Sad news for Berkeley sandwich lovers: the Berkeley location of The Sandwich Spot is closing on May 24, according to co-owner Bill Armanino, Jr., who opened the deli at 2106 Shattuck Ave. in August of 2013 with his sister, Andrea.
The reason for the shop’s closure, Armanino said, is financial. “It’s just time to get out of Berkeley. I had a year left on my lease and with rents and the minimum wage going up, my kind of business won’t be able to survive. We just decided to get out a year early.”
Armanino employs a staff of about 10, and six to seven are needed during a lunch shift. He said because he pays his staff above minimum wage and gives them bonuses, the price of running a business that sells sandwiches at a cost of $6.49-$8.99 keeps profit margins too slim to continue the business. “I could only charge so much for a deli sandwiches,” he said. “Pizza places can charge $25; I can’t sell a sandwich for $25.”
Rent is a bigger issue for Armanino, who said that competing with national and local chain-food vendors in downtown Berkeley has raised the cost for small business owners who operate on different margins. “They’re paying $5-7 a square foot, so everyone else’s rent goes up. There are a lot of other guys wanting to get out of Berkeley that are small shops as well. It’s pretty hard in Berkeley,” he said.
Although Armanino has sold the lease on The Sandwich Spot (he was unable to tell us who the new lease owner is, or what the new business will be) and is getting out of the deli business, he plans on continuing his other company, Bomba Doughnuts, a popular gourmet doughnut pop-up that he’s run out of the front of The Sandwich Spot on Wednesday mornings since July 2016.
The last day for Bomba’s run inside of The Sandwich Spot will be May 24, but Armanino said he will reopen as a food truck in the near future. He’s working with the Downtown Berkeley Association to secure a spot two days a week in the area, as he’s got a strong local following, but he also plans on taking Bomba on the road, working the Off the Grid circuit. Bomba is known for its gourmet doughnuts and cronuts, offering specialty flavors like ricotta honey and sea salt, bacon maple and strawberry Nutella. Armanino said when his truck launches, he’ll offer a revolving menu with several mainstays and a couple of specials.
The Sandwich Spot, founded in 2007 by Thomas Heally, has more than 25 licensed locations around California, including several in the Bay Area, but the Berkeley shop is the only East Bay location, and is a lunchtime favorite for hungry Berkeley High and Cal students. Armanino said the deli sees about 75% return business. Although they serve about 200 customers a day, he said, “We know almost everyone’s name and their sandwich.”
The Armanino siblings are very supportive of their student customers. A giant Oski image adorns one wall of the deli. And in March, when the Berkeley High men’s varsity soccer team captured its first North Coast Section championship in 13 years, the team’s 22 players were treated to a complimentary championship lunch by The Sandwich Spot.
Armanino also stressed that his staff is a huge part of what makes The Sandwich Spot in Berkeley special. Four of his employees — Sophia Price, Sean Robinson, Damon Plant and Jared Jethmal — have worked at the deli since its opening in 2013. “[Customers] connect with one of our staff members, and it’s like a big family atmosphere.”
The Sandwich Spot will offer a special on its last day, Wednesday, May 24. Customers who buy a sandwich will get a free upgrade to a combo (chips and a fountain drink). And a word to the wise, if you’re interested in getting a Bomba Doughnut on that last day, be sure to arrive early — they sell like