Monster Subs is known for one thing in particular: the generosity of its owner, Salomon Mizrahi, who offers meat samples to waiting customers and assures each of them to "pay whenever."
Even the sandwiches the place is known for -- which are fresh, scrumptious, and generously filled without being gargantuan -- are not quite as famous as their maker.
Mizrahi's customers tend to become his friends -- he even has pet names for them. Monster Subs shares a plaza with Subway, but it seems there's no conflict -- a reasonably priced Monster Sub contains quality ingredients that have the spot, which has been open since 1976, bustling at lunchtime.
It was unusual to arrive there at 9 a.m. on a Friday, when Salomon was setting out the vegetables and blasting the oldies -- at that hour, it's unusually quiet, save for the relatives (it's primarily a family-run business) and friends who stop in for prework sandwiches.Mizrahi chatted with me about Monster Subs' beginnings and how it became one of the best places to get lunch for less than a ten spot.
Clean Plate Charlie: Where are you from, and when did you come to the States?
Salomon Mizrahi: I was born in Mexico City, and I came here in 1976.
Why did you come to the States?
I had a lot of problems -- they stole the money from my business in Mexico City. I had several Sherwin-Williams stores.
What were they doing?
I was robbed almost every week. I had ten stores! My daughter and son lived in the U.S. at the time -- one girl, two boys. Everyone said, "You have family here, stay here, put your business here; it's different."
How did you end up in Fort Lauderdale?
My daughter told me it was a good place. There's the beach nearby; it was just a good location. This is a good area -- the people are nice.
Why did you decide to open up a sandwich shop?
I think I thought it was better to make a sandwich to satisfy the customers. I like taking care of people; I really like customer service. The people, being happy -- I like to look at that, [knowing that] I made that, in my heart. I cut all the lettuce; I make everything fresh every day.
How did you start your business and earn the start-up money?
I started it in June 1976, six months after I moved here. I did not have a lot of money because I'd lost my store, my business. I thought I'd only have one location here, make it easier -- only take care of the customers, no more. I had enough money to invest in one location. I like moving around here -- it's easy to sell coffee, soda, sandwiches.
What was it like when you first opened Monster Subs? Was it as busy?
No, it was just a little busy. The customers would come to taste the sandwich, return to buy more and more and more, and then they would tell their friends to come here. That's how it began.
How else is it different than when you first opened -- Fort Lauderdale and Monster Subs?
I had a lot of tourists a long time ago. They would visit from Ohio, New York, New Jersey -- they would tell me, "Nobody makes a sandwich like this where I'm from." Now I have a lot of office people too as well as the tourists, who come more in spring and winter. My regular customers are the same. A lot has changed in Fort Lauderdale since 1976. There's maybe 40 percent more people, but the plaza here still looks the same.
Did customers have all the same choices they currently have?
Yes, all the furnishings, the machines, the bread, the meat -- I bought them in the beginning. The menu hasn't changed.
Why did you pick the name Monster Subs?
I make big, big sandwiches -- a lot of meat, a lot of veggies. Other places make them small. I like to let people try it, sample it before they eat it. It's good quality. They need to taste it first -- that way they can see if they like it.
Are there any other Monster Subs locations?
No, there is another Monster Subs that opened later, but it's not the same. I need a lot of money to put the registration in my name. It doesn't matter; the name is for everyone. Lawyers do tell me I need to register my name, franchise it, but it's too much headache for me. I'm an old man; I'm 70, I don't need to worry about that.
You're in a plaza with Subway, as well as other lunch spots. What is the competition like?
It's no problem for me, because I make something different. The difference is the bread, first. The bread is fresh -- no freezing. Second, a lot of veggies and a lot of meat. I don't charge extra for nothing. Cheese is included. There's no competition. Everybody is willing to pay a little more for good quality.
What's your most popular sandwich?
Classic Italian and roast beef are the most popular. And the potato salad is very popular too.
Do you make it here? What's the recipe?
Yes, I make it here fresh every day -- but the recipe is a secret! I also make the meatballs, and I make the tomato sauce using my grandma's recipe.
Are you hoping to continue the business a very long time?
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I don't know yet. My sons are very professional: One is an economist at a bank in Tennessee; one son in New York has his business. My daughter works for Hermes. So I don't think they'll be able to continue the business. I'm not sure -- I'm very old. We'll see what happens.
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