How far would you go for a sandwich? The right sandwich? Fortunately, most of us never have to find out the answer. Recently I learned that a shopping complex in Northern Virginia contains sandwiches that money alone cannot buy. To get such a sandwich I would have to show a photo ID, dose myself with radiation, lie by omission to government agents, remove my shoes in public and allow a stranger to use a digital scanner to see my body without clothes. And when I was finally able to attain the most exclusive sandwich in Washington, I did what anyone would do and bought nine, with a side of risotto balls.
Due to the vagaries of capitalism and the precise moment we occupy as of this writing, a Taylor Gourmet is open in Reagan National Airport, months after the business went out of business. Taylor had about a 10-year run as a local sandwich chain. Its shops dotted hip neighborhoods like Chinatown and the Wharf, sometimes near an &pizza or a Busboys and Poets. It had a political moment in January 2017, when co-founder Casey Patten attended a business roundtable at the White House; he said sales dropped 40 percent the day after pictures of him shaking hands with President Trump went viral. But most interesting was its demise. On Friday, Sept. 21, Taylor announced that it was out of money and that its locations would be closed by Sunday, wham-bam.
So whatever intrinsic worth a Taylor sandwich once had, its value went up on Sept. 21, the same way a celebrity’s autograph gets more valuable when he dies. There was a suddenly finite supply, available only two more days. Once all the stores closed, however, a Taylor Gourmet sandwich would be unobtainable, and thus have no value. (You cannot trade a passenger pigeon or an afternoon in 1995.)
But it turned out that a Taylor sandwich was only mostly unobtainable. And that is where its value skyrockets. “Just when I thought I’d never eat another delicious hoagie from Taylor’s Gourmet [sic], I think I found the last standing store in DCA. You just need to buy a plane ticket and you can have one too!” tweeted a customer named Danny Shieh. (Obligatory note: Shieh has also tweeted that the fried chicken at Royal Farms is the best he’s ever had.)
He explained when I called him that the combination of the sudden, mysterious announced closing of every Taylor Gourmet and his serendipitous discovery made his customary Cedar sandwich with breaded chicken cutlets, once taken for granted, an occasion: “I was delighted. I wasn’t even that hungry. I thought, I have to get a sub from here, because who knows if I’ll get to do it again.”
The Last Taylor Gourmet looks unprepossessing when I finally see it. It’s nestled in a long row of quick-eats places in Terminal B/C, between a Big Bowl and a Lebanese Taverna Express. It could be any counter at which you ask someone to make you an upscale sandwich, with big bins of meat and cheese and toppings.
Waway Doral is the supervisor on duty, and he tells me they expect to be around another couple of months. He’s 27 and from the Philippines. He’s worked here a year. He seems not at all apprehensive about a steady supply of fresh ingredients or what will happen to his job. Andrea Gomez, the cashier, who also helps make my giant sandwich order, doesn’t seem to get why I have ordered one of every sandwich on the menu. Am I taking them to a big group?
No, they are all for me. I tell her, “This might be my last chance!”
Kevin Klaus of Alexandria was going to Boston and got a Ben Franklin on a soft roll. He usually gets something with the breaded chicken cutlet. He said he was surprised to see the place open, but when I asked how he felt about eating the most exclusive sandwich in Washington, he was humble. “It’s just what I do,” he said.
Liz Katsares had never eaten at Taylor before and didn’t know it was closing. She got a Locust sandwich (turkey and provolone), and that’s all.
Alex Murphy, though, had heard about the remaining Taylor and formed a cunning plan. He arrived early at the airport to give himself time to go through security at the wrong terminal. He was a little worried about explaining to security officers that he knew this was the wrong line, but see, there was this sandwich. Nobody asked him, though. He’s a digital communications consultant who lives in the District, and his local Taylor had shut down practically before he’d heard the news that it would close for good.
But he knew exactly what I meant about the sandwiches being weighed down by intangible value. “The food was okay, but it was great for Instagram,” he said.
Because bankruptcy litigation is pending, representatives of Concessions International, the operator of the airport’s Taylor Gourmet, declined to comment on where they are getting their sandwich supplies now that the chain is bankrupt. For the record, the questions I would have asked a representative willing to comment were totally legitimate:
Is it possible all of your hoagie rolls were baked before Sept. 21?
If you were employed at this Taylor Gourmet, might you be updating your résumé right now?
At the terminal, I sat down at a table with my bag of nigh-unobtainable sandwiches, which made me, by some measures, the richest person on earth. I held my first sandwich, the Race (turkey, prosciutto and fresh mozzarella), and thought about what I could do with this preciousness I’d amassed. Would anyone buy it? Would Taylor fans meet me in a park or on a street corner and pay a premium? Would it pay for my parking? In the end, I did what any good capitalist would do, and hoarded them, hoping for the best. At home, they got drier and breadier than I like, but I still ate them for the next 10 days.
Rachel Manteuffel is a Post editorial aide.