The Sub Sandwich is Born

The Humble Sub Sandwich

Thank you Benny Capalbo from New London Connecticut. Without you many of us would have gone hungry at lunch or dinner. You are given credit for inventing the Sub sandwich. Its traditional ingredients make me crave one as I write this: salami, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, salt, pepper and olive oil. All encased in a chewy loaf of bread shaped like another Connecticut invention: the submarine. (The chewy part is important here, as one has to chew or grind away at the bread, hence the alternate name of Grinder.) So how did Benny invent such a tasty treat you may wonder?

Benny Capalbo landed on American shores from his native Italy in 1913. By 1920 he had set up a small grocery store in New London’s Italian section where he sold a variety of food and supplies. As the story goes Benny brought with him from Italy the recipe for the sandwich which he had been making it for friends and relatives for years.

The time and location were right as well. New London was a busy seaport city with thousands of men working in shipyards and at the nearby Submarine base. Hungry sailors and dock workers? Sounds like the perfect place to sell a sandwich. Which is exactly what Benny started to do in 1926 from his small grocery.

The sandwiches were a huge hit. Easy to make, inexpensive and most of all delicious. At one point during World War II the base commissary was ordering hundreds of them a day to feed the sailors and submariners. Other grocers in New London and surrounding towns began selling them as their popularity grew. When sailors returned home or went to other ports they brought with them the taste for the sandwich and soon had other local grocery and deli owners serving them all around the country. As the sandwich’s fame spread the name changed, different ingredients were added and soon many people forgot where the simple sandwich got its start.

Benny never achieved fame or fortune from his invention. In fact his business closed soon after World War II ended. When he died in 1950 few noted the passing of a man who gave us all such a culinary delight. So the next time you bite down into a sub sandwich and grind away at the bread think of Benny and how life is just a bit better because of his invention.

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6 thoughts on “The Sub Sandwich is Born

  1. Born in New London and raised downtown next to the Italian section, I grew up on grinders. By the 1950s, Patsy’s, Peppy’s, and C&R delis had Benny’s recipe down pat. It was a taste delight. I’ve made 100s of them myself at home, but I could never find the “secret” ingredient to make a real grinder. I know part of it was the egg-glazed German “submarine” rolls from Seifert’s Bakery on Bank Street. But there was something else special in the mix, perhaps what they sprinkled on it from that big stainless steel “salt shaker” just before they closed the sandwich. I’ll probably never know. Sometime after I moved to Florida in 1965, there was an article in “Yankee Magazine” called, “Everyone Knows That Benny Capalbo Invented the Grinder.” I’ve tried everywhere, but I can’t find a copy of that article. Does anyone have that article? Does anyone have the full recipe? Buon Appetito! –Ernie Richards (Riccitelli)

  2. My grandfather and father was “Patsy” and I owned and operated Patsy’s until we sold it in 2004. After 6 years away from the business, I decided to re-open and on October 1, 2008, I went back in the grinder business just two doors down from the original location on Bank Street. My main goal was to bring back the old fashion grinder of the 40’s and 50’s. They will be made the same old fashion way, hard crispy bread and the same special blend of oil we used years ago, and nothing but the freshest italian cold cuts and vegtables. Business has been awesome and as for the special ingredient, well my grandfather once said, “it’s all about the bread”. I hope I can keep the grinder going for another generation to enjoy.

  3. My Grandfather Was Charlie Christopher and since i have moved to South Dakota i have been unable to find a “grinder” at all out here Subway just does not do it for me

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