The Sandwich Project
When I asked my Facebook friends about their favorite sandwich, the responses piled on like Italian cold cuts in a muffaletta. Considering the universal enthusiasm for sammies, I'm taking everyone out to try the sandwich that is dear to their heart. Sandwich Project is exploration of what lies between two pieces of bread.
Luci Masredjian & The Veggie at Alpine Deli
Luci’s Favorite Sandwich: "The all veggie sandwich on squaw bread at Alpine Deli in Thousand Oaks. I still dream about it and I haven't had it since college."
Luci bounced as she described the sandwich: not from the bumpy freeway we were driving on, but from the joy of recalling the road that led her to Alpine Deli. “I remember it so vividly. I walked in for the first time and had a visceral reaction. Then the sandwich was just so good. The soft chew of the squaw bread and crisp crunch of the cucumbers. It’s simple. I can just taste it and I haven’t had it in ten years.”
Luci is the best. In a group text message setting, she’s silent for hours while hundreds of incoherent Bitmojis and GIFs pile up; then with a knee-slappin’ zinger, she brings everyone back to focus. At work, she befriends her colleagues for the sake of actual friendship. Out on the town, her sole focus is to ensure everyone is dancing with a drink in hand. And if someone isn’t, she makes everyone take a shot or something, and we do, and we feel like we’re not in our 30s anymore. Everyone loves Luci.
But it wasn’t always all fun & games for sweet Luci. Growing up, she was a meek outsider hushed by the blaring cultural differences of her Armenian background. Her parents moved to America before they had kids and learned English under the tutelage of All My Children’s beloved Susan Lucci. They settled in Simi Valley, while the extended family found residence in Glendale. They had to discover their cultural identity, which was separated by LA's concrete rivers.
Struggling to assimilate during grade school, lunchtime was particularly difficult for wee lass Luci. She sat at the communal tables, uncomfortably opening her lunch pail to reveal one huge separation between her and her classmates: a homemade gourmet sandwich.
She shyly gnawed at it as other kids chomped through backpack-smashed white bre(a)d PB&Js and Bologna & Cheeses. The sandwich her mother made stoically maintained its integrity. Between two whole-grain pieces of bread was a primer of silky mayo and mustard and a heap of carefully placed ingredients: shredded lettuce, sliced tomato and cucumber, buttered avocado, shaved onion, provolone, and carved mortadella all deliciously snuggled up. At home, Luci adored this sandwich— appreciating the effort and complexity. At school, it embarrassed her.
“My lunches were so different from my peers,” she recalls. “And of course, they pointed that out. Those jerks. I hated that feeling and I slowly began to yearn for simpler sandwiches just so they wouldn’t make fun of me.”
As the years trudged along, Luci continued to detach from her culture in a desperate effort to blend in. She refused to speak Armenian, and despite disappointment from her mother, she chose a college that further disassociated herself- California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. While close enough to appease the family bond, it was another freeway away, allowing her to start over with a deeper integration into suburbia. As Luci adapted and explored a sense of independence through college revelry and exploration, she discovered Alpine Deli...with me!
“When you took me there, I was expecting a typical and familiar Thousand Oaks establishment,” she recalls almost a decade later. “Then we walked in and I felt an instant sense of comfort. Everything was different, yet familiar, like European products and ingredients my mom had in her kitchen. I remember seeing the owner’s face for the first time and it looking familiar.”
The owner. George. A cheerful Armenian man who seems to know you before he knows you. He beams while taking or remembering orders and laughs while cracking jokes. Unknowingly, this sandwich man provided Luci with a warmth that she hadn't realized she wanted or needed (or exudes herself!), stemming from the same background she shied from for decades. She had discovered a piece of home.
The Veggie on Squaw Bread is a reflection of her childhood and coming of age, book-ended between two pieces of squaw. A helping of shredded lettuce, sliced tomato and cucumber, sprouts, buttered avocado, shaved onion, and provolone ($7.99), this sandwich reminds her of the care her mom took to integrate into America and embrace her traditions.
“When I first had it, I felt this intense sense of pride and I wanted to tell everybody. I wanted everyone to know George was Armenian, like me. It was one of the first times I wasn’t around the Armenian community where I felt incredibly proud. I spent my entire youth and adolescence running away from my culture and here I am at the point where I’m entering my adulthood figuring out who I am and what’s important to me…and I walk into Alpine Deli and have this visceral reaction to this place I’ve never been to, this person I’ve never met…this sandwich.”