Kosta Diamantopoulos: We changed things up to make it feel a lot crisper and cleaner now. It kind of works with everything we've been doing, trying to maintain a high level of quality and health...not necessarily calorically healthy, but quality ingredients, knowing your vendors, having relationships with the salesmen so that they in turn help you reach the goals you set forth by knowing what types of products you want to sell, what price points, things like that. I really think that with the new menu, we've achieved our goal of being healthier. The meats are all fresh - we don't even own a freezer. Everything you eat today has been cooked today. We've expanded our range of subtlety to creative genius or madness, however you want to see it.
So we have things like a Buffalo finger sandwich and the Mr Miyagi (hoisin-glazed pulled pork). We've expanded to include a number of veggie sandwiches, including a banh mi and our take on the caprese, which is the panini a la nona.
Burgers have been a huge, huge staple of ours for the eight years we've been here, so what we did with the burgers as well as the funky sandwiches is that we've taken everything that has been historically popular and successful and people really enjoy, and we put it on our permanent menu. That allows us to build a few sandwiches that we will do for specials and get really creative, really out of the park with them. Things like the Alexander the Great that we did with ouzo fennel meatballs, fried alligator, things like that. We hope to really push the envelope on that extra-funky category going forward.
Along with the new colors, we just re-did the floors. We repainted everything. Changed the artwork up. Made it a little brighter and a little more welcoming. And we bought a new house iPad, handed it out to every single staff member, and told them to put some music on there. I think people will experience a lot more fun in here. I know that's a stretch because it was pretty fun to begin with.
The menu looks nice from a design standpoint.
KD: Again, crisp and clean. The most difficult part of this entire rejuvenation process has been the last three days of looking for corners to put on these menus. It's the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life. I went to Michael's twice yesterday - two different Michaels - Staples, Target, and Walmart, and then the entire morning today, I was on Amazon looking for different types of corners.
Johnny Diamantopoulos: The things you do when you're in the restaurant business.
With the introduction of the new menu, are there some old favorites that are going away?
KD: We're saying goodbye to the Texas Reuben, we're saying goodbye to the muffuletta, we're saying goodbye to the Monte Cristo...
Would those ever reappear as specials?
What new items are you most excited about?
JD: I'm a huge fan of anything jerk, so the island jerk chicken melt, the Mr Miyagi — that one is kind of like a play on a banh mi. A little untraditional, but a lot of the same flavors you would get on a banh mi. Of course it's not going to be on French bread; we're doing it on brioche, but you're getting that acid from the pickled daikon and the carrots. The fried egg does something magical.
KD: I'm looking forward to the Italian Stallion. It's one of those sandwiches that's really hearty. It kind of takes you for a trip around the world. You're getting the Italian flavors and tastes and smells, and the meatloaf brings you back to your mom's kitchen. Oh, and we love the 80s, so as many 80s references we can get in there. [Enter the Inigo Montoya and the aforementioned Mr Miyagi.]
Are these soup and sandwich combos new?
JD: We had the combos, but we just added a creamy tomato soup (which is also vegetarian). I just feel like this place needed a tomato soup. There's nothing like it on a day like this, dipping a grilled cheese sandwich in a tomato soup.
KD: And we just added the grilled cheese to the permanent menu as well.
JD: It's exciting. Change is always good.
Was there a driving force behind making the changes now?
KD: I think it was our decision to be a little more conscious, to be a little more healthy. On top of that, I think it was time. We've been working that old menu for about eight years, and I think there are a lot of items on there that were very successful, but it was just time to bring out some new changes, rejuvenate the place a little, and highlight and extend that rejuvenation through into the menu.
Have some of these items on the new menu been around since the very beginning?
JD: The atomic meatloaf meltdown, the pastraminator, the gobbler, beef on weck, the reubens...
KD: There are certain classics that don't need to change, nor should you try to.
JD: You should never change the BLT. Whoever gets that sandwich, they fall in love. It's a simple sandwich, but when it's done right, it's so good.
What should someone who has never eaten here before expect?
JD: What I expect is to get people to come in here and to get a sandwich that they're going to remember. For the purist, they can come in and get that BLT, but if they're feeling more adventurous, I want them to leave here and go, Wow, I just had this sandwich called a Mr Miyagi, and it was badass. That's what I want, from a chef's perspective. And of course I want it to taste great, too. Most importantly.
KD: We try to create an overall experience for our customers. First and foremost, when you walk in, you're kind of taken in by the sights, the colors, the sounds, the smells. And then you're introduced to your server or the hostess that greets you and establishes this relationship right away where you feel welcomed and you feel warm and you feel this sense of ease. And when you sit down and take a look at the menu, you're taken for this tour around the world. We have Asian-inspired things, we have Latin-inspired things, and there's adventurous food. While you're here, we'd like for all those elements to work at the same time and create an experience where you sit down for an hour, and you're comfortable, and you just enjoy what's in front of you. And when you leave, you take an Oreo.
JD: It's a cozy atmosphere as well. And when this place is full on a Friday or Saturday night, and you have loud music going, and we have servers with mohawks, we have guys with piercings and tattoos, it's just a cool environment here. Everyone's excited that they're eating these great sandwiches, and they're feeling gluttonous...or they're feeling healthy. It's just a cool feeling.
Awhile back you were talking about crossing the river at some point — is that still on the table?
KD: It is. We're actually gearing up to start the search process for another All Star Pizza Bar [All Star Sandwich Bar's sister restaurant, also in Inman Square]. We're getting our legal paperwork in order at the moment, and I really think that by the end of the first quarter, we will have a full-force search out there, starting to make some offers on properties. Ideally I'd like to open by the end of the year, and I think it's a very strong possibility. Davis is also an option for us. We like Davis Square. But the locations will dictate where we are. It's a huge process, and there's a lot of behind-the-scenes work that has to go on. But we are thinking about going over the river, absolutely. I'd love to get into Kenmore. It's a never-ending revolving door of people, which is exactly what you want.
JD: Davis too. It's like a small version of Harvard Square, and it's just growing.
KD: People are an important part of our business model because we feed off of people. We feed them, but we feed off of them in that the energy that people bring in here bounces off us and in turn is reflecting in how we operate. The better we feel, the better food we put out, and the better music we're going to play. It's a bounce-back effect. If we feel good, we know you're going to feel good, and if you feel good, we feel even better. It's important to us to make sure that you feel good when you're in here.