On Tuesday, Potbelly Sandwich Shop held the grand opening of its St. Paul Street location. Construction of the new site has been underway since the early weeks of winter.
“We’ve all been really working our butts off for the past month and a half to get the store ready, and we’re all just so excited,” Jessica Byars, the shop’s general manager, said.
Byars stressed that Potbelly’s main focus is on being the so-called neighborhood sandwich shop, complimenting and being responsive to the community that surrounds it. That’s why they chose St. Paul Street for the new establishment.
“Potbelly strives to be the neighborhood sandwich shop, and we really think that Charles Village has that really awesome Baltimore neighborhood feel. So we thought this was the perfect location. As well as the spirit that the students bring to the neighborhood, as well as the historic and utter nature of this area, we really thought that Potbelly brought what this neighborhood needed,” Byars said.
Part of those needs included a diversification in eating establishments, Byars said.
“We also noticed that there really aren’t that many food options down here on this little strip that were on St. Paul’s Street. You know, I keep joking with everybody ‘You can’t eat Chipotle every day,’” Byars said.
She also noted students’ reactions since Potbelly’s opening, observing that they rank the shop as a welcome addition to an otherwise deficient area for finding good food.
“I’ve heard a couple people come in and just talk about how the prices are much lower than a lot of the other options on this road. I’ve talked to a lot of other people who were saying that they’re so excited they don’t have to eat Subway anymore. So I think that it’s something new and fun and that the students so far are pleased with what they’ve seen.”
Students generally agree. Freshman Leslie Cunningham welcomes Potbelly’s presence on St. Paul’s Street as an exciting increase in restaurant options. “I’m glad there’s a new eatery opening because it will be more of a variety and it’s not just Chipotle and Subway anymore,” Cunningham said.
Similarly, Junior Gilbert Pasquale heralded Potbelly as better than the surrounding sandwich shops. “Potbelly is a superior sandwich establishment to all the other stores on Charles Village’s St. Paul’s Street. It’s just nicer quality food than Subway, UniMini, Quiznos, and all that,” he said.
Sophomore Nikhil Gupta, who admitted that he has yet to try the St. Paul’s Street Potbelly, spoke about his experiences at other Potbelly locations. “I love Potbelly. It’s got a great atmosphere, which is one of my favorite parts. The food is really unique, and they’ve got really great service,” Gupta said.
While he has high hopes for the establishment, he’s waiting to visit the new shop before passing judgment on how it compares to other venues. “I guess we’ll have to wait and see how they handle the service, but I really like the products,” Gupta said.
Byars maintained that Potbelly’s service is one of its greatest strengths. She highlighted efforts to serve customers as quickly as possible. “[What] really makes us unique is that we’re fast. We value customers’ time. We really want people to get in and out, but also leave a lasting impression at the same time,” she said.
She also pointed to the employees as a perfect exemplification of Potbelly’s commitment to customer service and community involvement.
“In my opinion, I think we have some of the friendliest employees across the board at this company. And we have people that are genuinely here to make people happy, and that’s really what we want. What we want is to make your guys’ lives better, make your day better, whether or not it’s through great conversation, great food, or getting involved with the neighborhood in any way possible,” Byars said.
One of the ways that the shop hopes to get involved in the community is by supporting Hopkins groups and organizations in their efforts to raise money for charitable causes.
“I preach that we want to be the neighborhood sandwich shop, and we really do. We really want to help the neighborhood out in any way that we can. If it’s, you know, ‘I have a big meeting and I need to feed a group of people,’ we’ll deliver those sandwiches to your meeting at 8 p.m. Or if it’s ‘I’m trying to raise money for my fraternity or sorority for some sort of philanthropy,’ we’ll work with you to decide whatever fundraiser is right for you,” Byars said.
Pasquale, who currently serves as the President of Beta Theta Pi, was excited by the prospect of Potbelly’s support for the organization’s charitable endeavors. “We’ll definitely talk to them,” Pasquale said.
This sort of neighborhood involvement is part of the reason Byar is enthused to once again work in a college town. Having just graduated from Penn State University’s School of Hospitality Management in 2010, she went to work for Potbelly, running its College Park location.
When she left to run the company’s Annapolis location, she missed the energy surrounding colleges. She remarked that she is thrilled to once again work in a robust college atmosphere, particularly one in Baltimore.
“I graduated in 2010, so I think I still have that young college spirit. I live in Baltimore City; I love this city, so I’m passionate about the community because these kids love Baltimore, and they’re young and they’re fun, so I feel like I can really relate to them as well as get a staff that can relate to them as well,” Byar said. “I’m so excited to take some of the things that I learned from the University of Maryland and running that Potbelly over here.”
One aspect of the Hopkins community that differs from the others she has worked in is the prevalence of J-Cash, which students can use as money at practically every business surrounding the Homewood campus. The day of its opening, students could be seen reaching into their pockets and removing their J-Cards, only to be told by Potbelly’s cashiers that the venue doesn’t yet take J-Cash.
Whether Potbelly will accept J-Cash in the future is still up in the air. “I have not had any word from my upper management on the J-Cash yes or no. I do know that they’re talking to the people,” Byars said.
Still, Byars views the shop’s opening as a success, noting that she has already witnessed many regulars returning to the store each day. She believes their business to be a result of the establishment’s atmosphere, as well as its food.
“Like I said, we’ve got some really friendly and genuine people that work here that really just want to make you happy. That’s where it starts, plus I think our quality of our product is just absolutely amazing.”