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Twenty Years of Snarf's: Ups, Downs, Growth, and Drama

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The Snarf master himself, Jimmy Seidel, opened up about the last two decades of sandwiches

Jimmy Seidel aka Snarf
Jimmy Seidel aka Snarf
Courtesy of Snarf's Sandwiches

On June 25, cultish sub shop with multiple locations Snarf's Sandwiches turns 20. Eater chatted with founder Jimmy Seidel, aka Snarf, about the company's beginning, evolution, and more.

Share a little about your life before Snarf's? I grew up in St. Louis but moved to Chicago where I began my career as a floor trader at the Chicago Board Options Exchange, but my true passion has always been in the culinary arts. I consider myself a foodie, and love to cook and try new things from my travels. It wasn't too long before I knew I wanted to make a change.

Why sandwiches? I've always loved sandwiches and all different kinds. Over the years, I've tried to find the "best" sandwich out there, whether that be a prime rib, roast beef, turkey, tuna, etc. At the time, I didn't think anyone got it "quite right", and I wanted to try my hand at what I thought was the "perfect" sandwich.

What prompted you to open the first one? After I decided I wasn't going to be a great trader, in addition to it being a dying business, I set out to open my own sandwich shop. It took me almost two years to develop the menu, business plan and find the right location. Boulder, Colorado is arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the world and has a great vibe, so I thought it would be a perfect location for the first Snarf's Sandwiches - and it has been! We opened our doors on June 25, 1996 in a 650 square foot building on Pearl Street that we affectionately call "The Shack."

How did the company evolve? After three years of operating our first location and developing a fan base, we looked to expand. Since then, we've grown organically and now have 25 stores in Colorado, St. Louis, Chicago and Austin, Texas. What hasn't changed is our core menu and focus on providing a great experience for our "Snarfers".

When you added Snarfburger, did you fear it would compete closely with the sandwich concept? I never worried that Snarfburger would compete with Snarf's Sandwiches. In fact, it was my hope that our sandwich fans would want to try my burger because we're known for providing a high-quality and delicious product. This has definitely turned out to be the case. Snarfburger has developed quite the following, and we're planning to open a new location in Denver later this year.

Your aesthetic is very unique at Snarf's - what inspires that? I like to take existing spaces and restore them as opposed to starting from scratch. I bring in different design elements from the colors, decor and fixtures that reflect the local personality. The last thing I want to be is "cookie cutter."

Over time, you have ran into some controversy, how did you manage and move on? If you've been in the restaurant businesses for 20 years, you're going to encounter all sorts of obstacles and challenges. At the end of the day, we want to do right by our team members and customers. If you make a mistake, which is going to happen, it's important to own up to those mistakes, learn from them and move forward.

What brings people back to Snarf's? What I believe brings people back to Snarf's is the food followed second by the unique vibe in our stores. People tell us regularly that our sandwiches are the best they've ever had, and that makes me happy because that's been my goal from the very beginning. Our stores are filled with bright colors, great music and an overall fun atmosphere. People feel at home and that's what we want - they're family to us.

What was your biggest business challenge over the last two decades? The biggest challenge - and it continues to be - is finding and hiring the right people. We want to hire people who believe it what we're doing, value service and ultimately care about our customers. We've been fortunate to have people who have been with us for 10+ years. We also promote from within so there are career opportunities for sandwich makers who want to develop professionally at Snarf's and work their way up to management positions.

How will you celebrate the big 2-0 of the company? We're celebrating our 20th birthday by rewarding our "Snarfers" and supporting the local community. For the past two months we've been hiding "Golden Tickets" in our sandwich wrappers and the lucky winners have received free Snarf's for one year. We're also hosting a charitable giving day on Saturday, June 25th - our official 20-year anniversary. On that day, 100% of our profits are being given to area food banks and other nonprofit organizations. We'll also be having fun activities and events for the whole family at our two of our stores (38th Ave. & Yates in Denver and our new South Boulder store in the Table Mesa Shopping Plaza) from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

What is next for expansion? We've opened two stores in the last month in St. Louis and South Boulder, and plan to open two-three more in Austin and Denver this year. In fact, we just signed a lease for a new location in Denver at S. Broadway and Florida and it should open later this fall. We'll continue to expand at the same rate of  four to eight stores per year for the foreseeable future. For us, it's about finding the right locations in the right neighborhoods.

What advice would you give to someone eager to start a business like yours? Opening a successful, sustaining restaurant is one of the biggest business challenges. In fact, more restaurants fail than succeed because of the overwhelming competition. Before embarking on this effort, you would be sure it's absolutely your passion and that you're 100% invested in its success because it will consume you. You have to be ready for that level of commitment and then some.