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Wednesday, December 14, 2016


I used to be really into music.  It was a big deal.  (All teenagers and young adults probably feel that way.)   (I was the walking encyclopedia for ska bands world wide in 1995/1996, for realz, had a radio show KDVS 90.3fm)  At some point in my mid to late 20's, I stopped caring and became part of the masses of regular people.  A little piece of me hated me for that.  All that energy I pored into music, I was poring into FOOD, reading it, cooking it, eating it; and then into my teaching job, and my girlfriend soon to be wife, and the house remodel and then our son.  All the passion for music was divided one too many times.  And I happen to be a bit of an all or nothing guy... do it really well, or don't do it at all.  Once I didn't care enough, I just stopped caring at all.

Thank goodness I didn't discover Wilco until my non-caring days.  Wilco is the kind of band that not everyone gets, and the ones that do become obsessive fans who probably go a little overboard.  Wilco is great by the way.  I dusted off disc one from their 1996 album Being There for the drive to Tri Cities the other day, 

I bring this up because our Richland location has a bright shiny new toy, and I blasted Wilco's "Outtasite (Outta Mind)" in it's honor.  We got a big sign on busy busy busy George Washington Way.  The sign looks great and our cute little hidden shop, 150 feet from 30,000 cars a day, is finally visible.  Forever more I will believe real estate agents (both residential and commercial) when they say the tired but true "the three most important things are Location, Location, and Location".  

Wilco produced two versions of the same song for the double disc album.
Outtasite (Outta Mind) is the rocking version for which a music video was shot.  The band plays the song while skydiving, remember when you could do just about anything in a music video?  Nothing needed to make sense. 
Outta Mind (Outta Sight) is the better version of the two (in my humble opinion).  It is kind of dreamy, more subtle, piano based, softer harmonies, light hearted with a touch of sadness.

Our little Richland Shop, tucked away from all the traffic, is bright and beautiful, and is jamming busy some days.  But some days it feels a little forgotten about like the song lyrics:

"Out of mind out of sight"
"Out of mind out of sight"
"You don't see me now"
"You don't want to anyhow"

Man that would suck.  How about we settle on:

"Look at that big bright sign"
"Look at that big bright sign"
"I want to eat now"
"Boy I want a sandwich now"

Ha.  Never knew I had a knack for songwriting.  


Monday, October 3, 2016

The Butternut Squash Panini and the BBBB.

Greetings Sandwich People,

Hello Fall, Goodbye Summer!  Walla Walla is enjoying one of the finest stretches of Harvest Weather I can remember.  Talked with a wife of a winemaker the other day, and she was exuberant in her description of the grapes coming off the vine.

We are exuberant for the return of the Butternut Squash Panini.  Entering our 7th year in the sandwich business, this will be the 6th version of the PNUT.  Every year it is the same... but different.  Kind of like how you comb your hair each morning, same materials, same idea, but with a little extra wave there and a bit more hair gel over here.

This year we peel the butternut, cube it into one-ish inch cubes, toss with canola and roast until soft and a little caramelized.  We chill it, rough mash it, and scoop it into the Italian bread.  Provolone cheese, roast garlic spread, and some fried sage leaves are added.

Pretty delicious.  We sell a ton of them each fall.  And... And... you can add bacon for Free.  Bingo!  It is a very very adult grilled cheese.

These two guys who are real life cooks in WW, like they are both really good cooks, have been busting my chops for the return of a sandwich we only served for a few months one summer a number of years ago.  These taller than average people claim it may be the best sandwich we ever made (wrong, but when it is perfect it is close).  And they tease me every time we see each other "you don't even serve on your regular menu the best sandwich you ever made".  They are very annoying.  To get them off my back we are bringing back this oldie.

The BBBB is on the menu for a limited time, eh, maybe a month.  The Braised Bar-B-Cue Brisket makes its grand return.  We trim and braise brisket with some barbecue like seasonings, then chop it up, toss it with some braising liquid and our home-made bbq sauce, then throw it back in the oven to caramelize.  That delicious mix of fatty and lean and sweet and savory brisket goes on our homemade hoagie, with a little mayo and a little more sauce into the toaster oven.  When its all warm, we top it with a savory apple cider vinegar buttermilk coleslaw.  Dang it is good.  It tastes like the End of Summer.  And maybe, just maybe those two cooks will be quiet for awhile, until they get restless and start yammering for the Tasso Ham Panini.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Grandpa, The BLT, and Caprese

Sandwich People,

My grandfather really liked to grow tomatoes.  He wasn't a farmer or anything.  He probably dumped mountains of industrial fertilizer in the arid soil of San Bernadino, California.  Grandpa also grew snow peas, and these wicked hot Filipino Peppers.  And Grandma turned those peppers and tomatoes into blister inducing salsa she would generously give out to unsuspecting friends and neighbors.  That was pretty much it.  Same produce each year.

