. March 21, 2013.

Potbelly. Not sure why, but my kids and I snicker every time we drive by the little sandwich shop and read its sign. Inevitably, someone always has to read it out loud, even though we’d passed it countless times before. On a recent Sunday afternoon the curiosity about the restaurant with the funny name got the best of us and we just had to stop in and see what this place was all about.

We’re glad you’re here
My family and I stepped into Potbelly Sandwich Shop for the first time and had no idea what to expect. I hate drawing attention to ourselves but it was obvious we were newbies and didn’t know what we were supposed to be doing. A Potbelly team member came out from behind the counter to greet us, giving us the lowdown on what their place was all about and how to build your sandwich. Though I had not eaten anything yet, customer service like that always brings me back.
As it turns out, Potbelly is very big in customer service according to franchise owner Jeff Gibbs. “We encourage associates to talk to the customers. We really emphasize that we want our associates to be friendly and polite and engage our customers,” said Gibbs. Almost unthinkable in this high-turnover industry, eight of his 13 employees have remained with him for the two years he’s been open. That speaks volumes.

Fresh food, fabulous flavors
After talking to Mr. Gibbs as well as perusing their website, I gained a much greater understanding and appreciation for how the shops came to be, and what philosophies remain today. The cozy interior of the shop had a potbelly stove front and center. Just as the very first sandwiches in the original Potbelly store were served in an antique shop, every Potbelly Sandwich Shop is decorated to keep that nostalgic feeling.  
The 13 sandwiches listed on the menu board are made to order. Every sandwich goes through the oven, and then you add any other topping you’re craving, from pickles to dressings. They offer fabulous soups of the day and chili every day. I heard the salads are wonderful, as are the freshly baked desserts, hand dipped shakes, malts and smoothies.

High quality fresh products are key at Potbelly. “We prep our vegetables, meats, and cheeses every day in the store. We prep in the morning for freshness and quality,” said Gibbs. Everything is made to order, including the ice cream sandwiches.

No kids menu? No problem
I was at first disappointed to find they didn’t have a separate kids menu. However, the employees were again very helpful and suggested the tasty grilled cheese or PB&J. The boys have since mentioned several times how much they loved their grilled cheese. My daughter tried a fresh strawberry smoothie and  finished it before I got a taste. My boys convinced me to let them try an Oreo shake. Again, putting forth great customer service, the associate heard me tell the boys they could share it, and he offered to put it in two cups for them. He brought those out to our table complete with an Oreo garnish on the rim of each cup and had the cups measured exactly; as you know there could be war if one cup had an extra sip.

You can choose the original size subs, or do the BIGS, which are 30% larger. Since we shared some loaded broccoli cheddar soup, chips, shakes etc, the Original was plenty for us.  

I went for the meatless Mediterranean sub. It had feta, artichokes, cucumbers roasted red peppers, and hummus. Remember, though, they are made to order. So if you wanted to swap out ingredients, or simply add more, you just need to ask. My husband’s homemade tuna salad was flavorful. Originals start at $4.60 and BIGS start at $5.60. Salads start at $6.25 and a cup of soup is $3.20. Sometimes, only comfort food will do.

Bottom Line:  The potbelly stove remains a symbol of people gathering together and enjoying one another’s company. At Potbelly Sandwich Shop, customer service, as well as delicious hot sandwiches, are front and center. Though carry-out is popular with those on the run, stay a bit if you can and enjoy a relaxing step back in time.
 Karen Zickes is a mom of three active children and freelance writer who resides in Holland, OH. She can be reached in c/o editor@toledoparent.com.

Potbelly Sandwich Shop
4038 Talmadge Rd.
Monday thru Saturday: 11am-9pm
Sunday: 11am-8pm