By Jennifer Friedlin, Hungry Marketing
When Andy Jacobi and Ricky King set out to open a restaurant they sought to solve a conundrum: Could they turn the taste for slow food into a quick lunch option? The answer now exists in the form of Untamed Sandwiches, which has branches in midtown and DUMBO and a third set to open this summer. While the meat was braising, Jacobi sat down to tell Hungry how it all started and why location is everything.
What is Untamed Sandwiches?
We make braised meat sandwiches using sustainable ingredients. We use braising cuts – lamb neck, pork butt, beef short ribs and beef brisket – and we’re hyper focused on sustainability so we’re only using grass-fed beef, pasteur-raised lamb and pork, and free-range chicken.
We’re focusing on this super premium quality of food and using these delicious braising cuts and a classic braising technique takes our chef 5 days to execute. Basically, we have taken a prep intensive process and made it a service concept.
Where did the idea for Untamed come from?
When I was in business school I worked for a grass-fed buffalo meat company. I got to know a chef who would become my partner here, Ricky King. We started talking about taking this classic cooking technique and designing a quick service concept around it. We wanted to provide this amazing quality of food and cooking expertise by creating a simple concept focused on convenience.
How do you combine the prep intensive with quick service?
It takes us five days to go from raw meat to braise that’s ready for a sandwich but once it’s out on the service line we can make sandwiches in 2 and half minutes. The concept we thought lent itself well to office environment and a clientele that appreciates food and doesn’t just want to eat at the corner bodega or Subway but still only has only 30 minutes to eat.
When did you open?
We opened our doors at our original location in the Bryant Park neighborhood in 2014. We always envisioned that we wanted a few stores, but it’s a very homegrown business. Neither of us had a huge amount of wealth or expertise in building businesses and we didn’t come at this with a ton of capital. So the idea was to build our proof of concept with our original location and then try and build it out.
Then we a commissary kitchen in DUMBO. It’s where we’re doing all of our braising for this store, our flagship Bryant Park location, and our third location, which we will open on Lexington between 54th and 55th later this summer. We think the commissary can support a couple more locations beyond that.
How did you know how to build the model?
I spent a lot of my career in finance so that expertise was useful to me to assess the capital needs of the business and how to build something that would attract investors and be a sustainable business. Ricky was a great chef and I knew how to work with small businesses and read a P&L. We approached friends and family for our initial round of capital.
Why did you choose Bryant Park as your first location?
In a city like New York, real estate prices are insane and most businesses will fail simply based on bad real estate decisions. You have to say, ‘Where am I going to get the highest concentration of the customers I am looking for.’ I knew that we had built the concept around being able to make hundreds of sandwiches an hour and so midtown was an ideal place for us.
We had certain neighborhoods in mind but we didn’t have all the money in the world and we wanted to do this in a less risky way so we thought we should make sure we’re in the right neighborhood, if not the best spot in that neighborhood. Instead we decided we would hustle a little harder to market ourselves and get our customers to find us because we had a lot of confidence that once they did we’d build a great business. So rather than pay for the corner spot on the middle of a busy avenue we are in the middle of the longest street in Manhattan which is between 5th and 6th avenues.
So what that means is, or at least my thesis on why our numbers look the way they do, has a lot to do with where we are. We are in a neighborhood with a high concentration of people who could be customers but we’re basically no one’s closest option so on the days when the weather is really terrible and cold our walk in sales will plummet. Our delivery sales go up a lot.
No one is saying, it’s so cold so I’m just going to run to my local spot and that is Untamed Sandwiches. A lot of people can say that about the Hale and Hearty or the Pret a Manger on 6th avenue.
I’m happy with the decision we made and the space we have. We found exactly what we needed.
What about Dumbo?
We started talking to the landlord two years ago because this is a brand new development and they needed to do their work before we could do ours. But it’s a similar idea. Dumbo is becoming one of the business epicenters in Brooklyn. It’s the first stop over the bridge. It’s convenient, accessible, it’s a cool neighborhood.
Beyond the new location opening this summer, what are your plans for the future?
We have humble plans to keep growing and to become an even more important part of a more ethical food system. Behind the sandwiches that we serve are many, many farmers, ranchers, butchers and artisans who are making food that is special, in taste and in terms of the sustainable practices they use. From the gluten free bakery in Boise that we source our GF rolls from to Dickson's Farmstand, where we get a lot of our meat, our success enables these great producers to succeed as well.
What was the biggest lesson you learned from the experience of opening Untamed?
Our whole business model is predicated on taking the highest quality ingredients and utilizing them in a classic, low and slow braising technique. Getting these ingredients and making our braises isn’t easy. Having that standard means that we are always looking for efficiencies, and there is a fine line between efficiencies and short cuts. Anytime we have tried to take a shortcut, it comes back to bite us. Staying true to the specialness of the food and the experience we offer is paramount, and doing that day in and day out is hard work!