Cover photo: The Chicken Philly at The Kitchen on Jackson Ave. courtesy of Memphis Sandwich Clique.
If you live in Memphis and have Facebook, then you probably know about the Memphis Sandwich Clique. Amassing over 11,000 followers in just 6 months, the Clique’s Facebook group has become a ubiquitous platform for all things sandwich in the 901.
I met with Reuben Skahill, one of the Clique’s founding members, to find out a little bit more about this sandwich phenomenon.
We met at Raffe’s deli on Poplar (near Highland – if you haven’t been there, let me ask you what you’re doing with your life). Reuben ordered the muffuletta – a new experience for him, and I had the falafel wrap – likely my 100th one from there (although, according to the rules of the Clique, it does not qualify as a sandwich) and some pasta salad that is life-affirming. Everything was delicious and the service is amazing.
Anyway, back to the Clique:
What inspired the Memphis Sandwich Clique?
Reuben Skahill: The Memphis Sandwich Clique really started as an idea, or a question, more than what it is today. It’s just the basic question of “Where is the best sandwich in Memphis?” The reason why it is a group and not a Facebook status or something was because Ryan (Ryan Hopgood, the other founding member) and I had seen other cities do sandwich pages where they have all these great looking sandwiches, but there wasn’t anything highlighting Memphis. So instead of making a quick post about it, we decided to have an ongoing discussion, kind of like a portal, a bigger idea.
Why sandwiches, why not just the Memphis food scene in general?
RS: Barbecue is overplayed. I also have a personal love of sandwiches. Sandwiches are so broad. I mean everyone should be able to enjoy some kind of sandwich, hopefully. And I like to think of Memphis and life as a sandwich—it just makes sense. There are all these different kinds of ingredients, but everyone can grab a hold of it and come together, it’s so easy.
Did you expect the group to be as popular as it is?
RS: No. No, not in this capacity. I did expect it to catch on and for people to slowly join. I did not expect it to blow up like it did. But now we’re capitalizing on it. It’s pretty awesome because it’s all grassroots and it wasn’t pushing everything faster than what it could handle, so it was organic and it’s pretty cool.
What made y’all want to create merchandise?
RS: I think that after more people started coming together, there was this sense of community in the group, and not so much to brand it but just to give people something visual they could generalize with the sandwich group was something that I thought was important. It’s really cool when you can come together, it kind of opens the door for something lighthearted and easy to talk about. You can break the ice with anybody about it.
Going through the posts, you see a lot of the same places over and over again. Have any of those local spots said that the group has increased their traffic at all?
RS: Oh yeah. I think the reason why we blew up so big was because of our first find, Sam’s Deli. I remember going in there when they first opened last year and I was the only one there. Then through this group, people have been slowly getting turned on to it. And that was the first event we threw, the first “sandwich meet-up” was at Sam’s Deli, and we actually ran them out of bread and all of their sandwiches and they left this beautiful thank you from the owners, just “thank you, thank you, thank you,” and from there it doesn’t stop. People continue to go there. There’s been numerous places where the traffic has increased, and at the end of the day, that’s on them. I wouldn’t say that it’s because of us, we just helped highlight what was already there. We can’t take the credit.
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Do you think that the popularity of the Clique and just sandwiches, in general, has led to any menu diversity or creative competition within Memphis restaurants?
RS: Absolutely. You can see local places, there’s at least 2 or 3 places, that have The Clique on their menu. I think Elwood’s Shack has a Clique-inspired breakfast sandwich, and La Hacienda, where we just had a meetup, they just introduced sandwiches in general. They didn’t have any and now they have these “Clique-approved” sandwiches. So I think that it’s definitely pushing innovation and creativity and making the overall sandwich picture in Memphis have higher quality. It really is cool to see how people are paying attention. You’re talking about this primarily Mexican place putting out these Mexican-themed sandwiches, but now anyone who likes sandwiches in the group is going to try this new place where they wouldn’t have normally gone. It’s a win-win-win.
I’ve noticed there is now a “There are many other foods besides sandwiches that are great” group on Facebook. How do you feel about groups like this popping up?
RS: There’s mixed feelings about it. I overall encourage it. I think that some of these groups are born in a negative light from our group, but if it turns into a positive for the community then our group is just doing even more. So as long as it stays positive and it’s not bashing anyone, I’m for it. You should love food, you should be able to post about it if you want to.
There will always be cynics.
RS: Of course, but at the end of the day, if they want revenge but all it does it push people towards the sandwich group, then what have they really accomplished? There’s really no bad press.
With groups like this popping up, do you expect other, more food-specific groups to come about, like barbecue or pizza, etc.?
RS: I expect them to pop up, but I don’t expect them to blow up like we did. I think it was just a sensation of sorts, where if another one comes up, it’s more like a copy somewhat. I mean it could blow up, which is great, but I don’t think it will be the same originality. More like a sequel. I’d also like to point out that The Memphis Sandwich Clique is active on these other groups as well that are more general, like Memphis Eats and other groups that highlight all Memphis food. We like to post our sandwiches on that page and be a part of the bigger community of food. We don’t discriminate against other foods. I did have someone joke that the paparazzi is going to take a picture of me ordering a taco or something.
Right. I was wondering if it would be blasphemy for me to not order a sandwich during our meeting.