Weird, white on white European lineage... and two of the things Grandma made, fiery salsa from secret caspin loaded tiny peppers, and Pancit, the traditional Filipino noodle dish, that is where the snow peas went.  In my medium length life to date, I have never eaten Pancit anywhere except Grandma's House and from a subpar food truck vendor.  The number of times I have seen Pancit on a menu is, from that same food truck vendor.  I would wager Grandma and Grandpa never even met a Filipino (but she did get the secret peppers they grew from somewhere, so I bet this is wrong).  Pre Internet, she wasn't an exploratory cook... how the hell did she start making Pancit?

But I digress.  The real story here is Grandpa's Tomatoes.  He would have at least 15 plants.  And the tomatoes were big, and plentiful.  His favorite way to eat them, besides chomping them apple-wise, was in a sandwich.  When I finally got to like tomatoes... probably by the age of 17, I realized the beauty of Grandpa's tomato sandwich simplicity.

It goes like this.  White bread.  Lots of Best Foods Mayo.  Fat slices of homegrown tomatoes.  Fat teardrop inducing slices of yellow onions.  Pepper.  Salt.  Done.  Maybe the ratio of tomato to onion is... 2 to 1?  No cheese to muddle the flavor.  No herbs to distract the taste buds.  No bacon, no lettuce, and the onion, Jesus, it really really opened the eyes and nose.  That Summer sandwich was the best.

The first Summer of GRAZE, we tried to serve Grandpa's sandwich.  HaHa.  Not many takers.  So we started adding things.  Eventually we just gave up and went to the BLT.  Now our BLT is pretty damn good.  And our Caprese Panini is also excellent.  And I eat lots of them all Summer.  But sometimes I wish we didn't serve either, stuck to our guns, and let Grandpa's Sandwich stand alone.


Thursday, August 4, 2016

OK, (Ted) you were right.

I apologize.  We the people of Graze apologize.  We did something bad, and some of you got mad, or at the minimum were slightly miffed, and some of you went to the worst place... extreme disappointment.

Here is what we did: we stopped serving our signature pastrami sandwich on a hoagie roll and switched to rye bread.  Greater crimes have been committed that have received less condemnation.

Here is the backstory sandwich reader.  It takes us a week to make our special pastrami, with all the brining, and seasoning, and roasting.  It takes a couple of weeks to make our house fermented sauerkraut.  The russian dressing takes like ten minutes.  And we purchased the hoagie rolls from a local bread producer.  That hoagie was really good, and myself, and Graze, and customers were happy.

We care a lot about the pastrami.  It is our baby.  It has been on the menu since day one.  I think it is the best pastrami I have ever had in Washington State, and its a toss up with Kenny and Zukes from Portland Oregon.  Even if stylistically they are distinctly different.

Late 2015 we ditched our bread producer to make our own torta bread, and wheat bread, and while we were at it we also started making our own hoagie roll.  The torta was a big improvement, better quality, house made, it saved us lots of money.  The wheat bread was awesome, better quality, house made, it saved us a little money.  But the hoagies... worse quality, house made, saved us a tiny bit of money, and a total pain in the hind quarters to make.

So we switched the hoagies from our producer to in house.  Customers didn't notice.  Customers didn't complain.  But the Graze version was clearly not as good as the producer version.  We tweaked the recipe, for like the 20th time, and that was after countless variations prior to making the switch.  I bitched and moaned about the differences.  Our Graze hoagie was in my mind clearly inferior to the producer version.

And guess what?  No customer complaints.  Zero.  Not even a customer recognition that the hoagie was different.  It bugged the shit out of me.  If something is wrong, typically the word gets back to me pretty quick.  I knew something was wrong, or I believed something was wrong, yet nobody was sending that message.

So I sent our production team on a mission to make a rye loaf.  It was good.  Not amazing, but a very solid rye.  It was easier than the hoagies for the cooks.  It cost less.  The quality was good and always consistent.  I ate a number of test pastramis.  It was delicious, same pastrami, same kraut, same russian dressing, only the bread was different.

And guess what?  Lots of complaints.  One very regular customer and pastrami loyalist, gave me a stern and disappointed talking to.  He refused to eat it.  Even created a special pastrami on sourdough version to get his fix.  We got a couple of bad reviews online.  The poor counter people had to live with unhappy customers.

