It was V who noticed a big sign on the window of one of the Jersey Mike’s restaurants: “Gluten-Free Bread Available.” Do you have Jersey Mike’s near you? They make yummy sandwiches. And let me tell you, it’s not common that a sandwich place will have gluten-free offerings. Naturally, we had to check it out.
We have a few locations near us. I was rather skeptical as V insisted we visit one of them. As we got in line, I noticed this sign!
Photo is a little blurry, but you are looking at very clear and detailed instructions on how to prepare a gluten-free sandwich in a way that would minimize chances of cross-contamination.
As we placed our order, our expectations were met and exceeded. Without us even asking, staff informed us that they would be preparing V’s sandwich in the back using fresh ingredients that were not part of the “buffet” set up at the counter. They had a couple of different sizes of bread available. They knew very well what ingredients were gluten-free and uncontaminated.
We had to wait a little bit longer for V’s sandwich but it was completely worth it. It was delicious. We went back to this location several times and had excellent experience every single time. Instant winner, shiny A+!
When sometime later we came to a different location, we assumed that we would have a similar experience. We proceeded with our order without asking any questions. Big mistake.
The staff started preparing V’s sandwich right at the counter. “Don’t you do it in the back, separately?” They looked puzzled by our question. “No, we change gloves and put a clean piece of paper on the counter.” Oh crap. They were rather clueless about cross-contamination. V was very hungry, so we decided to risk it but were watching them closely. On at least one occasion, the staff set the sandwich on the counter, then immediately realized it, picked it up right away and placed it on the paper. If my looks could kill he would have dropped dead on the spot. This was not safe. We really should have walked out, and if V had a history of getting sick after ingesting gluten, we would have walked out. I felt extremely uneasy and unhappy. I debated going back in and talking to staff but decided against it. It was not their fault that they did not receive proper training. Needless to say, we will not be returning to this place again. Instant looser, big fat F!
By the time we visited a third location, closest to our home, we adjusted our expectations. I scanned for a sign that we spotted at the first location about safe handling of GF orders. It was nowhere to be found. There was a different sign by the counter, a standard disclaimer that while GF ingredients are available, they may come in contact with gluten and that safety is not guaranteed. We asked the questions about ingredients, preparation and cross-contamination. First time ordering, staff seemed reasonably well-informed. They made V’s sandwich in the back; however not all ingredients were safe for her. Bacon was grilled on a shared grill. And they did not have uncontaminated avocados. On a second occasion, staff were less informed, though receptive to my requests. I had to ask them to prepare sandwich in the back. And when I noticed they used avocado out of a container at the counter that is used for all breads, spreading it with the same utensil, they had to start over with a different piece of bread. While I do appreciate that overall staff were more informed and accommodating here compared to the second restaurant, I think it’s completely worth it for us to drive just a little bit farther out to the first restaurant. This third restaurant gets a passable C+.
Three branches of the same chain, three very different experiences. And moral of the story is to never assume and to always ask questions before ordering. Sometimes it ain’t easy being gluten-free.