Last week we plotted the meteoric rise of Subway, trying to understand how the transnational giant has revolutionised the sandwich game. This week we’re bringing it down a few levels in scale, but most definitely not in quality. There is something about freshly-made sandwiches, with home-made sauces and marinades, fresh ingredients and gourmet bread, that can’t be matched by tasty, efficient but nonetheless processed food.
This week we’ll be profiling one of inner city Sydney’s most infamous sandwich spots, King’s Lane, in Darlinghurst, in order to find out just how a smaller sandwich spot can compete with the giants.
Kings Lane is only a stone’s throw from one of the busiest strips in Sydney, Oxford Street, yet it’s managed to occupy a quiet pocket of Darlinghurst, tucked away from everything. The premises are small, the seating is limited and the interior design and furniture is simple, sleek and modern. One of the store’s large white walls is covered with scrawled graffiti in texta: tributes to the sandwiches, b-grade celebrities that have eaten there, meaningless messages, etc.
The wall helps to create the charm of King’s Lane, which is hard to describe but is probably easiest put by saying that the sandwich spot is missing the air of self-importance and pretentiousness so often associated with this part of Sydney.
Agata Dudek and her business partner Aaron Fox bought the business nearly four years ago, and since then they’ve worked hard to build on it’s existing reputation for gourmet sandwiches and salads; they’ve introduced a rice dish, which combines their gourmet sandwich makings into a risotto-esque dish.
I ask Agata just how much the local area has changed in that time, and she explains how their quiet pocket has seen a few more restaurants pop up. “There are a few more businesses in the area, some have closed and then some have opened – but, if anything, that’s better for us. It draws people over” she says.
I order myself one of King’s Lane’s famous sandwiches, a chicken schnitzel panini (which costs $9, slightly cheaper than a Subway footlong equivalent) – not the easiest of decisions since their other famous sandwich is BBQ chilli chicken with home-made red pesto. One of their signatures is to use fresh Vienna bread, but I prefer the panini.
The ingredients bar is well stocked with fresh makings and home-made sauces and marinades, including an eggplant spread and the herb mayonnaise that my sandwich comes with. I’m a sucker for red pesto, which is made with “capsicum, tomato, garlic, onion; roasted and then mixed.”
My sandwich takes about ten minutes to arrive, as they cook the schnitzel fresh, but when it does, I was honestly blown away. It’s simple – only lettuce, avocado, schnitzel, herb mayo – but everything about it reeks of brilliance. The bread is soft, the whole sandwich is massive and the combination of herb mayo and avocado (real avocado, which doesn’t come in a zip lock bag) is delicious. What has really blown me away though is the quality of the chicken; it’s fresh, tender and very tasty.
But if they’re cooking the chicken fresh, how do they navigate through the chaotic lunchtime rush? The limited seating suggests that the bulk of King’s Lane’s business must be take away, which Agata confirms.
“Our customer base is spread around the local area, and the majority of people phone up in advance. We also do a lot of catering, most days we have catering jobs,” she says.
So how does a smaller operation like King’s Lane fare against the corporate muscle of Subway – do they feel affected by it’s dominance? I put it to Agata bluntly – do they ever feel like they’re being squeezed out? >
“Not at all” she replies, with a reassuring confidence.
“As much as we’re in the same industry, we’re selling two completely different types of sandwiches. People hear about us through word of mouth - King’s Lane is a hard place to find, unless you know about it.”
And has the sandwich industry been as recession-proof as people predict?
“It’s an undulating business, that’s just the nature of it: we’ve always had our quiet days and our busy days. But it hasn’t really affected us too much, at the end of the day, everyone’s got to eat.”
Yes. Yes, they do.
Restaurant name: King’s Lane
Address: Shp1/ 28 Kings La, Darlinghurst.
Menu recommendation: Chicken Schnitzel sandwich / BBQ Chilli Chicken
All You Can Eat Tip: The homemade sauces and marinades are incredible – and make sure you phone ahead to avoid having to wait too long. 02) 9360 8007
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