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Ike’s Place debuts in Engineering Quad

Ike’s Place, a renowned Redwood Shores sandwich shop, opened its Stanford location this month after a summer of anticipation. Much like the now-closed original shop in San Francisco, the eatery has marked its first weeks on campus with persistent long lines.

Set in the new Jen-Hsun Huang School of Engineering Center, the store began its “soft” rollout on Sept. 1 and had its grand opening celebration on Sept. 20. It is the brainchild of San Francisco native Ike Shehadeh.

Customers wait in line to purchase a sandwich from Ike's place in the Science and Engineering Quad. Ike's Place opened on Sept. 1 and waits have been as long as one hour long. (MICHAEL LIU/Staff Photographer)

The premiere was the end of an exhaustive search and construction process that lasted more than a year. Beginning in February 2009, a group of students and staff, formally called the Science and Engineering Quad (SEQ) Café Request For Proposals Committee, contacted 13 vendors to gauge their interest in opening a Stanford location.

“We actually found Ike’s Place on Yelp,” said Jackie Charonis, SEQ’s director of operations.

By March 2009, the committee had unanimously selected Ike’s for the slot, with a target opening date of Aug. 15. But after what was characterized as “typical construction delays” with the new Huang building, the premiere was set back to Sept. 1.

“We considered it on time,” Charonis said.

The soft rollout, which lasted for much of September, allowed time to sort out difficulties before the school year began.

“There’s always things that go wrong, so you never want to plan a grand opening for the first day you open your business,” Charonis said.

Still, Ike’s began to make its mark on campus: the shop gave out free food on Sept. 8 as part of the Huang building’s inauguration celebration.

Such actions are part of Shehadeh’s consistent effort to maintain customer service.

“Ike hand-delivers sandwiches to you,” said Lisa Abdilova ’11, a customer. “You go to sit down and he’ll remember your name and what you look like, and he’ll run it over to you.”

“We want to make people feel welcome,” said Shehadeh, 32. “We’re there to make sure we’re the best thing to come out of Stanford, and that’s saying something.”

He opened his first Ike’s Place in October 2007 and immediately garnered fame for the quality of his sandwiches — and for the length of the lines patrons were willing to endure to purchase one. Shehadeh said customers are driving from San Jose just to buy food from his Stanford shop. Abdilova, who has eaten at the original Ike’s location, considers Stanford’s store just as good as San Francisco’s.

Still, the opening has not been without its kinks. Shehadeh expressed frustration with some of Stanford’s inherent bureaucracy, which has, for example, prolonged the process of connecting phone lines, which Ike’s uses for takeout orders.

“We’re working within a building within a school within a university,” he said. “It’s not good or bad, just slow.”

For now, Shehadeh is working on solutions to minimize wait times, which can last upward of an hour. He is beta-testing a smart phone application that will allow customers to place and pay for orders, then tell them when it’s ready. It will also be available on the Web.

“People won’t mind waiting 50 minutes, or even two hours, if they know they don’t have to stand on line,” he said. “They can place their order, go to class, then come pick it up.”

Charonis said Ike’s will soon stock a vending machine at Huang with freshly-made sandwiches for patrons on the go.

Both Shehadeh and Charonis expect Ike’s opening surge of business to sustain itself throughout the year.

“Before, there was not a place on campus where you could get that great sandwich,” Charonis said. “At Ike’s, the sandwiches speak for themselves.”