Learning to Work From a Sandwich Artist

I just finished having lunch at Subway near my campus and I have to share the experience. I don't usually go to Subway because of the overwhelmingly good service. I go because it's quick, easy, and really one of the only fast food options I have as a vegetarian. Most of the time the employees I interact with are understandably bored. They don't really seem like they want to be there, and to be honest, I don't really want to be there either. Just give me my sandwich and let us both carry on with our days.

Today's experience was completely different. Nina welcomed me to the store as soon as I entered (this seems to be corporate policy) but everything was different from that point on. I always get a toasted veggie sub. When she asked me about the type of cheese I wanted she reminded me I get double cheese as part of the sandwich and then asked me if I wanted two different kinds of cheese on the sandwich. Two cheeses?! I evidently hit the jackpot in Subway employees today.

What happened next, though, made me temporarily forget I was even at a Subway. "Would you like to put some veggies on the sandwich before I toast it? It really helps to draw the flavor out of them." "Uh, sure!" "Awesome, do you mind if I put some salt and olive oil on the bread too?" "Sounds good to me." She then proceeded to carefully place my toppings evenly across the sandwich and then massagedolive oil into the bread. Seriously. Massaged it. This sandwich was being transformed from a cookie-cutter and utterly forgettable experience into something borderline gourmet right before my eyes. While it was toasting she "made" me try one of the new sauces to see if it might be a good fit for my currently toasting sandwich. She put the final touches on the sandwich by hunching over the sandwich and applying the Chipotle Southwest sauce like she was plating the main course of Top Chef.

And, as you might expect, the sandwich was better than usual.

What's the point of even telling this story? So what if I got a good sandwich at Subway?

The way this woman approached her work was incredibly refreshing. It reminded me of two articles I've written recently. She brought a certain level of dignity to the process of working at Subway. I've always scoffed at the fact that Subway used to call their employees "Sandwich Artists" but this woman actually earned the title. Secondly, she reminded me of a craftsman (or craftswoman, I suppose) in the way she approached making this talent. She took the tools available to her and made the absolute best sandwich that she could. She wasn't getting paid any extra to offer me the option of having two different types of cheese or putting vegetables on the sandwich before toasting it, but she did it anyway. Why?

As I sit down with my computer in front of me and my belly filled with carefully constructed sandwich I'll strive to bring the same level of dignity and craftsmanship to what I'm doing. The final result was definitely better than what I normally get, but that's not even what impressed me the most. I was left in awe of her attention to the process of making that sandwich and I hope that's something I can learn to develop as well.

Photo via Kerri Lee Smith