RS: Not at all, order it, just don’t post it on the group. There is so much traffic on the group, from so many different places. The content isn’t the problem it’s the quality of what you’re seeing, that’s something I worry about.
With that being said, do you like that people post their homemade sandwiches, or would you prefer that it be more local businesses that are represented?
RS: We discussed this as a group with our moderators. I’m for it. There is a certain standard that I like if you’re going to post from the house like you wanna know what’s on it, so it can be recreated. It doesn’t help local businesses as much, but let’s be honest, not all of us can go out and get a sandwich every day, so it’s nice to have inspiring homemade stuff that you can save a buck or two on. Seeing other people do it can get the ball rolling. I don’t mind it. If it looks good and you list the ingredients then we’ll allow it.
So far, what do you think the group’s favorite sandwich spot is?
RS: We don’t have one specific place, and I think because sandwiches are so general, you have to narrow it down. Like what kind of sandwich are we talking about? As far as a classic sub sandwich, we all agree that Miss B’s* is the reigning “Queen of Sandwiches.” For like a toasted sandwich or getting a little more complex, I like Sam’s Deli. Rawk’n Grub is one of the more creative places that I’ve seen in Memphis as far as ingredients and names for sandwiches. But I think everywhere has their best thing that they do, so that’s what usually gets highlighted, like the Italian Stallion from Elwood’s Shack, there’s been numerous posts about that and that one was Clique-inspired.
What is your favorite?
RS: My favorite right now is the Big Tex from Sam’s Deli. If I had to pick one, it’s either that or Miss B’s.
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woke up this morning and my first thought was i need to get some Ms B’s. got myself this masterpiece😍 THE COLD CUT i got it with everything and it is LOADED. if you dont get to 1256 Getwell Rd you are MISSING OUT. best sandwich in town. dont even try to @ me @ms.b_sub_shop
We paused here because our food was delivered. We both whipped out our cameras to snap a few pics. Reuben said, “I never thought, in my entire life, that I’d be taking pictures of food, but now, this is life. So, I get kind of ridiculous, I take pride in it.” He’s getting pretty good at it, too. His pics in the Clique are always mouthwatering.
Continuing on, with pauses for chewing.
Regarding the whole “what makes a sandwich a sandwich” thing. One of the rules for The Clique is that hotdogs/wraps/tacos are not sandwiches. What’s your take on that?
RS: It always gets so technical, but in the end you know what a sandwich is, you know. So if you’re saying something is a sandwich that isn’t, then you’re just being difficult on purpose. I do encourage a little bit of drama on the group, and it’s been weird learning how to manage 11,000 people but I think overall people are pleased. There hasn’t been that many negative reviews. This is one of my favorite groups, even if I wasn’t running it, because it’s all fun. It’s just fun, there’s not arguing about politics and things that people get so caught up on. It’s just sandwiches. If you’re going to fight about sandwiches, then you’re an idiot. You can go on a tangent about a hotdog, you can talk about it all you want to, and, hopefully, no one is getting offended. I think it’s a great outlet. Once this isn’t fun and it’s just work, then… we just delete it.
Have you considered making it a public group, or will it stay invite-only?
RS: We’re the most inclusive exclusive group out there. It’s a clique. So we reserve the right to kick anybody out or not let you in, to begin with. So yeah. If it was public, we’d have to make it a membership. I want to be able to say “I don’t like this vibe, so goodbye.” Like I said, I want to do it because it’s fun… if it gets so intensive that I need to get paid then I’ll figure something out, but for now, it’s a hobby that’s making the community a better place and making me feel better about living in it, then that’s really all I can ask for.
With the growth and reach of the group, are people willing to do sponsorships?
RS: Yeah. We actually have a great way to do advertising: buy people sandwiches. We had this one guy do it on his own, before we prompted anyone. So it was at Rawk’n Grub, they posted that they were having a slow day, did anyone want to come grab a sandwich. So this guy who owns Smith’s Plumbing, basically said “I’ll bankroll the first 10 people that come in. I’ll buy your lunch.” So from that, I got the idea that pretty much you can do any kind of advertising where you spend $100—which is relatively cheap for advertising—by buying people sandwiches. The restaurant gets sales, the Clique members get free sandwiches, and the person who does it gets cheap advertising. The options are limitless. I think ya know, if someone bought me a sandwich, I’ll consider them. Like I’ll never forget Smith’s Plumbing. He’s a cool dude, he’ll always be a cool dude because he bought those sandwiches.
How do you feel the Clique is adding to what people know about the Memphis food scene?
RS: The Memphis food scene is always talked about, it’s worldwide. People talk about the barbecue and the chicken. This is local, ya know, how much barbecue does a Memphian really eat? If you’re from out of town and you come here, you’ll eat barbecue but if you live here, you want other stuff. So this is for us. You can go down the list of places from our group and probably go 50 days to a different place, and it’s only growing. Everyone is telling their secrets now. Before this group, people would be like “I’m gonna take you to my place, no one really knows about it.” But now it’s like, I’m gonna show everybody my place, so the places are getting the recognition they really deserve. Like I said earlier, I can’t take all the credit, these people have been doing this already. The food is good. I’m sending people in the right direction, but it’s the shops, they’re the reason why the group is successful. If the product wasn’t good, no one would care about what we are posting.