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Owners of new restaurant, Zozo’s Sandwich House, adjust to Spokane rush

Spokane’s newest sandwich shop may take some getting used to.

In Texas, customers have grown to understand that restaurants that specialize in freshly cooked meats are open until they are not. Even if the door says it’s open until 9 p.m., closing time comes when the meat runs out.

Zozo’s Sandwich House, which opened March 13 in the former Azars Restaurant at 2501 N. Monroe St., faced a bigger-than-expected opening crowd and customers who didn’t understand how they could run out of menu items, owner Jennifer Hesseltine said.

“Spokane is not used to a sell-out-of-a-food thing,” she said. “Most were understanding. But some really didn’t like that.”

Hesseltine and her husband, Aaron, have already pared back the hours from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, to closing at 5 p.m.

“So, this first week was a little crazy for us,” Jennifer said. “We knew we would be busy, but we didn’t expect the response we got. We were a little overwhelmed at the beginning, which is a good thing.”

With folks lined up 15 deep to try the new sandwich shop in an iconic location, it caused some unintended circumstances.

“Everything on our menu is made from scratch. We roast our own beef and pork. We hand-bread our own pork cutlets,” she said. “The first day, we sold out of all of our prep.”

By cooking or preparing virtually everything on the menu, except for the hoagies which are cooked fresh daily elsewhere, or the amarosa rolls that come directly from Philadelphia, it takes hours each day to prepare for the lunch rush, she said.

“On day two, we didn’t have time to do a full prep. For three days in a row, we sold out completely,” she said.

As a result, the Hesseltines and their small staff were preparing until 1:30 a.m. and then getting up at 4 a.m. to get to the restaurant and start over, she said.

“We were exhausted. We were running on empty,” she said. “We had to make a change to get our prep under control.”

Thus, the earlier closing time.

“As soon as we learn better, we can go back to the original schedule,” she said.

Smash & Burn

The menu is full of items designed to tame the biggest appetites Spokane can muster.

The hot sandwiches include the Monroe St. Dip, which has house roasted beef, garlic aioli, provolone and au jus made from that morning’s cook, Hesseltine said.

“That’s our No. 1” ordered sandwich, she said.

Just like the Monroe, the Italian Roast Pork sandwich features meats cooked that morning.

“I don’t think you can find one in Spokane that I know of,” she said. “We roast our own.”

The pork sandwich includes sharp provolone cheese and a sauteed broccoli rabe served on an Amoroso roll that gets shipped to the store.

The same rolls are used in the Zozo’s Cheesesteak, which is made with shaved beef, melted provolone and chopped grilled onions.

The Hesseltines found a local supplier that gets the Amoroso rolls from a bakery in Philadelphia.

“So that’s an authentic Philly cheesesteak sandwich,” she said. “We got lucky with that one.”

The menu also includes what they call Smash Burgers.

They include the Bun Jovi, Kevin Bacon and Smash & Burn, which has pepperjack cheese, grilled jalapeños, grilled onion, lettuce and chili ketchup.

The menu also features chicken cutlets, cold sandwiches, salads and soups.

For those who seek a nonmeat option, the Hesseltines included the Super Novah.

“Every morning, we grill up eggplant and zucchini for the day,” she said. “And we make a vegan aoili.”

The Super Novah also has roasted red peppers, avocado and a balsamic glaze.

“We have very high-quality ingredients,” she said. “Most people can’t eat a whole sandwich.”

The signature sandwiches are priced at about $13.

“It was important that we didn’t out price ourselves,” she said. “We are not getting rich off those prices.”

Kodie Misiura, of Spokane, said she called in an order and it was ready when she arrived last week. She ordered a roast beef sandwich and the Schnitz pork cutlet.

“The Schnitz was good, but I probably wouldn’t order it again,” Misiura said. “The roast beef was very good and I would definitely order it again.

“There are so many items on their menu that sound amazing and I am looking forward to trying more items in the future.”

The dream

Jennifer Hesseltine has worked 24 years in the corporate restaurant business and Aaron spent 27 years in the grocery business.

“We’ve been tossing around this idea for about three years,” Aaron Hesseltine said. “We contacted Katy (Azar) and we got the ball rolling.”

Azars closed last October and building owner Katy Azar started negotiating a lease with the Hesseltines within weeks.

Jennifer said the couple has been building momentum for the big opening.

“My husband and I on our free time, we spend traveling,” she said. “And we travel for food.”

And building a business model on freshly cooked meats will take some adjustments to find the correct balance, she said.

“When we would sell out of roast pork, they would ask, ‘Why is it gone?’ But when it’s gone, it’s gone,” she said. “We are not buying processed meat. We are making it fresh.”

As the restaurant and its staff finds a rhythm, the store hours should eventually expand to include evening, she said.

“This is our first business,” she said. “We are learning.”

Aaron Hesseltine, who continues to work part time for Safeway, agreed. He noted that the restaurant is working to get online orders set up.

“Spokane has been great,” he said.