Two buddies, one Weber grill and a desire to make a buck during a period of economic recession.
That’s how Fritz Campanello, owner of Volcano Pizza in Elkhart, describes the origins of the restaurant’s annual Sausage Days.
“I was trying to do something to drive up business,” Campanello said. “It has grown into something that I certainly could have never envisioned.”
The popular two-day event, featuring Volcano’s Italian sausage sandwich, has taken place for more than 35 years outside the Elkhart chain’s location at 126 Easy Shopping Place. Each year, the lines stretch long enough to wrap the small shopping center’s parking lot.
Since it’s available for less than 48 hours every July, Campanello said the sandwich “is something for people to look forward to each year.”
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This year’s Volcano Sausage Days will begin at 10 a.m. Wednesday, July 22, and Thursday, July 23. Sandwiches will cost $5.51 plus tax, up a nickel from last year’s price.
Supplies always sell out, which determines each days’ end time, and its not uncommon for reserved orders to total in the hundreds.
Beginning at 10 a.m. July 22 and 23
Volcano Pizza, 574-295-8606
126 Easy Shopping Place, Elkhart
$5.51 per sandwich (plus tax)
“The reason why we always run out, is not because we don’t make enough sausage patties, it’s because we make our own buns for the event and they’re made fresh every day,” Campanello said. “We make whatever the capacity of our bakery operation is. Yeah, we could definitely make more patties and sell more, but that’s the limiting factor.”
Fans have historically waited 30 minutes or more during peak lunchtime hours for what Campanello calls “the perfect sandwich.”
Volcano’s Easy Shopping Place location will take reserved orders by phone starting Monday, July 20. For reservations, orders must include a minimum of 15 sandwiches. Anything less, and customers will have to join the line snaking through the parking lot of the shopping center.
Campanello said reserved orders will be assigned 15-minute pickup time slots to ensure production keeps pace and walk-up customers won’t be stuck waiting longer. Once a slot is filled, no more reserved orders will be taken for that pickup time.
“The bun is basically the same as our bread that we use everyday. The fact that (the sausage) is in a patty form is kind of unique. The reason why it’s that way instead of a link sausage is because we can cook them faster,” Campanello said. “Of course, being thinner like that, the advantage is the charcoal flavor penetrates the meat much easier than when you cook it in a link. So I think that just enhances the flavor.”
The patties, a combination of fennel and sausage spread across four large grills, are topped with grilled green peppers and onions.
“Fennel and charcoal are quite a combination,” Campanello said.
He preferred not to say exactly how many patties he typically sells, only that “it’s in the thousands.” At least a few have traveled outside Elkhart County on overnight trips to far corners of the country.
“What’s interesting sometimes is people will order, like, a dozen of them and last year, someone shipped them across the country in dry ice,” Campanello said. “People got these sandwiches and posted pictures of themselves on social media eating them in California, or somewhere.”
News of the sausage sensation has even crossed the Atlantic, where Campanello’s daughter lives in England.
“She’s in London and she sees me being interviewed on the TV newscast about the sausages. I think it was ABC 57 who came out about three or four years ago,” Campanello recalled as he chuckled. “It got picked up by the national ABC affiliate as the lead story out of Indiana. My daughter was watching and said, ’Oh my God, that’s my dad!’”
Perhaps it is the strategy of telling people they can only purchase a product once a year. Maybe the sandwich really is that good and deserving of the flood of attention. Either way, Campanello knows he has an unintended tradition to keep up.
“It really is a phenomenon, that’s for sure.”