Ricardo “Handsome Rick” Dunn was just starting out at LaSpada’s Hoagies when several bloody slices of roast beef sailed through the air and pelted his face. It was July 4, 2016. He was supposed to be making a sandwich. “You can't arc it when you throw,” says Handsome Rick. "It's not like basketball."
Indeed LaSpada's, which operates six locations — five in Broward and one in Boca Raton — is the meat-throwing capital of South Florida. Thousands of people wait in line to buy Pennsylvania-style subs — and everybody gets to enjoy watching the show as wads of ham, corned beef, turkey or salami sail through the air.
The approach not only moves the meat faster but provides theatrics that would make Cirque de Soleil proud. The resulting sandwiches ain't bad either.
“Throwing the meat is mostly out of necessity for the small location and [high] volume," says Lauderdale-by-the-Sea General Manager Paul Edington.
LaSpada's Hoagies opened in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea in 1973. John LaSpada Jr. was a third generation sandwich crafter whose grandfather opened his first hoagie shop in Atlantic City during the Thirties. In 1978, LaSpada sold it to Harry and Gale Kappes. The couple and their son Phil now operate all the South Florida locations.
Edington threw meat back in the day at the Lauderdale-by-the-Sea store and now trains newbies on the practice. “It's a part of what we do here,” Edington says as Lauderdale-by-the-Sea Mayor Christopher Vincent pats him on the back and reminds him that “even the Mayor loves LaSpada’s.” (Vincent, by the way, was enjoying a small Italian.)
Edington says the practice is based in the unique LaSpada's style of adding a signature second layer of meat that blankets all other toppings. It began sometime in the late '70s when one sandwich artisan, tired of racing back and forth from the slicer to the end of the line, decided to lob it instead.
"It was just so busy that you couldn't walk [the meats] down," he says. "So we started throwing them at each other....to each other.”
To Edington, the secret to catapulting sandwiches is aerodynamics.“You gotta make sure [the meats] are placed together properly and able to handle the air time.”
Walk into the Lauderdale-by-the-Sea location these days and your sandwich will likely be made by a motley crew that includes Edington, “Handsome Rick” Dunn, Jonathan “Suede” Escribano, Josh “Spanky” Lynch, Eric “Blue” Diaz and John Wilkins. Handsome Rick and Wilkins are most likely to be cutting and tossing, while Lynch is usually down at the end of the line catching.
Escribano is 25 years old, an assistant manager, and Edington’s nephew, He is also the best meat thrower in the shop. “We all have our on days and our off days,” he says. Then he reveals this trade secret: The surest way to toss accurately is to lock your fingers and “basically push the meat.”
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While single-meat hoagies can be rolled up before being thrown, the multi-meat sandwiches like “the Monster” and “the Mama” and Italian subs require a little more finesse. The Monster, a ham, roast beef, and turkey combo, is Wilkins’ favorite to launch. “It’s a bit heavier, " he says, "it flies better."
Wilkins remembers the time one customer who ordered a foot-long Monster sandwich threw down the gauntlet. He was working at the chain’s 17th Street location in Fort Lauderdale. The crew was slammed. “There was a line out the door. We were just throwin’, throwin’, and this guy was like ‘I’ll give you five dollars if you land it on the end.’” Rising to the challenge, Wilkins placed an open foot-long roll at the end of the store’s cutting boards, which are approximately 15 feet long. Then he tossed the ham, roast beef and turkey from the meat slicer on one end to the bun at the other. Slam dunk.
A customer at the store who gave her name as Sheila H. was appreciative as she watched her chicken meat fly through the air. "It’s the freshest food ever," she says. They will make it exactly how you want it.”
You can pick up a LaSpada's hoagie in Boca Raton, Coral Springs, Davie, off 17th Street in Fort Lauderdale, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, and Pembroke Pines,