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Chicago Bagel Authority Ends 'No Ketchup' Policy After 15 Years

By Serena Dai | December 5, 2013 6:47am
 Chicago Bagel Authority, a sandwich shop in Lakeview and Lincoln Park, finally started offering ketchup packets after 15 years of "dogmatically" avoiding it.
Chicago Bagel Authority, a sandwich shop in Lakeview and Lincoln Park, finally started offering ketchup packets after 15 years of "dogmatically" avoiding it.
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LAKEVIEW — "Undignified." "Messy." "Disgusting."

That's what the owner of Chicago Bagel Authority Greg Gibbs thinks of putting ketchup on sandwiches.

But after 15 years of "dogmatically" refusing to offer what he calls the "ubiquitous ooze," Gibbs has finally given in. 

The sandwich shop with locations in Lakeview, 955 W. Belmont Ave., and Lincoln Park, 953 W. Armitage Ave., now offers ketchup packets for diners to put on their sandwiches, mainly in hopes of boosting morning business.

"It makes each of our sandwiches worse," Gibbs said in an email. "BUT, the ketchup congregation is STUBBORN."

The shops offer such creations as the Ravenswood, a roast beef sandwich featuring smoked cheddar, horseradish, mayo, lettuce, tomato and onion. It also serves "The Lincoln Pork," which has ham, bacon, muenster, mushrooms, onions and mayo on a sesame bagel.

But at least once or twice a week since Chicago Bagel Authority opened in 1998, customers would request ketchup for their sandwiches, Gibbs said.

For whatever reason, it's the breakfast sandwiches that some believe need ketchup the most, he said, such as the "Egg McMahon" — which features sausage, scrambled egg and American cheese on a bialy (and is named for former Chicago Bears Super Bowl QB Jim McMahon).

"The response is generally, 'Really, you don’t have ketchup? Seriously?'" Gibbs said. "And I always say, 'Find me a bagel shop with ketchup.'"

One man even brought in his own bottle almost every time he came in. Others stormed out, "pissed off" over the lack of the condiment, Gibbs said.

Once, a distributor accidentally dropped off Heinz Chili Sauce, a spicy, ketchuplike condiment. The restaurant offered it to customers, but no ketchup lover would try it. The bottles browned over time and the shop threw them out.

The restaurant still serves 20 to 30 other hot sauces, but the ketchup crew rarely use those, either.

"The ketchup lovers are strange," he said. "They love ketchup on steak, french fries, everything. I get it, when I eat french fries, I like it. But on most things ... I like to diversify my sauces."

Employees took pride in the shop's no-ketchup policy and were disappointed to hear that Gibbs changed his tune. They even sampled some of the shop's sandwiches with ketchup and universally agreed they tasted "disgusting," Gibbs said.

"We like to think we're more dignified and hold our nose up to people who eat ketchup on all their sandwiches," Gibbs explained.

But in spite of the impassioned opinions on whether to serve, or not serve, the condiment, the reaction since he made it available has been "underwhelming," Gibbs said.

Aside from those in the know, most people just assume that the shop has always had ketchup. And in the several weeks that the ketchup packets were put out on the counter, few people have even bothered to use them, Gibbs said.

Turns out, most Chicago Bagel Authority customers have better taste than Gibbs thought.