Dec 2011
13

How hard can it be to sell a sandwich?

In the last dozen years or so the number of sandwich vans visiting office blocks and industrial parks has exploded to the extent that the park I work on is now visited by more sandwich vans than delivery vans.

So how, with such competition, can they all be so crap? Lets take a look at the vans that visit my particular building…

First up is a company I’ll cleverly rename “Souths”.

Souths are a local bakery who make average food for an average price. To compliment this, they have an average van driven by an average guy. They used to have a near monopoly on this park, and their driver used to spend every day driving around in a long wheelbase van stuffed with average sandwiches.

The thing is, I don’t mean ‘average sandwiches’ as a particularly negative term. The problem is that they’re the sort of sandwiches you’d make for yourself if you could be arsed to get out of bed in the morning. These are the sort of sandwiches that are actually a tax on your snooze button. The most exciting thing on the menu is a concoction called “corination chicken” (sic) that manages to tick all the same boxes as the curry that schools used to serve up – it’s almost a disappointment that there’s no overcooked swede in there.

The bacon sandwiches are a particular joy – never before have I seen bacon that has gone through the cooking process without the slightest hint of browning. I’ve seen black and white photos of albino goths with more colour than this stuff. The only sign of cooking is the little puddle of congealed fat that nestles in the porcine bowl that forms when the rind shrinks.

My personal favourites are the “corned beff and tom” (sic) baguettes (which manage to prove that bread + tomato = soggy + seeds) and the superb “roast beff and hors rashdish” (sic) which proves that their horse radish is about as potent as their spellchecker. They’ve even missed the apostrophe in their company name…

As the more professional companies moved in, this old guard stood firm. And lost the vast majority of it’s business. Who knew that soggy sandwiches which reminded you how lazy you are, wouldn’t sell…?

Next up, we have one we’ll call “Dudds”. Again, no apostrophe, but that’s kind of par for the course. Dudds is like Souths slightly more fashion conscious sibling – you know that they’ve got the same style and roots (and routes – badum-tish) but the makeup and a nicer frock make them really quite a bit more appealing. It’s the same “I could have made this myself” menu, but it’s made using bread with texture and without the congealing lard. It’s the safe option – the one where the taste sensation with neither delight or depress you. Oh, and like Souths, the menu will be the same tomorrow as it was today, last week, last year and quite possibly last decade. While Souths make the sandwiches that you know you could of made at home, Dudds make the kind of sandwich you think you’re making while you’re making them at home. Dudds are the uninspired dream to Souths uninspired reality.

Thirdly we have a van I was going to call “Stallions” but which would probably be better called “knackers yard”. Stallions (we’ll stick with this name because it has the obligatory apostrophe abuse) actually sell good food. Which makes it much more disappointing that it manages to be as crap as the other vans. Here we have a lovely shiny van selling lovely food, which manages to turn up with virtually no stock, after all the other vans have been and gone, and which takes the unexpectedly shitty step of putting no prices on anything – not the sandwiches, or the paninis, or the wraps, or the crisps, or the pastries or the drinks, or the chocolate. You select your food, talk to the slightly unnerving salesman, and wait for him to pick a number and double it.

Finally, we have the van I’ll call “Albert’s”. If there was any justice in the world, they’d win the sandwich wars solely because they know what an apostrophe is for, but the world is not that simple.

When Albert’s first arrived, it was a joyous thing. Every week the van would have new culinary delights on it. Sure, you’d still have BLTs and cheese and onion, but there would always be an equal number of oddities, like falafel and mango chutney, spicy cheese and kidney beans, bacon and blue cheese, or onion bajii and riata. Some of them were great and some of them were decidedly odd, but there was always variation, and you always knew that something particularly odd would be gone next week, to return 4-6 weeks later with that sandwich you couldn’t live without.

Sadly, like everything, it changed.

Every day they come by with the same selection. Every day they have an unsurprisingly large proportion of blue cheese, mayo and walnut wraps left in the rack. Every day, they’ve run out of Flaming Hot Monster Munch, so you have to resort to pickled onion if you want to put crisps on your fingers and leave greasy footprints across your desktop…

And that sums them all up – all of the vans have some guy in a room who decides that today, like every day, he’ll make 20 of each of the sandwiches. None of them have a guy who waits in that same room and wonders why there’s never any of these sandwiches coming back, but there’s still 15 of those ones sat in the tray looking lonely. None of them has a guy who thinks “we’ve sold out of Flaming Hot crisps again – maybe I should put some more on the van tomorrow?”

The perfect example of this was with Albert’s earlier this year. I love their spicy cheese and kidney bean sandwiches. They were one of those fillings that had no god-damned right to work, but somehow did. So they stopped putting them on the van.

One day I put in a special request for them. After much umm-ing and ahhh-ing, they decided that there wasn’t any demand for them, but that they’d do them next week as a one-off.

Monday came and there were no cheese and bean sandwiches. There had been wraps, but they’d already been sold before he got to us. The same happened on Tuesday. And on Wednesday. Thursday, I was told, would be different – they were making them as sandwiches – but when Thursday’s van came, it did so with no cheese and bean sandwiches, because they’d already been sold.

Friday was my last chance…

When Friday’s van came, there were no cheese and bean sandwiches. They’d made a big batch of the mix up at the start of the week, and it had all gone, so they’d made no cheese and bean sandwiches that day. “Will they be making any next week?” I asked. The reply was somewhat predictable. “Sorry, no. There isn’t enough demand for them…”

In the 15 years I’ve worked in these places, there’s only ever been one sandwich van which never failed to bring delight… and it didn’t even sell sandwiches. Back in the days when I worked for the pr0n palace, we were visited by a lady universally known as “Hot Jan”. She drove a rusted Bedford Rascal van with a dangerous looking gas stove in the boot. All she sold were slightly greasy pastry products and huge soft, floury jacket potatoes which she smothered in any of the dozen different tasty toppings that were always on there – including a very familiar yellow coronation chicken.

It even had swede…

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