Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bea's Sandwich Shop

Bea’s Sandwich Shop

Lawrence, Mass - My Hometown

By Richard E. Noble
Bea’s sandwich shop was a big memory for those of us who were growing up in the 50’s and 60’s in good old Lawrence, Massachusetts.
There was a whole legend that went along with the success of Bea’s sandwich shop. My older brother, who was a classmate of one of the sons of the locally famous family, told me that the fable was true. I think their family name was Consoli.
Supposedly the founders of the shop began their operation in their tenement kitchen. They would prepare their famous cutlet sandwich and then sell it from a mobile cart that they pushed down onto Broadway - so claimed the legend. They started out selling their sandwiches at lunch time to the kids from Central Catholic and Lawrence High.
Within time they rented or bought a building on Broadway and opened their first shop.
The shop itself was rather revolutionary. It had no place to sit. The walls were covered with mirrors. A counter ran below the mirrors on both walls. The entrance and building front was large glass windows. You could drive by on Broadway and see if they were busy or not. McDonald’s and Burger King and most of the fast food shops are all like that today. But Bea’s was before any McDonald’s.
The kitchen was also quite revolutionary. The ordering area was also glass and the whole kitchen could be observed by the customers. If anybody dropped a cutlet on the floor it had to go into the garbage or everyone would know. The help had to look clean and presentable also. And they always did. A few daubs of spaghetti sauce on the apron did not warrant any comment or customer disapproval.
Eventually, they had a whole wall full of cutlet sandwich varieties and several stores - cutlet with plain sauce, cutlet with meat sauce, cutlet with meat sauce and mushrooms, cutlet with green peppers and onions and on and on. But once they had their shop opened they presented other sandwich favorites. Their chicken bar-b-que was a big one. I think they used to call it chicken a la king which was more appropriate. The sandwich had nothing to do with bar-b-que sauce or smoked meat. It was chicken with a mayonnaise or cream sauce of some kind. It was great.
They also had hotdogs boiled in beer. Of course they had sausage and meatball sandwiches and several other Italian favorites.
When I was a little guy my uncle used to take me down to Bea’s. I always got a cutlet. It was only thirty-five cents and the cutlet was always too big to fit in the bun. You would have to eat the cutlet down around the edges before you got to the bun. In my childhood memories it was a giant sandwich. There was nothing else like it.
There was another fellow down the street, King-size sandwich shop, who always bragged that he used real veal in his veal cutlets and not cheap pork butt like they used at Bea’s. He would point up to his sign and make note that he used the word “veal” while Bea’s only used the word “cutlet.” His cutlet was good too. But it didn’t flop out over the edge of the bun by three inches like Bea’s had. It was certainly softer (more tender) than Bea’s. But, it was no contest. Everybody liked the Bea’s pounded pork butt cutlet better than anybody else’s.
When we were early teenagers we would head down to Bea’s and buy sauce sandwiches. They were ten cents. They would slop a big ladle of their homemade meat sauce into one of their delicious buns. Sometimes we would get two or three sauce sandwiches each.
One day a mob of us walked down there. We pooled all our money. We had enough money to buy 37 sauce sandwiches. It was a little embarrassing to be ordering sauce sandwiches, so we drew straws to see who would get the honor of going inside and ordering 37 sauce sandwiches.
Jack Sheehy, who now owns the Pizza Pub on Lawrence St., got the honor. Jack was a little shy in those days. So when he went up to the window he whispered to the girl taking his order. “Thirty-seven sauce sandwiches, please.”
When they called his number and he went to the window, the girl said, “That will be fifty-four dollars,” or some such phenomenal amount. Jack protested quietly but vigorously. “It can’t be. It is only supposed to be $3.70 for 37 sauce sandwiches.
The girl said, “You ordered sausage sandwiches.”
“God no,” Jack squealed. “I ordered sauce sandwiches. I only have $3.70.”
The girl frowned and then brought all the sandwiches back to the cook. He had a very bad look on his face as he pealed all the sausages out of our 37 sauce sandwiches.
When the girl returned with the sauce sandwiches she didn’t call out our number. She used the loud speaker and said, “Would the young man who ordered 37 sauce sandwiches please come to the pick up window.” As I remember Jack attempted to walk out the front door but we would not let him do it. We wanted our sauce sandwiches.
We have been laughing over that story now for over 50 years. And every time someone tells it, it gets more hilarious. Amazingly enough I can still see Jack’s beet-red face when the lady challenged his order and then again when she called our order on the loud speaker.