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Q&A with a sandwich master

As corporate executive chef of Bruegger’s Bagels, Philip Smith knows a thing or two about making sandwiches. The 305-unit bakery café serves sandwiches all day.

Q. What makes for a great sandwich?
A. The foundation, of course, is great bread. At Bruegger’s, everything has to fit on a bagel—we offer 14 varieties. Then we layer on flavorful ingredients that are familiar but stretch the taste buds a bit. Contrast in texture and taste is also important—the same as in an entrée. But you can afford to be a little groundbreaking in the world of bagels!

Q. How does a sandwich evolve from idea to menu item?
A. Our new or limited time sandwiches either start with a logical concept or celebrate the season. A recent launch was our California Roll Smoked Salmon Sandwich, based on the concept of a California sushi roll. I wanted to update “bagels and lox” and felt that sushi would be familiar but a little out of the ordinary. The sandwich features smoked salmon, cucumber, avocado and wasabi cream cheese on a sesame bagel. We also tried it on a bagel coated with black and white sesame seeds, but that didn’t look right.

Q. How did customers respond?
A. They really “got it” and embraced the concept. The ingredients were a bit expensive, so this was a premium-priced item [$7.49], but the combination of colors, flavors and textures really wowed customers. And the sandwich raised awareness of the quintessential bagel and lox for breakfast—sales of smoked salmon increased across the board.

Q. What were the challenges in menuing this sandwich?
A. In the past, avocados presented a challenge. But we were able to source a convenient form—peeled, fresh avocados vacuum-packed in a bag. They can be scooped out like mashed potatoes. Customers can now add avocado to any sandwich for an extra 99 cents. The wasabi cream cheese can also be cross-utilized; we’re suggesting it on roast beef.

Q. Why are sandwiches so essential to today’s menu mix?
A. Portability is number one. Diners don’t allocate enough time to sit down to eat. A sandwich is a nutritionally fulfilling meal-in-one that can be eaten on the run. And sandwiches have evolved to meet every daypart, including dinner. Made with great ingredients, a sandwich can provide an elevated eating experience even to folks of modest means.