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Published: Thursday, 2/21/2008

Local sauerkraut in sweet spot

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Omar Gabriel guides sauerkraut through the process at Fremont Co., supplier to area Subway restaurants. Omar Gabriel guides sauerkraut through the process at Fremont Co., supplier to area Subway restaurants.
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FREMONT - If Chris Smith gets his way, Subway Shops will one day be able to raise signs stating: "Billions and billions served."

That would mean that the chain's experiment with Reuben sandwiches was a success.

Mr. Smith is head of sales for Fremont Co., which is supplying sauerkraut for the sandwiches being sold in about two dozen Subway shops in the Toledo area and likely soon available in 100 stores throughout the region, according to a local franchisee.

"For something we're not advertising, some stores are selling 100 sandwiches a week," said Marc Hall, who operates six Subway outlets in the Toledo area.

And the Reuben, dubbed a Southwest and using turkey in place of the usual corned beef, could be introduced on an experimental basis in up to 10,000 Subway shops nationwide, Mr. Hall said.

The story of how lowly sauerkraut - fermented cabbage, actually - earned a test run in the huge sandwich chain centers on a conversation between a Subway franchisee and a vendor during a semiannual gathering of store owners in Atlanta.

Mr. Smith, whose company bills itself as the nation's second-largest producer of sauerkraut, set up a booth at the gathering in hopes of scoring a few sales. Mr. Hall, the Toledo franchisee, stopped by to thank the fellow northwest Ohioan for showing up.

But he was initially unreceptive when the Fremont Co. sales executive suggested adding sauerkraut to the Subway menu.

"I wasn't sure how it would fit on a sandwich," Mr. Hall conceded. The pair agreed it was unfortunate that Subway doesn't sell corned beef.

The two brainstormed and suggested substituting turkey, which they grabbed from another vendor.

Franchisees, even those who don't appreciate the finer points of sauerkraut, liked the sandwich. After winning corporate approval, Mr. Hall introduced it in his stores in November.

It is available in selected stores in Toledo, Bowling Green, Alvada, Upper Sandusky, and Fostoria. It is made with wheat bread, turkey, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and southwest sauce.

The franchisee said the sandwich will be introduced this year in 100 other stores in the region.

"There is interest elsewhere from as many as 10,000 stores," Mr. Hall added. Some franchisees have suggested putting corned beef on the Subway menu and selling an authentic Reuben.

"That would be quite a success story for us," said Mr. Smith, of the Fremont Co. With the growing popularity of the Reuben, the 103-year-old producer of Snow Floss and Frank's Saurerkraut sells to a growing list of restaurants, including Arby's.

But Mr. Smith isn't surprised by the success of the sandwich at Subway. "People are looking for intense flavors, and sauerkraut adds that," he said.

Contact Gary Pakulski at:

gpakulski@theblade.com

or 419-724-6082.



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