LISA AND BRIAN WOOD
PROPRIETORS OF BIG A** SANDWICHES
Catching up with Lisa and Brian Wood of Big A** Sandwiches in Portland, Oregon shed light on an elementary question for this hip, lively food truck couple, “What’s the toughest part of your business?” Brian’s hearty comeback? “The hours.” Lisa elaborates, “This is some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. It is absolutely and completely exhausting.” That said, I would venture to guess they wouldn’t have it any other way. “Our neighborhood is amazing and everyone on the block has become family,” says Lisa. “It’s so much fun to be here that it hardly feels like going to a job.”
Uber-friendly, relaxed and industrious, Brian brings many years – probably half his life judging from his cool, youthful appearance – of back-of-the-house experience to this hot sandwich mom-and-pop. His time spent in prestigious Portland kitchens shows in the integrity and audacity of the menu offerings at Bad A**. No slouch herself, Lisa can rock a sandwich like the best of them, chatting with customers as she slips a basket of fries into sizzling oil, cheerfully giving instructions on how to comfortably eat a sandwich the size of a football and laughing at her husbands banter. The two of them have a happy, easy, hardworking vibe in close quarters.
Weighing in at a pound to a pound and a half, the sandwiches constructed at Big A** are doozies. Self-contained doozies, with a mess of house-made fries piled on top of the Brian’s juicy slow-roasted meats and held securely between slices of the artfully baked breads of Fleur de Lis Bakery. An essential piece of the Portland food scene, the breads from Fleur de Lis “…have everything.., the smell, the texture, the taste…” Lisa tells me. “The ciabatta roll is so delicious and pillowy, and it is pliable enough to hold all that we put on it.”
Food trucks in Portland are often not actually trucks, but stationary carts instead, and the Wood’s 2-½ year-old business follows that model. All the cooking done by Lisa and Brian – roasted meats, hand-cut fries, house-made sauces and dressings – is done in the cart’s stay-put kitchen, parked for all time – one hopes – in a neighborhood lot. “Everything happens in the cart,” Lisa interjects. “We are completely self-contained.”
Including a critical component – tunes! After reading up on Lisa and Brian’s work history and watching videos featuring Bad A**, the Wood’s love for music is clear. I asked Lisa if music played a role in their sandwich lives and she replied with this: “Music is the reason for our sandwich lives. If it wasn’t for music, we may be office dwellers in jobs that are sucking our lives out. Music is what inspires us both to a huge degree. The stereo was the first thing that went into the cart and you can usually hear it from across the street. You’ll hear everything at some point – from Sam Cook to Slayer, Johnny Cash to the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, KEXP radio (where Lisa once worked), N.W.A. to Tom Waits, tons of local bands, Aretha Franklin to Iron Maiden, Neko Case, Wu-Tang Clan… our music runs the gamut.” Brian enthuses, “The best part of owning our own business is coming in, turning on the music and making this all work together, with awesome people.”
A typical work day begins for Lisa and Brian at 7 am and goes full speed ahead for 14 hours, seven days a week in the summer months, and late night till 3 am on the weekends, as well, during warm weather. Simultaneously, Brian works a second job, managing a Portland restaurant kitchen. Under this time crunch you’d expect creativity to go out the window, but not so. Sandwich innovations feature regularly on the Bad A** menu, generated by customer requests and suggestions, with the best sellers finding a permanent place on the menu. “The all-time best sandwich filling request?” I queried the Woods. “Homemade mac and cheese, breaded and fried.” Splash that generously with locally made Secret Aardvark Trading Co. hot sauce, a fixture at the cart. Killer.
Rumblings of a “sandwich revival” have raised my antennae recently and so I ask the experts to comment. “Did the sandwich ever go away?!” Lisa exclaims. “We are HUGE fans of a great sandwich, always have been. I think people are doing more with sandwiches though, definitely. It’s not just turkey, lettuce and tomato on white bread anymore.” Nope, this is not your standard issue sandwich at Bad A**. Take it from me.