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Signature Series: Sandwiches & Wraps

Operators share customers' favorite deli-inspired items.

When campus outsiders refuse to leave a location without having a certain sandwich or wrap, you know you've landed on a special combination. As part of our ongoing Signature Series, FSD spoke to operators about how these sandwiches and wraps have developed a cult-like following among customers.

Santa Fe Turkey Wrap
Union Public Schools, Tulsa, Okla.

At the district’s new Union Collegiate Academy there are nine different dining concepts to tempt students, including a deli and panini grill. Eli Huff, executive chef/culinary operations coordinator, says to satisfy students’ desire for customization, the deli is set up like a Subway; however, there are base sandwiches and wraps the kids can build on. One that has really caught on is the Santa Fe Turkey Wrap.

“You open up your 12-inch wrap, put in your turkey, jack cheese and our own chipotle ranch dressing and that’s the basis for the meal requirements,” says Huff. “Then we let the kids add on whatever they want to, be it roasted vegetables, jalapenos, olives, tomatoes, lettuce, etc. It’s been so popular that we offer it in two locations now. We also offer the wrap for grab and go.” 

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Screaming Eagle
Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Mass.

The Screaming Eagle is the very definition of a signature sandwich on a college campus, so much so even The New York Times gave it its due in an article on classic campus food. Michael Kann, associate director of food and beverage, says his department sells about 80,000 of the sandwiches each academic year.

“It’s a steak and cheese sub, basically,” says Kann. “Customers can then pick their own toppings. Anything from broccoli, caramelized onions, peppers and mushrooms. They have their choice of American or cheddar cheese. The classic preparation is steak, cheese, peppers or onions and a chipotle mayo.”

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Crunchy Chicken Cheddar Wrap
University of Kansas, Lawrence

Alecia Stultz, assistant director of retail for KU Dining Services, doesn’t quite understand what makes the Crunchy Chicken Cheddar Wrap so popular.

“Basically it is the simplest thing ever,” Stultz says. “It’s breaded chicken tenders, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, a cheddar/Monterrey jack cheese mix and ranch dressing in a jalapeno cheddar wrap. It was part of the original menu when we launched our sandwich concept Brellas in late 2005 or early 2006. It stemmed from trying to create something out of ingredients we already had on hand. It’s been the staple of Brellas every since. To date we have served close to 400,000, more than 60,000 per year.”

The wrap has gained such a following that Stultz says the campus’s franchised Pizza Hut guy was one of its devotees. He needed something quick on his way to the airport, so the department made him a Crunchy Chicken Cheddar Wrap. Now every time he visits campus he has to get one. The Crunchy Chicken Cheddar Wrap’s fame even extended to a campus fundraiser in 2009, when Habitat for Humanity held a 5K run where students had to stop halfway through the race and eat a Crunchy Chicken Cheddar Wrap and then run the rest of the race. Stultz says it was the largest single event fundraiser for that group on campus.

“I think it’s just everything that you love all rolled up into one,” Stultz says. “The flavors just go so well together that when you bite into it you get the best of everything. Plus, it’s handheld so you can take it with you. I think signature items go along with your brand. Anytime you can say, home of the famous Crunchy Chicken Cheddar Wrap, it’s always just really cool for the customers. It creates a following. You’ll get them in to get that item, but it’s also exposing them to everything else we offer.”

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Spring Chicken Wrap
University of Kansas, Lawrence

New for spring, but already gaining a following is the spring chicken wrap, says Alecia Stultz. The wrap features grilled chicken, shredded lettuce and spinach, cucumbers, avocado and mango salsa.

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Tuscany Panini
Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, New Brunswick, N.J.

At Robert Wood Johnson, paninis are all the rage, the most popular being the Tuscany Panini, according to Tony Almeida, director of food and nutrition.

“We run four standard paninis every day,” Almedia says. “Our most popular is our Tuscany panini. It’s got grilled chicken, roasted red peppers, mozzarella cheese and fresh pesto.”

Almedia thinks the way the paninis are displayed is part of the reason they are so appealing. The station goes through about 200 to 225 paninis a day.

“Signature items bring customers back,” Almedia says. “If it’s a good quality sandwich, people will keep coming back. We’re bringing them items that they can’t make at home.” 

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Short Rib Melt
University of Southern California, Los Angeles

Eric Ernest, executive chef for USC Hospitality, says his department’s most popular sandwiches are usually twists on traditional favorites. One of the most popular is the Short Rib Melt, which is a cross between a melt and a French dip.

“You take braised short rib and top it with pickled onions, arugula and Gruyère cheese, served on toasted fresh focaccia,” says Ernest. “We serve it with the braising liquid on the side. So it’s a melt, but you can treat it as a dip if you’d like.” 

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The Dagwood
University of Southern California, Los Angeles

Ernst says another signature for the department can be found at Moreton Fig, one of USC’s full-service restaurants. The Dagwood features free-range turkey breast, which is cooked sous vide, housemade roast beef, French ham, Swiss cheese and Dijon aioli on pumpernickel bread.

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Deep-Fried Peanut Butter and Jelly 
James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va. (Aramark)

A twist on a classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich seems to be a prerequisite at most universities, but at James Madison University, the dining department took a step further and made the lunch bag staple into a decadent treat.

We take the standard peanut butter and jelly and deep-fry it,” Janet Worley, assistant foodservice director, says. “We take the whole sandwich, which we make with white bread, and we dip it in waffle batter and deep-fry it. We serve it with a raspberry sauce and sprinkle it with white powered sugar. It’s not only a sandwich, but it’s a dessert as well.”

Worley says the sandwich came out of encouraging the department’s chefs to experiment. “One of our chefs thought it might be a good twist on something we were already offering,” Worley says. “We have a custom PB&J bar so this [sandwich] was the next evolution of that.”

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Shenandoah Panini
James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va. (Aramark)

Cheesy Thursdays is a well-known campus tradition at James Madison University, according to Janet Worley. This is when the dining halls serve grilled cheese sandwiches, tomato soup and homemade cheesecake.

“[Signature items] become part of the culture and university experience,” Worley says. “It’s important to create that experience so the students will remember it beyond graduation.”

Knowing grilled cheese’s place in the hearts of the students, the department wanted to create a special grilled cheese that showcased some local ingredients. The Shenandoah Panini is a grilled cheese with a twist, says Jay Vetter, executive chef.

“This area is known for poultry and apples,” Vetter says. “We take a grilled cheese and we add an apple cider marinated chicken to it. We top it with local apples, cheddar cheese and caramelized onions. At our grilled cheese station we also always serve the sandwiches with dipping sauces. For this particular sandwich, we offer a mustard barbecue sauce that contains local honey. We serve that with a deep-fried dill pickle.”

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