Once upon a Snarf

A toast to one man’s obsession with warm buns, griddled meats, and selling food he wants to eat

Jimmy Seidel in front of the original Snarf's Shack in Boulder in 1996. Photo: Snarf's Sandwiches

Snarf’s was a different kind of Boulder sandwich place from the moment it opened in 1995. The odd restaurant shack on quiet east Pearl Street was painted with colorful, whimsical characters, a visual standout.

Boulder already had too many sub shops, but Snarf’s attracted attention immediately because it served real “grinders,” the big East Coast subs crafted on toasted bread with warm fillings. Layered with baked eggplant, marinara sauce, and three melted cheeses, Snarf’s righteous eggplant parmesan sandwich was my instant favorite. 

Jimmy Seidel had exactly zero restaurant experience when he opened Snarf’s. “My family was just obsessed with food and dining. The favorite sandwich my Mom made when I was growing up in St. Louis was brisket, on toasted Wonder bread with mayo and sweet relish,” Seidel says as he sits at a table at Snarf’s in the Table Mesa Shopping Center.

Seidel was working in financial services in Chicago when he came to a career conclusion. “I hated what I was doing making market derivatives. I quit in 1994,” he says. 

Jimmy Seidel (Courtesy Snarf’s Sandwiches)

After moving to Boulder, Seidel managed a Subway franchise until he found the Pearl Street location that had housed numerous takeout eateries, including an A&W. The site is now a condo development. 

Working open-to-close for the first three years of Snarf’s, Seidel met his wife at the bank. “Sometimes I didn’t have time to make a cash deposit so she’d come and pick it up, so we got to know each other” he says. 

Many of Seidel’s sandwich favorites are still on the menu today at Snarf’s 22 shops in Colorado, Austin, Texas, and in St. Louis (owned by his sister), with six more locations coming.

Snarf’s distinctive artsy look started with Seidel’s preference for existing structures. “I wanted locations to look different, not cookie cutter,” he says. Artist Jen Healy continues to construct locally-themed mosaics in shops using the same quirky characters in pastel colors who populate the menu. 

Seidel’s sandwich philosophy consists of devising the perfect layering of textures, flavors, condiments, and seasonings. The most popular item, the Italian, is filled with sliced salami, pepperoni, capicola, and mortadella plus provolone cheese, mayo, mustard, hot peppers, onions, lettuce, tomato, pickles, herb seasoning, and oil, always on a toasted bun. 

The signature hot pickled peppers or giardinera were inspired by a classic condiment served on Italian beef sandwiches in Chicago that Seidel loved. Snarf’s popular version is sold by the jar.  

Boulder’s larger-than-life sandwich guru is an unapologetic exponent of the comfort foods people secretly love, whether it’s egg salad with American cheese or fried bologna. 

“I’m a white bread guy but we came up with whole wheat and gluten-free buns that customers like,” he says. 

“A lot of people have come into the shop to tell me what I should be doing,” Seidel says. He listens when it comes to Snarf’s Not-on-the-Menu Menu, sandwich variations devised by customers and employees.  

Not-on-the-Menu choices range from the Mother Clucker with rotisserie chicken, bacon, and provolone to the McSnarf: roast beef, American cheese, thousand island, onion, lettuce, and a pickle (but no sesame seed buns). 

Seidel’s all-time favorite is the German Dog: a beef hot dog with bacon, melted Swiss, mustard, horseradish, sauerkraut, and pickles. It’s made for Oktoberfest.

Snarf’s recently teamed with Colorado band leader Nathaniel Rateliff to fund sandwiches for those experiencing homelessness through sales of The Rateliff, a special sub stuffed with turkey, Swiss, and extra bacon and peppers. 

It’s not surprising that Snarfburger, the hamburger stand Seidel launched in 2013, was not the result of a corporate spreadsheet decision. “I couldn’t find the kind of juicy burger I like, cooked on a griddle, not a grill. I believe in the griddle,” he says emphatically. The original Snarfburger is located in a historic former barbecue shack near Boulder High and CU, with two others open in Denver.

A quarter-century after opening, Snarf’s still smells like fresh toast. With many menu choices available, I left with an eggplant parmesan sub.

About the sandwich chain’s name: “Snarf was a nickname I got from my college girlfriend because I liked to eat a lot. It seemed like a good name for a sub shop,” Seidel says.

Local food news

Chefs Lisa and Patrick Balcom have opened Farow Restaurant at 7916 Niwot Road. A true farm-to-plate eatery, Farow is dedicated to using ingredients from farms within a few miles of the eatery, including Buckner Family Farm, MetaCarbon Organic Farm, Browns’ Farm, and Speedwell Farm. The menu is built around seasonal small plates paired with wine . . . Lafayette’s Lunada Eatery and Cantina has closed and will reopen as Cantina Lunada, 1225 Ken Pratt Blvd., Longmont . . . The Longmont City Council recently voted in an ordinance making milk and water the default drinks available in children’s meals at restaurants. And, yes, parents can still order sugar-infused caffeinated colas instead. All kids’ meals still come with a side of parental guilt.

Words to chew on

In the 1970 film Five Easy Pieces, Jack Nicholson gives a server his polite order for a side of toast, even though the cafe doesn’t serve toast: “All you have to do is hold the chicken, bring me the toast, give me a check for the chicken salad sandwich and you haven’t broken any rules.”

John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles 8:25 a.m. Thursdays on KGNU (88.5 FM, online at kgnu.org). Comments: nibbles@boulderweekly.com.

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