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Ike Shehadeh, San Francisco's Own Sandwich Legend, Reveals (A Few Of) His Secrets

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Name: Ike Shehadeh

Neighborhood: The Castro

Years in SF: Born and raised.

Current Gig: In five short years, Ike Shehadeh has gone from a complete unknown to one of the most important people in San Francisco. If you're wondering, "How can a dude who owns a sandwich shop be one of the most important people in the city?" you've clearly never eaten one his sandwiches.

Ike and his Chief Sandwich Officer Chase Ottney stopped by the Huffington Post's office to chat about his creative process, the bitter legal battle that almost shut down the burgeoning empire and how the time he spent homeless informs his recent charity work.

Tell us about the birth of Ike's Place. I got into real estate in 2006--right at the worst time to get into real estate. I got really bored with not actually selling anything, so I decided I wanted to open up a restaurant. After doing the research, I realized it's very expensive to do that. So I figured I'd turn all my recipes into sandwiches and open up a really small shop and be the only one who worked there. I wouldn't need a chef, servers or even frickin' furniture.

Were you always a chef? I really liked to taste. I liked to come up with crazy ingredients. My tongue gets addicted to flavors. I wouldn't say I'm a chef, but my number one experience on earth is to taste things.

Do you have a favorite sandwich to make for yourself? When I go out to eat, nine out of ten times those leftovers will end up in a sandwich. I went to Baby Blues the other night and had barbecue brisket, cornbread, creamed spinach and chicken wings. So I piled it all up and added dirty sauce and threw everything on Dutch Crunch bread.

What's the secret to your famous dirty sauce? We used to answer that question differently every time. We've said unicorn farts, fairy dust, love potion, crack cocaine. [Laughs] It's mainly garlic aioli, and the other stuff is secret. We bake it into the bread and we also spread it as mayo.

Two years ago, you famously got evicted for being too popular in your neighborhood. Did that experience sour you on running a business in San Francisco? It didn't sour me on San Francisco. Some of the greatest moments we've had here give us hope that we should keep going.

Like the last day of the original shop. People came out in droves. The last sandwich went out at 3:57 a.m. There were drum circles in our line, a group of people sprayed champagne. The line was 200 people long. You wouldn't wait in a line that long at 11 o'clock at night because you wanted a really good sandwich. It was much more personal. No matter what happens with the city, at least we know we have the people on our side. [Editor's note: After running a pop-up shop inside of the Castro's now shuttered Lime restaurant, Ike has reopened across the street from his original location.]

Your sandwiches are so coveted that customers who call in for pickup orders are willing to wait as long as four hours (myself included!). How have you learned to address that demand? The real reason the lines were so long in our old location was because the landlord wouldn't let us upgrade our original facility. Now we have new equipment and have the capacity to make 240 sandwiches an hour; previously we could only make 86. It also helps that the new location is really large. Now we can have 22 people working at lunchtime instead of 14. Plus we're getting better at making sandwiches!

Do you have a second favorite San Francisco sandwich? When I didn't own a sandwich shop, I really liked The Sandwich Place on Mission. I love their Sophie's Delight. But if I go out to eat now I'll be upset if they only sell sandwiches. I'd rather eat something and enjoy the taste than judge it.

How about favorite neighborhood spots? My favorite date place is a Cuban restaurant called Chan Chan. It's the best restaurant that no one goes to. You'll really impress someone if you take them there. I also like Needles & Pens, a stationery store near the shop. You'll always find Ikesters at Dolores Park on their break, but personally I'm not a big Dolores Park fan.

And your favorite city view? The one from my freakin' roof! I can see Twin Peaks, all the way out to the Mission, the Bay. Go to the roof of Ike's and you can see everything.

You recently launched a partnership with At The Crossroads, a homeless youth organization in the Mission. What inspired that? Back in 2003 I was pretty much homeless, living in this warehouse without any power, sleeping in this van I didn't even own. I was living on three dollars a day for food, eating a lot of McDonalds. So when these guys came to me, I could relate.

I have a campaign on their website in which you can make a cash donation. Every donation gets you something: $20 gets you a limited edition Ike's shirt, $100 gets you a "skip the line pass" for a sandwich. For $250 you can name a sandwich after yourself and it will be on the menu for a month. We're also feeding at the crossroads residents our sandwiches. The more people who like us on Facebook, we'll donate more sandwiches. If we make it to 30,000 likes, we'll feed them twice a week for a year.

Invent a sandwich for HuffPost SF. The Huffington Toast. Fried chicken and the top five cutest cats. (And honey, 'cause you're sweet.)

Take a look at some of Ike's creations below, and click here to donate to his homeless youth campaign:

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Around the Web

Broke, Homeless and Now a Culinary Star - NYTimes.com

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May/June 2010 > Farm Report > News > Ike's Place Sandwiches