Sam’s Italian sandwiches earned their status as icons of the Lewiston-Auburn culture through three and a half generations of courtesy, quality, and service. When lines of hungry mill workers first formed in front of the carry-out-only Main Street store well before America’s entry into World War II, there was no such thing as “fast food.” It would be at least another generation before cityscapes were changed forever by the explosion of national food chains.
But first, there was Sam’s, a genuine, local original. “The first Sam’s Italian sandwiches were salami,” said a spokesman, “but for years, now, the ham Italian has been the biggest seller.” From the beginning, the concept was simple, satisfying food made with care using fresh, unique ingredients. Sam’s signature Italian bread is baked fresh daily, during the swing shift.
The fragrances of baking are most prominent on Main Street in the hours just before dawn, when trucks begin delivering that day’s fresh bread along with fresh pizza dough to the dozen locations now in the Sam’s family, from Freeport to Waterville to Rumford. Sam’s proprietary secret-recipe sauce is still made to exacting standards and is available nowhere but Sam’s. Sam’s recipes for spaghetti and lasagna are also their own.
“We’re still providing the same training support the company used when I first started working here 18 years ago,” observed general manager Mike Marchus. Sam’s has provided the first job to countless Lewiston-Auburn area youths, many deciding to make it a career. The average manager among all 12 locations has been with Sam’s for more than 15 years; in fact, some began their careers while in high school or college. Loyalty isn’t limited to staff: most everyone in L-A, where six of Sam’s 12 stores are clustered, knows someone who has moved away but needs a trip home once in awhile to get a Sam’s fix. “There are subs and pizzas everywhere,” a Lewiston expatriate said recently, “but there’s nothing like what I remember about Sam’s from my childhood. I always need to stop in when I’m in town.”
For more than 40 years, Sam’s sandwiches were only dispensed from the counter on Main Street in Lewiston. Pizza was added in the 1950s, and dinners in the early 70s. By the time the second location was opened in 1982, on Center Street in Auburn, national chain restaurants had appeared on the local scene. But Sam’s remained entirely a part of Maine culture, and is completely dedicated to the well being of the communities in which it is located. Sam’s works with local food banks in each of its towns, assisting them with yearly fundraisers.
While Sam’s was confined to a single location for its first 40 years, the opening of its 12th store, in Waterville, this past December completed the addition of 11 stores in the second 30 years. In addition, Sam’s offers full-service catering including set-up, professional staffing, and clean-up, while party-sized orders can be placed at each store. Sam’s has expanded in the face of enlarged national competition, but has always remained faithful to its origins. That’s how you grow from simply a sandwich shop to an essential component of local culture.
268 Main St.