Dining A La King: Sassy's packs flavor into fresh food, but leaves out allergens

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By: Marshall V. King
mking@flavor574.com

Marshall V. King/Flavor 574

The little things add up to big things at Sassy’s Sandwich Shack Burgers & More.

Owner Sean Wojtkowski and his staff make and sell burgers. Really good burgers.

Its beef is provided by DC Meats, pressed and seared on a grill and seasoned with sea salt.

Simple.

The fries, either sweet potato or white potato, are simply the vegetable fried and seasoned with sea salt.

Simple.

But in that simplicity is the beauty and the reason to go there. The food is fresh and great. The flavors are rich. And what it’s missing is a little thing that adds up to a big thing.

Nearly everything at the Granger restaurant and bakery is available gluten-free. The bean burgers and gluten-free foods are prepared on a separate grill from the buns and burgers.

The beef is certified to not be genetically modified. For those with peanut allergies, Sassy’s doesn’t use peanut oil and even abandoned selling peanut butter cookies. That last one was hard on Wojtkowski. “I love peanut butter,” he said.

But what’s remarkable about Sassy’s is how little it’s about what he wants. It’s about listening to the customer and responding.

Sassy’s Sandwich Shack 
303 Florence Ave., Granger 

574-318-4696

Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

“It’s not about what I like. It’s about what the consumer needs or wants,” he said.

He opened Indulgence Pastry Shop & Cafe in 2007 along Edison Road. In July 2014, he opened Sassy’s in University Park Mall.

What he heard from customers is that the neighborhood around Indulgence isn’t great and the parking lot was hard to navigate. He doesn’t believe it’s a bad neighborhood, but he watched sales fall.

In UP Mall, he couldn’t give his customers the experience he wanted as an owner.

“We moved Sassy’s out of the mall because I didn’t feel I owned my own business at the mall,” he said.

So after closing Sassy’s in UP Mall and opening in Toscana Park, he moved the pastry sales there too and closed it on Edison.

Sales are going up. The chocolate cakes, brownies, scones and cakes are rich and sweet. They’re well-made and many of them are gluten-free as well.

In January, he discovered he had a wheat allergy. He’d already been making gluten-free desserts, but his mad scientist went to work a little harder.

His goal is to make food safe for folks with allergies while it doesn’t taste like it’s missing something.

He’d heard friends talk about how difficult it was to eat out with food allergies, so he wanted to make it easy for someone with an allergy to have a great, simple meal with friends or family.

The restaurant side regularly has a full dining room at lunch, dinner and on weekends. Catering business is strong, particularly since Sassy’s can offer options for employees or guests who have food sensitivities.

From the comments, from the traffic, what he’s doing is working. “It’s pretty amazing how many large families are still out there,” he said of the groups coming to eat together and finding something that works for everyone.

He’s heard from customers they wanted more chicken rather than red meat, so it appeared on the menu last week. When someone said they didn’t want to choose between the sweet potato and classic fries, they created an order that mixes them and had a Facebook contest to come up with the name. (It’s Sassy’s Fries, by the way.)

The burgers, made with good ingredients and a bit of technique, are great. So are the fries. There’s a burger of the month with funky ingredients. The veggie pattie made with black beans and sweet potato makes a great sandwich or salad topping. Wojtkowski said a surprising number of men are ordering burgers on top of their salads these days.

The restaurant has walk-up ordering and nice touches such as fries served in paper bags. Burgers start at $4.95 and range up to $8.95 for the one made with lobster salad, cheddar cheese and bacon. Nearly everything is customizable. If you want a side salad with your burger, it’s easy to get.

Eventually, Sassy’s will have burgers made with seafood, lamb and turkey. Eventually there will be chicken wings. Eventually there may even be more Sassy’s locations. Wojtkowski believes it’s a concept that could be replicated.

A permit is in process to add beer and wine. The Sassy’s sauce, made with mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard, as well as some spices, will be available for purchase soon.

Wojtkowski trained at Johnson and Wales and having worked in Charleston, Baltimore and Las Vegas before coming to work at Notre Dame. He’s a humble guy who keeps playing in the kitchen and wants to keep making good food.

“As long as we can make money off of it and do it well, we’ll provide it,” he said.

Sassy’s is simple and good. It’ll keep changing. But likely only for the better.

I’m hungry. Let’s eat. 

 

Marshall V. King is food columnist for Flavor 574 and community editor for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at 574-296-5805, mking@flavor574.com, and on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
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