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Dagwoods Serves Community with Meatiest Subs in Town
by Sarah Nodine
About the Dagwood's Founder

John Santos knows what it’s like to work 16-hour days for an idea that he believes in. After all, he did create one of the most popular sub shops for Indiana University students to grab a bite to eat on campus or to order a delivery. Located directly across the street from Franklin Hall, Dagwood’s Deli has one of the best restaurant locations in town, making the possibility of trying one of their extremely tasty sandwiches a little more likely.

Santos grew up in Jeffersonville, Ind., and when he came to Indiana University to major in accounting, he certainly had no idea that he would stay here and live until the present time. "I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else in my life," Santos commented.

While attending classes in Bloomington, he lived in Foster Martin and was extremely active in the student government and RHA. He went through the process of taking classes and trying to find a job like most other Kelley School of Business students. It was in his fifth year of school, while visiting a friend in Florida, that Santos came up with an idea that literally made mouths water.

Santos noticed that sub shops were a huge hit in the South. They were everywhere, and he really liked the way that one could order their own, huge sandwich loaded with all their personal favorites. Therefore, he started some innovative thinking with a friend and developed some serious ideas for penetrating the sub market in Bloomington. At the time, there wasn’t even a Subway in the area. Santos looked into buying a Subway franchise, but the idea didn’t work out. However, he was set on further development of his idea, and began to look into different possibilities for sub shops.

An old roommate of his, while brainstorming for creative restaurant names, created the Dagwood’s name when he referred to a sub as a Dagwood. Apparently, a Dagwood was part of the common slang for a huge sub in the area in which she grew up. Santos knew immediately upon hearing the name that it was a winner, and created some pretty delicious sub sandwiches to accompany his new establishment.

One afternoon, while sitting down with some friends, they pulled together a little bit of everything from the refrigerator and created what is best known today as the special sauce as well as some different sub ideas such as the Butch & Beaner, the Dagwood Supreme, and the Hoosier Hoagie.

The actual Dagwood’s restaurant was not implemented until the following year. First, Santos had to find the perfect location. One day, while waiting in line for tickets at Karma, he noticed that the building next door was up for lease. That was the first step, and the idea just kept developing from there. His friend decided that he was no longer interested in being a part of the establishment, but Santos was so sure that his idea would work that he couldn’t let the dream go. He sold his car for $5,500, and used all but $500 for his first month’s renting costs. He lived on the $500 for the first month, until Dagwood’s became more successful.

They had a grand opening on a Thursday, during spring break, and were only open for lunch. That following Sunday, he was positive that Dagwood’s would be a hit. The store was set to operate from 11 am to midnight, and they had such a successful day that they completely ran out of food at 8 pm. Santos said, "I remember that Beaner came down to the store and helped me answer phones from 8 on, telling the customers that kept calling how sorry we were, and that we would be fully restocked the next day."

Now, Santos still works behind the counter of Dagwood’s, making subs with his employees as well as fulfilling the more managerial duties that come with owning one of the most popular restaurants in town. Apparently, his recipe for success was determination, a little creativity, and, of course, the special sauce.

About Dagwoods

Most everyone has heard of the comic strip Blondie, which features a favorite character, Dagwood Bumstead. If one has heard of the comic strip, they also know that Dagwood has an irresistible love for food, especially sandwiches, which he always piles high with meats, cheeses, condiments, and bread. Most everyone has also heard of the sub shop, Dagwood’s Deli, which resides close to Kirkwood on Indiana Avenue. This Dagwood also loves to make sandwhiches piled high with all the favorite fixings!

Dagwood’s is now entering its 15th year as a restaurant in the Bloomington area. Entering the area as the first sub shop, Dagwood’s had little competition. According to John Santos, the owner, its only real source of competition came from the Vilage Deli and Brad’s, which carried two sub choices. Dagwood’s was the first of it kind, and wanted to set the market standards high for anyone who would try to compete with it.

"I liked Subway, and I wanted my restaurant to carry some better quality meats and cheeses. The better food, the more word of mouth by my customers," Santos said.

Whatever tactics Dagwood’s may use, each and every one appears to be successful. "I love Dagwood’s. There’s something unique about the taste that seriously makes me crave their sandwiches. It has to be the special sauce," freshman Jon Nodine said.

Other students rave about the sandwiches as well. Filled with students, faculty, and other Bloomington area residents each afternoon throughout the week is a feat that Santos is very proud of. Another signature for the restaurant is its $3.99 sanwich, cookie, and drink special.

The Dagwood Supreme most certainly has a part in the popularity of the sub shop. You can order it with the normal fixings, which include lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and special sauce, or you can order whatever other condiments that your taste buds desire. There is no limit. Of course, everyone has his or her own personal favorite.

Kristin Schwartz, a junior, has a different sort of top choice. "I absolutely love ordering a vegetarian sandwich on a wheat roll, with swiss cheese, and bacon. Of course, I always include lettuce tomato, onions, pickle, dark mustard, pepper, oregano, and the special sauce. I wish they’d market that stuff!"

Dagwood’s atmosphere is also pretty unique. One walks down a flight of huge, wooden stairs into a little dining area set up with booths, a few tables, a Donkey Kong game, some stools, and some different pictures of Dagwood’s characters and art work. Perhaps it’s the cozy comfort of eating your sandwich in the small room that keeps the place packed. Maybe it’s the Donkey kong game. However, the choice of how to eat your sub does not end with the dining area. You can call for a delivery, which most typically takes about 30-45 minutes, or you can get your sandwich to go, and enjoy it on the beautiful campus that is right outside Dagwood’s door.

Although other restaurants throughout campus may have two or three locations, Dagwood’s manages it all from its location on Indiana Avenue. With up to four people constantly making sandwiches, they never seem to get too backed up. However, that may not be how it seems to the hungry customers who are waiting to bite into their sandwiches.

Dagwood’s is located at 116-1/2 South Indiana Avenue in Bloomington.