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The Big Eat Back Story: Menage a Trois at Ike's Place

For the Big Eat 2010, we went behind the scenes of three establishments to learn the true story behind our current cravings. Following is the story of #100.

"You should be able to put anything in between two slices of bread and eat it,” says Ike Shehadeh. “When I bring home leftovers—whether they’re pot stickers or jalapeño poppers—I try them as a sandwich. Usually, it’s pretty good.” This practice has spawned the wacky menu at Ike’s Place, his cultlike sandwich to-go shop in the Castro, which opened in 2007. Cultlike because, whether you like it or not, you have to try it once. Ike’s is an experience.

The 200-plus sandwiches on the menu read like a list of double-dares: There’s the Hella Fat Bastard (ham, mozzarella sticks, bacon) and the M.I.L.F. (halal chicken breast, stuffed jalapeño poppers, Frank’s red hot sauce and ranch). Vegans get in on the action with the Meatless Mike (vegan meatballs, marinara, soy cheese). The [Name of Girl I’m Dating] sandwich is a placeholder, Shehadeh tells me, for a future lady in his life.

It’s Man v. Food material. If Tony Bourdain hadn’t given up smoking, he would have definitely needed a post-Ike’s cigarette.

Wait times can exceed 45 minutes and the shop has amassed close to 1,500 public displays of affection on Yelp, where there’s lots of fawning over their most popular sandwich, the Menage a Trois, a hefty sweeter-than-savory entanglement of chicken breast, thickly-spread honey, BBQ sauce and a gaggle of cheeses stuffed into toasted and hollowed Dutch Crunch. Like all of the sandwiches, it comes slathered in Ike’s soon-to-be patented Dirty Sauce, a garlic-aioli-and-herb concoction he crafted back in 2001 in the Mission Plaza Market (a grocery store he used to own on 16th and Mission). “I used to say ‘dirty’ when something was really good,” says Shehadeh. “When I made the sauce I was like, damn this is dirty!” Ike tells me that no one, not even any of his employees, knows the original recipe. “I purposely left out an ingredient or two,” he says. “People will get the original once it’s patented and bottled.”

Shehadeh, who grew up in San Francisco and studied computer science at UC Davis, has become the godfather of 16th and Sanchez; he knows an impressive number of people who pass by name and sandwich-order. He presides over his employees with a refreshing variation on tough love. “They get nervous when I watch them,” he says. “If someone messes up an order or can’t make a sandwich in under 10 minutes, I banish them to lettuce chopping. But then I give them a hug and tell them I love them. We’re like a family.”

The folks who work the sandwich assembly line, in fact, are reason enough to visit Ike’s. Mostly a tight-jeaned, shaggy-haired twenty-something group, they’re tied together by a reverence for Dirty Sauce and nights out at Lucky 13, where they’ve been known to let slip some of the 40-plus items on Ike’s secret menu. The names of their station posts rival the sandwich menu. “The QB” is the person who takes the Post-it orders and directs the whole operation and the “sexy boy” delivers sandwiches to the line while “being sexy.” There’s also a lettuce-chopping machine fondly nicknamed “Tatiana,” in homage to a former-employee, “one of the fastest lettuce choppers in Ike’s history” who, sadly, had to return to Russia. If anything, these theatrics serve to increase productivity. On a busy day, the group puts out up to 1,500 sandwiches.

The Ike’s empire is expanding. Shehadeh already has a shop in Redwood City, is slated to open another on Stanford’s campus this year and has aspirations to launch another SF shop, mostly, Shehadeh says, “to take the burn off of the Castro one.” In the meantime, Ike’s is crafting an ultimate challenge for the Man v. Food dudes: eating the Luther, the Kryptonite and the Doomsday all in one sitting—about 13 pounds of sandwich—a feat Shehadeh claims is pretty close to impossible.