It’s easy to drive by Sandwich Mill Deli and Catering in San Jose without noticing its small side street location off Kooser Road—but once you find it, the odds are good that you’re going to remember it.
“It is all in the taste,” co-owner Albert Rodriquez told San José Spotlight. “People who grew up eating at some chain sandwich shop are used to that. They come here and say, ‘Oh, my God, why is this so different?’ And it is because everything here is made fresh from quality ingredients.”
He and his wife Ronda spend seven days a week at the deli to make sure the quality is consistent, from the baked turkey for the sandwiches to the hummus and tahini to the chicken enchiladas, even cakes and cookies.
Ronda’s brother Simon Hanhan founded the deli in 1979, and the Rodriquez family took it over 22 years ago. Albert and Ronda both worked in the printing industry at the time, but after the birth of their children, they wanted to try something else.
“We started looking at smaller delis,” Albert said, “and then my brother-in-law said he was considering retiring. I asked him if I could come and work for him to see if I liked it. After about a year and a half, he said, ‘I think you should make me an offer.’”
Even though Hanhan advised the couple for about a year, the change in ownership still tested regular customers.
“They would tell us, ‘You’re not making things the way I am used to,’” Albert said. “But everything was the same and the recipes never changed. It took a while, but they got used to us. We still have customers from before we owned the place and their grandkids are coming in now, too.”
Deonna Haywood is one of those longtime customers and has been coming to the Sandwich Mill for more than 30 years. The couple won her over by perfecting her favorite sandwich, the bacon, lettuce and tomato combo, or BLT—with plenty of bacon.
“Everything here is fresh,” Haywood told San José Spotlight. “From the perfect sandwiches to the amazing potato salad to the wonderful carrot cake. This place is all about the great food and good service by friendly people.”
The BLT is one of the most popular sandwiches, but Albert said the club sandwich, Ronda’s favorite, is the most ordered. It comes with three slices of toasted sourdough bread, a generous amount of sliced turkey, avocado, tomatoes and a mound of crisp smokey bacon. The large club is big enough to save half for later.
If you want something other than a sandwich, the lasagna is another standout. The flat pasta, layered with a hearty Bolognese sauce and gooey mozzarella cheese, is topped with slices of provolone and baked to a rich golden brown. When served, the huge portion takes up half the plate, with a salad and garlic bread making up the rest of the dish. Even as a dinner entree, it could likely feed two people.
While Haywood loves the carrot cake, there are other baked by-the-slice desserts to choose from. There are thick slices of chocolate cake topped with a chocolate pudding-like frosting, but the real jewel is the mandarin orange pineapple cake. Moist and brightly flavored, it is topped with a classic Midwestern whipped cream and pineapple frosting that makes the whole dessert taste like sunshine and daydreams.
“The chocolate cake has been our best seller, but the mandarin orange is starting to beat it,” Ronda told San José Spotlight. “People have started asking to order a whole cake, and I will decorate them with blueberries or strawberries. It is really refreshing, especially in the summer.”
Sandwich Mill has seen quite a bit of change over the last couple decades, going from handling the lunch rush and doing occasional catering to the arrival of Silicon Valley companies ordering hundreds of sandwiches for their employees—and now a new customer base with the advent of food delivery service apps. But through it all, the Rodriquez family has maintained the quality that keeps people coming back.
“We’ve had 22 years of ups and downs,” Albert said. “We are very thankful that our customers are like part of our family. During the pandemic, we decided to stay open, whether we had one customer or 100 because our customers are so dedicated to us. That’s what has always gotten us through.”
Contact Robert Eliason at [email protected].
Editor’s Note: The Biz Beat is a series highlighting local small businesses and restaurants in Silicon Valley. Know a business you’d like to see featured? Let us know at [email protected].