In the Trenches: Hitting the Sauce

About 25 years ago, when I was a young sign maker, a customer named Charlie hired me to make a sign for the front of his new restaurant creatively named, Charlie’s.

When I came to talk to him about the job, they were just starting the interior work on a section of a strip shopping center he had leased. It was quite a project, putting in grills, ovens, vent hoods and fire extinguisher systems, and Charlie confided in me that the setup costs were more than he had realized.

I knew the area well, and I told my young wife that Charlie could have put in a great eating place for a lot less money, because what Longview really needed back then was a good sandwich shop, and I meant it. In fact, I believed that what the county needed was a great sandwich shop, with homemade bread, foot-long sandwiches and fresh everything. And I remember talking to Sharon about that idea way back when.

But I had a small sign business to run, and I never found time for my sandwich shop idea. However, around the same time a young guy named Fred DeLuca had started selling franchises for his young chain of Subway sandwich shops.

The rest is history, as I went on to run a 3 1/2 person sign business (sorry, Cody, you’re the 1/2), and he went on to make a gazillion dollars in fast food franchises. I guess back when I was trying to decide what my career should be, I chose signs, but it should have been subs.

Well, I got the first letter right, anyway!

But I have no hard feelings, and few regrets, and I sure haven’t missed any meals. Except for the other day when I was flying home from Providence, where I had a couple of seminars to teach at The B.I.G. Show up there. As you know, things have changed with the airlines, and I guess a business person who travels a lot has to learn to live on peanuts and pretzels. I rode two jets, one at breakfast, and one at lunchtime, and they only served pretzels. And they were little bitty ones. Rhode Island pretzels I guess.

So when I got off the plane in Shreveport, I was hungry. But before I got to the state line on my way back to East Texas, I spotted a Subway sandwich shop, and wheeled in. I have developed a love for some of their foot-long sandwiches, especially the Southwest ones they’ve come out with in the last year or two, with that special spicy dressing. Covered with about every veggie they’ve got, with extra sauce — now that’s a good meal.

When I placed my order, the young lady over the counter said, “We don’t make those Southwest sandwiches anymore.” I was devastated!

“What about that Southwest dressing?” I asked.

“Discontinued it,” she replied.

Well, I can handle the frustration of someone else making good on my idea, and I can stand the thought of those millions of dollars I’ve missed, but no more Southwest foot-long sandwiches? No more spicy Southwest dressing? Now that danged sandwich tycoon has pushed this old Texan too far. He set me up, made me love them, and then dropped me like yesterday’s lettuce. This means war!

Yeah, yeah, I know it’s too late to start my own sandwich franchise. Blimpie’s done it, and Schlotsky’s, and who knows who else. So I can’t fight that way. But perhaps I can come up with my own dressing. Yes, that’s the ticket. Paul Newman did it, and if some blue-eyed actor can make a success in the condiment business, a sign guy can too!

So, as soon as I get the recipe right, I’m going to bottle the stuff. Maybe call it Slappy Hooper’s Special Sauce, or Signman’s Southwest Sandwich Stuff, or something like that. Look for it at your grocery store and pick up some. Tell your friends about it, and get the word out. I need to sell a lot of it, since financially, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, and I don’t think that making Cody a whole sign maker is going to do it.

I just need to work on my recipe, find a bottler, secure some investors, and design a logo. I can see it now, it’s going to be great!

But today I’ve got that church sign to build, and tomorrow I’ll be putting up letters. That golf tournament will keep us all busy the rest of the week, and those signs can’t be late. I wish we didn’t have those deadlines already for next week, and my personal backlog of odd projects to deal with. I’ve just got to get things under control, so I can get on with my plan.

As soon as I can get around to it, I’m going to make it big in the condiment business. I know you’ll love my Southwest sauce, and I look forward to having you as a customer. I just hope you’re not hungry for it right now... as it might be a while in coming.

But I promise, it’ll be worth the wait!

Have a great month,

—Rick