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Upper Crust

Move over, sub, hero and hoagie: the sandwich has gone upscale. And for enterprising entrepreneurs, it's the best thing since sliced bread.

This story appears in the June 1999 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

The year is 1765. A marathon card-playing session is underway in a London club. One famished player, John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, orders a bit of salted beef between two slices of toasted bread. Within a few short years, the tasty and portable sandwich, as it came to be called, was the favorite food of working people all over England.

More than two hundred years later, sandwiches have become an American fast-food staple. Sandwich chains such as Subway and Blimpie have thousands of outlets nationwide; sandwich franchises can even be found in exotic locales like Saudi Arabia and Taiwan. While the market for sandwiches seems to be very close to becoming saturated, according to retail and restaurant marketing consultant Ray Coen, the truth is there's always room at the top for restaurants offering higher quality at a correspondingly higher price. "In every [fast-food] category, after the initial expansion, there comes segmentation, because the only way to grow a category beyond a certain point is for new entries to develop a different position [for themselves]," says Coen. "Upscale sandwich shops are definitely identifying a new segment position."

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