So we switched back.  Hoagies are back! (like six weeks ago) To do this we also had to make me happy.  So the cooks went back to work, testing hoagie versions again and again.  We finally got it right, or at least close enough to right.  The hoagies are good.  The pastrami sandwich is back to its former glory.

We are sorry, (Ted) you were right.  Thanks for eating sandwiches.

Thursday, July 14, 2016


Surprise! It's Summer 2016. Wet, cool, and nothing like the hot May and early June heatwave.

We expect our bumper crop of tomatoes from Martinez Farm in about two weeks.  When we build fat BLTs and the simple and delicious Caprese Panini.  In the meantime we are debuting a new sandwich in Kennewick, Richland, and Downtown Walla Walla (Drive Thru gets left our).

The PEGG (our shorthand lingo for Panini Eggplant) is a beauty.  It is colorful, clean, simple, and this nearly vegan sandwich satisfies as if you had some protein in it.  Weirdly, I have always thought the best vegetarian dishes resemble protein dishes when one's satiety level (your body's feeling of fullness/completion) is maximized.  NOT "oh I ate a ton and my belly is full", the "that was delicious and I don't feel the urge to eat a Snickers an hour later".  I eat this sandwich with the side salad and vinaigrette.

Back to the PEGG.  Round slices of eggplant are high heat roasted until just soft and barely colored.  We use a tiny bit of pure olive oil and kosher salt and pepper.  The Italian bread is given a little mayo on one slice, and a spread of roasted garlic on the other, and then topped with two slices of provolone cheese.  Roasted eggplant is layered, and then we mandolin slice raw zucchini rounds and sprinkle on some julienned oil packed sun dried tomatoes.  The sandwich is grilled with pure olive oil, rubbed with raw garlic, and then sprinkled with a touch of Morton's Kosher Salt.  The vegan version is simple, eliminate the cheese and mayo.

We are temporarily taking the portabella mushroom off the menu while eggplant and zucchini are in season.  Pretty sad day for us.  The portabella has been on the menu since day one.  Vegetarians love it.  Vegans love it, minus cheese add avocado is delicious.  But we only have so much panini making space, and the Eggplant Panini needs some room to shine.

Cheers - Thanks for eating sandwiches!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Start Over

Starting a business is a series of singular events.  Maybe it takes a few months, or years, or only a few weeks.  The government paperwork, start up money, signage, and whatever that business requires.  A series of Firsts that rarely require any Seconds.  A lease is signed once, a loan is approved once, the door is unlocked for the first time.  After the Starting all that is left is a series of repeats.... Seconds upon Seconds.  Repeat the right formula often enough and hopefully dollars will follow.

Three months after starting Graze Catering, a guy I just met at a home poker game asked, "What do you do for work John?" to which I replied "I started a catering business".  His response was a wry "So you started a catering business, have you actually catered for anyone?".  Sadly the answer was "for very few"... and the future response to that question became, "I operate Graze Catering, we do pretty much everything, but mostly wine events and weddings."  A valuable lesson poker playing Old Bob taught me.

After a year of very little catering, and a crisis of belief and a near towel throwing in, starting this blog became instrumental in getting brides and grooms to know Graze Catering.  It drove the business, and a couple of years after Starting, we were Repeating Repeating Repeating, the most successful and busiest catering outfit in Walla Walla.  The blog has withered as the sandwich shops have thrived and the catering business has been gently retired.

I have always been as open about the business with... well, anyone that asks.  If you are first time customer and we happen to chat about the business, and I have time, and you are interested... well my wife says I talk to much.  I like to talk business, not just mine, and I like to hear peoples thoughts (business thoughts, no not your pet's rituals or your favorite actors, kill me now).

A long time ago, I would send emails to customers who signed up for our email messages.  I wrote stories about our sandwiches, or why we do something, or a certain new thing we are trying.  It was successful, a few hundred people would read them, and I would get some great and honest feedback.  It was personal, and real, and fun.  I stopped that about a year ago when Sandwiching In Chief became a bit too crazy.

Maybe it is time to start over again.  The catering business did its last official 2016 catering obligation a week ago.  We promoted our Drive Thru Manager to be the General Manager for all four stores (which is crazy, absolutely crazy to think about.  Corporations, Fast Food Mega Chains have general managers.  We are just these little sandwich shops, what are we doing with a general manager?).  We hope to start adding new sandwiches, specials, and test runs to the menus in the next few months.

Re-Start the Blog.  Create some new sandwiches.  Invent a general manager role.

Business is great.  It will be fun to Start Over some stuff again.