Firehouse and Potbelly look to Claim their Spot at the GR Sandwich Table

Jordan George, Editor in Chief

“Sandwiches are boring”- a common statement heard around American homes, usually said by disgruntled ten year olds that yearn for bagel bites or hamburgers. As much as sandwiches have gained a bad rap in the minds of many americans, two sandwich shops that recently opened in the Grand Rapids area hope to change that. In one corner, you have the classic, hearty, blue-collar Firehouse Subs, and in the other corner, a more earthy, indie, and hipster-esque Potbelly Sandwich Works. In terms of overall taste and quality of food, it has to be a tie, however; sandwich connoisseurs may  prefer one place over the other based on preferences. For example, if you want to feel overwhelmingly full, and have the desire to guzzle down heaping piles of various meats, Firehouse Subs may be to your liking. In contrast, Potbelly offers smaller portions, and more delicate tastes that utilize a variety of ingredients. My sandwiches of choice? At Firehouse, it has to be the Hero Sub, which is a behemoth of a sandwich, piled high with the different types of meat, as well as deli mustard. At Potbelly, a “Big” Roast Beef never fails to disappoint, as it offers a unique blend of hearty meat and italian spices.

While taste certainly determines the overall experience for the sandwich eater, ambience also plays a prevalent role. This is the category in which Potbelly thrives and rises above the competition. Upon entering Potbelly, a certain aura immediately hits your senses, especially the look and smell of the place. The dining area is an intimate collection of small booths and tables, which offers a homey feel, almost as if you were in a friend’s kitchen or dining room. The smell of soup and fresh bread really rounds off the whole feel of Potbelly. On the other hand, Firehouse tends to focus on providing a practical, no nonsense appearance. Their dining area is dominated by a large counter area, where patrons order their food and receive their take out bags. Other than that, there is nothing too special about the inside of Firehouse, it is really an appearance that complements and enhances their excellent food.

Service seems to be the third key component of any good restaurant, and both Firehouse and Potbelly deliver firmly in this category. For one, Firehouse’s staff is made up of mostly FHC juniors and seniors. The advantage there is that you can always recognize a smiling teenager behind the counter.The disadvantage is that…you can always recognize a smiling teenager behind the counter. If you are having a bad hair day, a bad clothes day, or a bad breath day, I wouldn’t walk into Firehouse at the risk of running into someone from your 4th hour Spanish class. The drive-thru is always a safe alternative. For Potbelly, a mostly college-aged workforce always provides a bit of entertaining and healthy conversation. The workers usually recognize my FHC apparel and ask what sports I play, what grade I am in, and what I am up to for the day. The geniune interest shown by the workers is super refreshing, and honestly encourages me to come back.

All in all, you can’t really go wrong with two pieces of bread, and some stuff in the middle. These two establishments take different approaches, but both wind up at the same destinations: great food, inviting atmospheres, and welcoming staff (except on bad hair days).