Madison, Wisconsin

Milio’s is by far the most disappointing shop on this list. I had an obsession with Milio’s ever since I left Madison, realizing that it was one of the few restaurants there I hadn’t eaten at, even worse considering that Madison was where it was founded. I had planned to eat at one in Des Moines, only to find that there weren’t any there; all of Milio’s Iowa franchises are in Iowa City. I finally managed to find one within walking distance of my pad in Minneapolis.

I can’t even say Milio’s is bad, because it’s not; the problem is that there is almost nothing to distinguish it from Jimmy John’s. Their sandwiches are virtually identical in appearance, taste and price. The only differences are Milio’s smaller selection and the fact that they serve Pepsi (Jimmy John’s serves Coke). I’m a Pepsi guy, but since Jimmy John’s has so many more franchises than Milio’s and a more diverse selection of sandwiches, there’s really nothing to recommend the latter.

As you can see, Potbelly beats the pants off all the other shops for price, taste and selection. Erbert & Gerbert’s is a good runner-up if you don’t mind paying a little more. Jimmy John’s is merely okay, while you should skip Milio’s.

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  • Like your piece on sandwiches. Just wonder your thoughts on Cousins, Blimpie, and Quiznos.

    As to the other Miswestern obsessions, the moped one makes sense in Madison. It’s a college town without a lot of freeways. Mopeds are cheap and fast in such an environment….

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