What Starbucks did for coffee, Potbelly Sandwich Works (a Chicago based restaurant chain) is doing for another American staple — the sandwich. People used to say a cup of coffee was a cup of coffee, $25 billion dollars later Starbucks has redefined the market. Just like its Seatle based coffee cousin, Potbelly is a Chicago cult classic. We finally got our first Starbucks in Kent — Now let’s go after Potbelly Sandwich Works.
Starbucks isn’t about selling coffee, it’s a cultural experience. It’s home away from home, or as CEO Howard Schultz says “it’s the third place in people’s lives: home, work and Starbucks.” Potbelly takes that same approach to the layout of their restaurant. It will never be confused with Subway or Quiznos — it’s bright, quirky, brimming with color. There are street signs, vintage posters and photographs, shelves lined with books.
Unlike Starbucks, Potbelly has remarkably reasonable prices — every sandwich costs $3.79, every shake, malt or smoothie costs $2.69. There’s a loft above the main row of booths where performers play live music most afternoons. And there is, of course, a potbelly stove, one of which adorns every outlet as a tribute to the original store.
The CEO says they’re “the anti-chain. We could build our stores faster and cheaper if everything was precut, preplanned, perfectly regimented. I like to be perfect but I want the elements of our stores to be imperfect. That’s part of the charm.” To that end the company has its own full time designer whose job it is to be sure that all the stores have the right mix of signs, books, artwork and artifacts to give them a personal touch and local feel.
Potbelly’s official menu is limited to 11 core sandwiches but the shop makes off-menu items — something known inside the company as Potbelly Underground. It’s like a personalized club where verteran sandwich buyers learn how to order from the underground menu. It’s one of the most popular parts of the Potbelly formula — people love the sense of discovery.
Potbellys, like Starbucks, has figured out how to stop interacting with customers purely on the basis of dollars and cents. Instead they have encouraged customers to buy into their values and forge bonds of loyalty and shared identity that help both sides cut through the clutter of the marketplace. To stand out from the crowd, these companies have come to stand for something special in the eyes of the customers.
If this isn’t a perfect fit for Kent, I don’t know what is. Help me get a Potbelly in Kent ASAP!
Here’s a map of the current locations — they’re close, we just need them to move on up north-east a bit. (current locations noted by red push pin).