King + Bannatyne is for the meat devotees – it specializes in hand-carved, slow roasted meat sandwiches. And while it has a weekly grilled cheese feature, the vegan thing is just not going to happen.
“We’re sticking to our guns,” says owner Mike Del Buono. “We make sure that the meat that we’re making is the highlight of the sandwich.”
The way the new Exchange District restaurant ensures its beef brisket stands out is through an eight-day process where the meat is brined for a week, coated with its house rub, cured for 12 hours and then roasted overnight.
Its menu is anchored by five gourmet sandwiches, inspired in part by other minimalist concepts like it in the city. “I just thought it was really cool what they were doing with food that everyone’s familiar with,” says Mike, listing Nuburger as an example.
So why sandwiches?
“’Cause everybody loves sandwiches,” he laughs. “One of my favourite things in the world is leftover holiday sandwiches.”
Natural progression from experience in restaurants
Mike earned a business degree from the University of Manitoba, and he’s worked in almost every capacity in restaurants for the past eight years. “Restaurants were just always my thing,” he says. “Everything I learned about, I always related back to restaurants.”
He went from a sous chef at Joey Restaurant to serving and bartending at two Moxie’s Grill & Bar locations. “No one runs a restaurant better than those guys,” says Mike, of Moxie’s franchise owners. He feels fortunate to have experienced the openings of two new locations through the company, which prepared him for his own.
Prior to opening King + Bannatyne (The Sandwich Shop On the Corner), Mike orchestrated several pop-up lunches in intriguing locations, which helped him build demand for his upcoming shop and test menu items before launching. “I’ve seen a lot of places do it in the reverse order, where they did pop-ups and got so big that they had to build a restaurant,” says Mike.
In this case, Mike’s space was already in the works (at the corner of King Street and Bannatyne Avenue, giving it its moniker), and people lined up for blocks to get in the door for the pop-ups. By the time the permanent space was ready, people couldn’t wait for it to open.
The pop-ups were exclusively promoted on Facebook and King + Bannatyne’s Instagram (@kingandbann), so he also had already captured the attention of plenty of followers prior to opening shop. “It’s a hell of a way to market a business,” he says, of the pop-ups and continual Instagram activity.
But “It kind of doubled down… We got to test out all of our bakeries, decide which buns we wanted to use.”
Benefitting the artistic community
In addition to providing a mouth-watering slow roasted sandwich for lunch, the pop-ups each showcased a featured artist, and diners got to leave with an art print. Other than covering its costs, King + Bannatyne gave all of the proceeds to the artist.
Mike didn’t see the pop-ups as a way to drive revenue, but rather to start building a community surrounding his business and to foster relationships with artists.
The first two featured artists, Zephyra Vun (of anARCHI design) and Kristina Dimitrova (of Dimi Gallery), were afterward commissioned for the decor in King + Bannatyne.
The sandwich shop even got the local BeardBrothers WoodWorking to create its cutting boards, serving trays, and several wooden display pieces throughout the restaurant.
With a steady lunch rush and business picking up in the evenings (King + Bannatyne is licensed and serves draft beer and wine), Mike is now looking ahead to the chaotic festival season in the Exchange District with one goal: “survive,” he laughs.
With its already strong customer base, and over 2,000 followers on Instagram, the summer heat is definitely going to bring a test to its perseverance.
King + Bannatyne is open Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Unit 4 – 100 King St.