SMB Spotlight: Sandwich Me In

As part of a regular series here at the Fivestars blog, we’ll take a look at some of our clients who have achieved success with our one-stop loyalty reward program. We’ve seen proven results for some time – now, we’d like to share them with you to give you a better idea of how implementing our program can help you acquire, grow, and retain your customer base and ultimately, improve your business. At the very least, we hope you will pick up a few tips from these superstar small business owners!

Can a business really be zero-waste?

It definitely can! In fact, Sandwich Me In, located in Chicago, Illinois, is one of the first zero-waste restaurants in the entire nation. Brainchild of Justin Vrany, Sandwich Me In first opened its doors in May of 2012 and has since then been serving up sandwiches for visitors from all over the world. Everything the restaurant sells is made in-house from scratch with ingredients provided from local farms. As a kid, Justin had his heart set on being a chef and restaurateur – he is the perfect example of the old adage, “anything is possible if you work hard enough!”

When Sandwich Me In first opened up, Justin was pretty much a one-man show. Although he handled everything himself, he was prepared for the challenges. He came into the restaurant every day with the intention of working hard – the hard work has definitely paid off because he now has added several employees and chefs and managed to build up a well-known reputation for Sandwich Me In. Still, running a restaurant definitely had its challenges. Justin’s restaurant is in an area of Chicago that’s mostly populated with large corporations. For a long time, the business was overlooked and one of the most challenging things Justin had to achieve was simply getting the attention of the local community.

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Sandwich Me In’s Fivestars Story

After about a year and a half of handing out samples outside the store and advertising on social media, things began to pick up. People began talking about the restaurant and soon, Sandwich Me In was getting plenty of business. As more and more people found out about the zero-waste restaurant, Justin and his business began to get a lot of press. Since opening, they’ve been featured on the front page of The Washington Post, on Chicago Tonight, and plenty of other local channels. Their social media pages began to get more popular, and eventually, a documentary was even made about Sandwich Me In!

When Justin first heard about Fivestars, he was hesitant to try it out. One day, our co-founder, Victor Ho, actually visited the restaurant and struck up a conversation with Justin. After hearing about the Fivestars mission, Justin decided it worth a shot. He really liked that it was centered on small businesses – he didn’t want to deal with big corporations and liked to support other small businesses. Justin’s favorite Fivestars feature is AutoPilot because of how easy it is to use. He appreciates the simplicity of the program and loves that he gets so many people coming in to the restaurant every time he sends out coupons.

How Do They Do It?

Most of Sandwich Me In’s trash gets composted. Since Chicago made it legal for external companies to pick up compost, Justin has since been working with two companies to pick up the restaurant’s garbage. These companies then churn the compost with a little dirt, and within a hundred days, the entire mixture turns into dirt. That dirt is then used to plant the produce the restaurant uses in all its food! As Justin tells me with great satisfaction, “It’s like the cycle of life.”

Aside from the compostable waste, Sandwich Me In has managed to collect about 15 gallons of actual garbage that Justin hadn’t been able to do anything with. Because he really wanted to stick by his zero-waste policy, he knew he had to figure out something creative to do with it. Eventually, he decided to turn all that garbage into art. Three artists are currently working with all the materials and once they are finished, he will display all the pieces in-house. One area that Justin really wants to work on is recycling. Chicago isn’t the greatest when it comes to recycling (he tells me only 20% of recyclable items actually get recycled), so he personally brings all the restaurant’s recyclables to nearby recycling plants. Justin hopes that by setting this example, he can convince other restaurants and establishments from all over to be more eco-conscious.

110% Sustainable

Justin prides himself on the fact that he and his employees are constantly finding new ways to be more sustainable and help the environment. And of course, the food he serves isn’t too shabby either! Knowing that he can a make difference is what drives him every day to run his business. He loves working with his wonderful employees and encourages them to learn as much as they can. Justin is especially proud of the fact that Sandwich Me In has become somewhat of a “must-visit” for people everywhere. He often gets visitors coming from all sorts of countries who tell him that they just had to stop by when they found about the restaurant. There was even a time, long ago, when Sandwich Me In was recognized more worldwide than it was in Chicago!

Today, Justin is working on a variety of new ways to make his restaurant even more sustainable. His latest project is a hydroponic garden that is completely sustained by fish. The plants in the garden will be watered by a pump that is connected to a fish tank – the fish tank water will act as a fertilizer for the plants and any excess water will just be pumped back into the tank. The restaurant has also begun to grow their own herbs in-house as well. As as far as the future goes, Justin isn’t in any rush to add another location. Instead, he wants to expand on the business’ catering and delivery business. For now, however, Justin is satisfied knowing that his business has made huge waves in the restaurant industry and just wants to continue inspiring establishments all over the world. ■

Learn more about Sandwich Me In:
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Follow Sandwich Me In on Twitter: @sandwichmein

Tracy Gao
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Tracy Gao

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