Big-A** Sandwiches Is Here

It seems like everyone’s buzzing about Big-A** Sandwiches, a highly anticipated addition to Portland’s seemingly bottomless food cart community. Of course, with a name like Big-A** Sandwiches, curiosity and Big-A** expectations are only natural.

After a few Twitter-chronicled setbacks, Big-A** Sandwiches looks set to open downtown at SW 3rd and SW Ash on Monday, Dec. 21, for both breakfast and lunch Monday-Friday, and on Thursday-Saturday nights they’ll be dishing up late night grub as well.

The menu is simple and fun, offering four hearty sandwiches on Fleur de Lis bread and the option to douse any of them in creamy béchamel sauce for an extra dollar. Sides include coleslaw and three kinds of fries, from plain to bacon cheese, and you can wash everything down with a Mexican Coke. Big-A** Sandwich heaven.

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And when it comes time to pay for your Big-A** Sandwich, don’t worry if your wallet’s as bare as a Big-A** streaker, because Big-A** Sandwiches is utilizing iPhone technology that will allow you to use your credit and debit card.

A perenially cashless girl myself, I was curious about this useful new technology. To my knowledge, the only food carts that take credit/debit are Brunch Box & Side Cart, and while I love them both, woman can not live on OMG! burgers and cheesy tots alone.

This often means a cart lunch has to involve premeditation. I prep for my lunch on my way to work by stopping at the bank ATM or buying gum at Freddy Meyers for the cash back. (I have a LOT of gum in my top desk drawer.) Currently, there’s a resident ATM machine near or inside most of the cart clusters, but if it doesn’t belong to your bank, paying the $3 usage fee is a huge discouragement. To put it in perspective, that $3 fee would buy an order of Big A** bacon and cheese fries. Or a Whiffies Fried Pie. Or a helping of Side Cart’s mac & cheese bites. You get the idea.

I asked Big A** Sandwich co-owner Lisa Wood if she could tell me a little bit more about how she and husband/business partner Brian intend to utilize this technology, the benefits it offers her fledgling business, and how it relates to the food cart world.

Which mobile credit card app are you using? How did you find out about it?

The app we’re using is made by a company called Merchant Ware. We were hanging out with some friends, one who’s opening his own restaurant as well (Cafe Magnolia on Hawthorne) and were talking about start-up costs. We said we wanted to be able to take Debit/Credit at the cart but weren’t sure we’d be able to since most of what we’d found so far was out of budget for us. One of the guys in the group asked if I’d seen the iPhone app and that was that. I downloaded it and filed our merchant application with Merchant Ware right then from myphone. They called us the next day to finish the application and get us set up.

How does it work, both on your end and the customer’s?

On our end, we pay a monthly service fee & a percentage of each sale. On the customer’s end, it’s really no change, other than being paperless. We enter the card #, it runs the sale and the customer has the option to have a receipt emailed to them. Many of the merchant services machines out there run on wireless networks, so the only real difference is that it’s a smaller device. None of their information is saved or stored.

If you were not using MerchantWare, would you accept credit cards?

Probably not right off the bat because of cost. The traditional set up requires either a purchase or rental of the credit card machine (apprx $500 to buy or a monthly fee), a $15-$19/month wireless fee, a $40-$50 service fee to use their company and a percentage of each sale. So we’d be close to $100 a month, not counting the cost of the machine. With Merchant Ware, we pay a $7.95/month subscription fee & a flat rate percentage of each sale.

How is this going to help your business?

It’s helping us on several levels. We love innovation and this technology is providing us a business phone number, a credit card machine, a mileage tracker and expense reporting all in one. It’s also enabling us to be able to sell sandwiches to people who are hungry, but don’t have cash on them. We also hope that other carts will catch on and do this, not only so they can get in on the business, but so that it becomes more and more common.

What kind of response do you expect from customers?

We think it’s gonna be great. We realize people are a bit resistant to change, so we did a poll on our Facebook & Twitter pages, asking how people would feel paying by Credit/Debit on an iPhone app and the sponse was overwhelmingly, yes. Not one “no” in the bunch, so that decided it for us. We think there will probably be some people who are concerned because they will perceive it as us putting their information into a phone, but you have to keep in mind that an iPhone is really just a small computer that happens to have calling capabilities. It’s just smaller than the traditional CC machine. We plan to have literature from Merchant Ware on hand explaining the process for anyone who may feel uncomfortable and if they still don’t want to run it, there’s an ATM very close by. There’s a .50 charge for a customer to use a card to cover the fees, but we see that all over in independent businesses, we understand it and pay it at the businesses we go to, so we think our customers will do the same.

What benefit does this technology offer food carts, specifically?

In the age of the Debit Card, there’s a lot of people out there who simply don’t carry cash. Technology like this allows a small business like a food cart, with a limited budget, to market to those consumers. The hope, of course is to see a bump in sales, but we also think that it’s part of a more forward thinking outlook on how we do things. The more innovative small businesses can be, the stronger their chance of survival.

Do you know of any other carts that are using it?

When we did our poll, we heard from a friend in Seattle that paid with his card at a cart up there. I have yet to hear of anyone using it in Portland, but that doesn’t mean they’re not. We have a lot of awesome carts here and thousands of iPhones are purchased every day, so I’m sure someone’s picked up on it by now.

So, tell me about Big A** Sandwiches? Who are you? What’s your background?

We are a couple who’ve always wanted to go into business for ourselves. Brian has worked in kitchens for the last 15 years, from dishwasher, to GM, to Head Chef. I have spent the last 15 years or so in the media and broadcasting world as a radio DJ, promotions director and music programmer. The kick in the ass for us came on both sides. Brian watched several not-so-great restaurant owners run their places into the ground and I was in a dwindling industry that hit me with 2 layoffs due to buyouts within’ a 2 year period. When you’re facing unemployment, with a great resume but no one to hire you, it’s great motivation to take control and do it yourself.

What made you open a cart called Big Ass Sandwiches?! It’s a pretty fun name.

Honestly, the food cart wasn’t our first idea. We wanted to open a pub, but in the current economic climate, there was no chance. We have excellent credit and yet no one, not one bank, would loan us a dime. We love the food cart culture, always thought we’d have a blast running one and with a much lower start-up cost, it made perfect sense.

We tossed around ideas one night, both feeling there’s nothing better than a delicious sandwich, but also realized we live in a place with quite a few amazing sandwich shops and needed to set ourselves apart. It may sound kinda cheesy, but we literally had a moment. Brian started talking about how when he was little, he’d put his fries on his hamburgers, which led to “let’s put the fries ON the sandwich.” He said “yea, we could make big-ass sandwiches” and there was no doubt in either of our heads that that was going to be the name.

Is it getting a lot of attention already? Seems like you have a good Twitter audience!

It is, people really seem to love it. From the bank to the accountant, to the guys building our cart, pretty much anyone we talk to about it laughs and tells us they love it or that it’s a great name. The only issue we’ve had is with the city ordinance that doesn’t allow profanity on public signage. While we didn’t really think of “ass” as something that would be considered profane nowadays, the signs, menus and name on the cart will have to read “Big-A** Sandwiches.” We’re pretty sure people will figure it out :)

And there you have it. Nice people, Big A** Sandwiches, a warm welcome for your credit/debit card…I hope to see you in the Big-A** line on Monday.

Big-A** Sandwiches * Mon-Fri 8am-3pm, Thu-Sat 8pm-close * Website * Facebook * Twitter