Michael Simon's philosophy is simple: Offer people top-quality subs with a smile and they will come.
It's a modus operandi that works, as anyone who takes one bite into Simon's handmade sandwiches can attest.
"It's a matter of pride," says Simon, who took over Sub-Ology on Atlantic Avenue in Ventnor in September. "I take pride in this stuff. I love this. It's what I do."
Simon's love is obvious as soon as you walk into his tiny corner sub shop. He waves as people walk by his eatery, greets everyone with a smile and starts a conversation as soon as they walk in. Simon, after all, has a lot to be happy about.
As he assembles his creations, the Elkins Park, Pa., native has a view of the beach-block house he lived in every summer that his family rented. He can also see the ocean he spent countless hours in.
"And it goes past that," he says. "I am making subs in the same place where I used to get my haircut every Saturday; this used to be Johnny's Men's World until he moved. When I saw this place was up for sale, it was like a sign from God. I was always looking for a place to buy - not even necessarily a sub place - and when I saw this, it was a no-brainer. How much better can it get?"
As people come to Sub-Ology, they may hear stories from Simon's long culinary career, starting with his job as a dishwasher at the Downbeach Deli in Margate when he was 13 years old.
"I call myself a shlocal - half shoobie, half local - because I always spent some of my time at the shore since I was a kid," says Simon, now a Linwood resident. "Since I started at the Downbeach Deli, I always had a fascination and love for food."
Simon has done everything from working in the kitchen at Caroline's to catering for movie stars on sets around the country. He's cooked for Stephen King, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Brad Pitt, and Whoopi Goldberg, among others.
"A lot of people think that sounds awesome, but it wasn't as glamorous as you would think," Simon says. "Most of them are not very nice people. People always say, 'How cool - you met all of the great, cool people.' I always say, 'Let me tell you something: They are not that cool.' It was hard work - 17-hour days traveling everywhere."
Simon says he finally feels like he's home, making his subs with Boar's Head products, or going even further for meats.
"I think Boar's Head meats are the best you can buy, but I can even do better," he says. "The roast beef is black angus prime eye round roasted right here in the shop on a daily basis. I have it down to a science, and people love it. It's so fresh, so tender, so juicy and so flavorful."
The Chef's Choice ($7.50 half, $14 whole) uses the beef in a fresh Rando Bakery Atlantic City-style roll with homemade horseradish sauce and smoked gouda.
"And although I think that's the best way to have it, it's not the only way I make it," he says. "My mailman, for example, comes in and gets it with regular mayo and Swiss cheese. And that's fine. I will make anything the way anyone wants it."
That customer service carries over to other areas, as well.
"I always tell my customers: 'If you want something special, give me one day," he says. "So recently, someone asked me for roast pork with homemade long hots and homemade broccoli rabe and sharp provolone, and I had it the next day. I brined the pork overnight and slow-roasted it the next morning. She asked for it, and I said, 'See you tomorrow.' There's nothing I won't do for my customers."
Nearly everything at Sub-Ology is homemade, from the fresh soup of the day to the homemade coconut cole slaw. But the real reason to visit Sub-Ology, of course, is the subs.
Popular choices include The Linwood Special ($8.75, $15) with prosciutto, hot capocollo, sopressata and sharp provolone; the Players Choice ($7) with corned beef or pastrami on rye bread with spicy mustard; and The Soaring Eagle ($8, $15) with turkey and American cheese.
"I try to slice the meat as much to order to ensure quality," Simon says. "I also try to change flavor profiles and give them some options, like the horseradish sauce or some other different things I create."
Like every restaurateur, Simon is looking forward to summer. But Simon, in particular, is craving it more because he hasn't yet experienced a summer season at Sub-Ology.
"It will be the true test," he says. "I think I am setting myself apart with quality, consistency and customer service. I love the people. I love talking to people, and I love good food. I wouldn't serve anything across this counter I wouldn't put in my own mouth. And I am pretty picky.
"I can't wait for my first summer. I want to show that we're the real deal. I plan to be here from 8 a.m. until late at night or until I run out of bread."