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Potbelly Secret Menu Sparks Interest in Underground Creations

By Erica Demarest | February 19, 2014 6:48am
 After  Thrillist Chicago  posted Potbelly's "super-secret menu" this week, several of the chain's local locations saw an uptick in customers seeking the underground menu items.
Potbelly Secret Menu Sparks Interest in Underground Creations
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LINCOLN SQUARE — After Thrillist Chicago posted Potbelly's "super-secret menu" this week, several of the chain's local locations saw an uptick in customers seeking the underground specials.

"We were kind of laughing last night," said Steph Axelson, who manages the Lincoln Square Potbelly Sandwich Shop, 4709 N. Lincoln Ave.

"We had a lot of customers come in, kind of confused, asking for these sandwiches."

Potbelly's corporate office said it doesn't share sales numbers, so evidence of a boost from the online revelation is only anecdotal.

Thrillist shared a list of 11 sandwiches and four desserts it called Potbelly's underground menu — items like the Fireball, which mixes meatballs, chili and hot peppers and Elvis, a decadent combination of peanut butter, bacon and bananas.

At the Potbelly inside Illinois Center, 111 E. Upper Wacker Drive, management posted a cheat sheet for workers after the article was posted. One worker said she only knew of three of the sandwiches — the Fireball; Cheeseburger (meatballs and all the toppings on a burger, except for ketchup); and the Wrecking Ball (similar to the standard Wreck, but with meatballs) — before the story.

She made four of the off-menu creations during her Tuesday afternoon shift at the restaurant.

Staffers in Lincoln Square said they typically see a couple of underground menu orders a month. But on Monday night alone, there were seven.

"We had a lot of fun," Axelson said. "It kind of gives customers a sense of being part of the Potbelly family."

The underground menu is nothing new, a Potbelly official said.

"It's been around ever since Potbelly started" in Chicago in 1977, said marketing manager Dan Yates.

Some of the underground items — like the Toasty Turkey BLT — were once on the main menu, but got moved to make room for new additions. Others, such as the Fireball or Cheeseburger, were created by staffers and regulars.

"We have a lot of very loyal customers who come in every day and want to try new things," Yates said.

The underground menu has historically been shared by word-of-mouth, but social media has increased its visibility, Yates said.

Axelson said since Thrillist's article debuted, her store has fielded phone calls about the sandwiches.

The Black and Bleu and Fireball have been popular choices.

But "I don't foresee anyone asking for the Elvis," Axelson said. "That one's definitely new. I hope someone does ask for it. That'd be funny."