Downtown: Sandwich Depot to close after 28 years

  • Husband and wife co-owners Nancy (front) and Gary Stewart work during the lunch rush at The Sandwich Depot in Concord on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017. The shop is set to close its doors soon, according to the Stewarts. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • Co-owner Gary Stewart takes a customer’s order during the lunch rush at The Sandwich Depot in Concord on Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • The Sandwich Depot in Concord is seen Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • The Sandwich Depot in Concord is seen Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Monday, November 06, 2017

For the past 28 years, the Sandwich Depot has been a place of resting, stopping and crossing.

Ever since Nancy and Gary Stewart opened the doors of the one-room sandwich shop in Concord’s South End, they have seen countless customers drop in over the years (and come back again and again), not just for their well-known Reuben sandwiches and breakfast burritos, but for the conversation and a sense of welcoming their customers say is hard to find nowadays.

Like any good conductors, the couple runs the store as a team; Gary, 62, on the register, effortlessly remembers customers’ orders, and Nancy, 59, hair tucked under a cap, directs traffic behind the Depot’s cramped counter.

But after 28 years and thousands of sandwiches, the Stewarts are running out of steam. And last week, they told their staff a hard truth – the Depot will be closing, and soon.

“It was devastating,” Nancy Stewart said, sitting at one of the Depot’s half dozen tables at the end of a recent shift. “It’s definitely bittersweet for us.

“But we’re just tired,” she added, looking at her husband leaning against the counter, calling in a food order. “There are other things we want to do.”

Compounding Nancy Stewart’s grief is the fact that, for the longest time, the Depot was her dream. She grew up in Concord and met Gary in a punk rock band called The Hard Breakers while she was studying restaurant accounting in San Francisco.

On a trip home in 1983, Stewart read in the Monitor that parts of Concord had been rezoned. That got her thinking, “I would like to open up a sandwich shop, with burritos and such, because we didn’t have that here,” she recalled. “And then I thought, ‘Well, I’d like it to be in an industrial area, so we can serve breakfast and lunch.’ ”

Even then, she had a name in mind: The Sandwich Depot.

Not long afterward, Stewart took a drive down Hall Street, where she saw a boarded-up squat brown building with a “For Sale” sign out front. Nancy took a picture of the sign, not knowing that six years later, that then-grubby storefront would become the focal point of the Stewarts’ lives.

From behind their counter, the Stewarts have watched the world turn. Not just the big stuff, like the Red Sox winning the World Series in 2004, and various political campaigns frequenting the Depot over the years, but the births and deaths, graduations and retirements going on in the community.

“If we didn’t see someone for a while, we knew it was for something really good, or really bad,” Nancy Stewart said.

Throughout it all, Stewart said they’ve been able to keep the Depot a place where anyone could feel comfortable coming in. “It’s been very important,” Nancy said. “Nobody at McDonald’s cares who you are, what your story is.”

News of the Depot’s closing was tough for customers.

“This is a Concord institution,” Ken Bradley said. “I just found out today, and I thought Nancy was kidding me at first.”

Bradley is such a frequent customer at the Depot that he knows all of their daily specials by heart. On Thursday, he was sitting in the dining room, eating his favorite special – pulled pork.

The news was tough for Rod Torbert, too. An on-and-off Concord resident for 46 years and an occasional Depot customer, he’s more of a burger-and-fries guy; but it’s a breakfast sandwich memory – English muffin, sausage patty, tomato slice and cheese – that embodies his Depot experience.

“I ordered it two, three times and it wasn’t right,” Torbert said, admitting the mistakes were “silly, petty” stuff, like a slice of tomato too many. “The next day I brought in a schema of what it was supposed to be. I didn’t know how they’d take it, because that seems like the type of thing people might be offended at, but Gary was smiling.”

Torbert said Nancy shortly placed his sandwich in front of him, perfectly made, with a crisp “Ta-da!” The incident tickled Torbert so much, he still has his sandwich blueprint on his refrigerator.

“There’s happiness and joy here,” Torbert said, his voice choking up.

Longtime employee Sue Bourgeois, who has worked at the Depot since she was 23, except for a few years when she had a child, had hard a time avoiding tears as well.

“It’s just a magical place,” Bourgeois, 45, said. “There’s never going to be another one like it.”

It would be easy to pin the Depot’s closing to just one thing, but at the end of the day, Nancy said she and Gary are just tired. An allergy attack that took her down for a few weeks recently and last week’s storm knocking out the power for a day didn’t help.

“We had to throw everything out,” she said. “That’s the first time we’ve ever had to waste that much food.”

And then there was the realization that while the Stewarts have made friends over the years at the Depot, their six-days-a-week work schedule has made it difficult to interact with their community.

For Gary, one missed moment stands out: the death of family friend and former mayor Herbie Quinn. Only one of the Stewarts could go, because someone had to mind the store. In the end, Gary stayed behind.

“We can’t even talk to these people, beyond asking them what they’d like to eat,” Gary said. “I’m going to miss the place, and I love these four walls ... but we’re done.”

It’s not clear when the Depot’s last day is: Nancy said they are currently in the process of helping their four full-time employees find jobs, and once a few of them are ready to go, it’ll be curtains for the Depot. Customers should keep an eye on their Facebook page over the next two weeks, she said.

After that, she said they have a few ideas for what they’d like to do next. Travel, perhaps, to visit their friends in Ireland, Alaska, France and Texas. Or Nancy could focus more on her poetry, or Gary on his music. Or maybe just relax a little.

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)