The Untold Truth Of Schlotzsky's

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

On June 29, 1971, husband and wife team Don and Dolores Dissman opened a little deli on South Congress Avenue in Austin, Texas. Running a business together was not new to the couple as they had previously owned and operated The Golden Hour bookstore. But it was this deli, which they named Schlotzsky's, that would continue on for decades, well after the Dissmans sold their business in 1981.

As of 2022, Schlotzsky's has 341 locations spread across 25 U.S. states (there are 209 operating in its home state of Texas alone). The signature bread is baked daily from scratch to ensure its freshness, and every meal is made to order. Could this be the key to Schlotzsky's enduring success and faithful fandom?

Can't get enough of The Original or that homemade hot sauce? If you're a Schlotzsky's devotee, or you just love a good sandwich, keep on reading to discover the untold truth of Schlotzsky's.

It all started with a muffuletta

According to the Austin Chronicle, while in New Orleans, Louisiana, Don and Delores Dissman discovered a sandwich called the muffuletta at an Italian grocery store in the French Quarter. A muffuletta is a large loaf of bread stuffed with olive salad and a variety of Italian deli meats and cheeses (via TasteAtlas). It is unique to the region, originating with Italian immigrants. Because it's such a large sandwich, a whole one can serve multiple people; you can buy halves or quarters as individual portions.

Don and Delores decided to sell their own take on a muffuletta at Schlotzsky's. In fact, it was the only sandwich they sold, and it was named The Original. At eight inches, this round sandwich was a hefty lunch. The original toppings were ham, two different kinds of salami, cheddar, mozzarella, parmesan, lettuce, tomato, onion, black olives, garlic, and a spice blend (via Company Histories). Schlotzsky's slogan became "Just One Sandwich ... It's That Good!"

Schlotzsky's doesn't mean anything

You probably assumed that with a name like Schlotzsky's, the founders must have been named Schlotzsky. But, as we have already mentioned, their names were Don and Delores Dissman. The pair chose to name their deli Schlotzsky's simply because they thought it suited their business concept.

Typically, surnames ending in -sky are Eastern European, more specifically Czech, Ukrainian, or Russian. Some are Polish in origin, having been changed from the more traditionally Polish -ski. It means of/from or that something is connected to something else (specifically, the thing that comes before -ski/-sky). While there are entries for the last names Schlotz and Schlosky, there is next to zero info on a family named Schlotzsky.

According to The New York Times, in the early to mid-20th century, Jewish-owned delis began to dominate the delicatessen landscape in the United States. Many of these business owners immigrated from Eastern Europe, bringing with them their surnames ending in -ski/sky. It's possible that this is the reason the Dissmans thought the Eastern European-sounding name Schlotzsky's was perfect for their deli.

There's something special about that sauce

According to QSR, Schlotzsky's then-president Kelly Roddy said in 2017, "Schlotzsky's signature hot sauce is hot — and I don't just mean on the Scoville Scale, but through the enthusiasm we see and feel from our customers adding it to their favorite menu items." People enjoy not only putting the hot sauce on The Original and other sandwiches but on all the items on Schlotzsky's now-expansive menu. The sauce is a tangy, vinegary, Louisiana-style hot sauce made with cayenne peppers.

An Amazon customer review described this signature sauce as not "particularly hot, but has some very, very good flavor to it." Another reviewer agreed, adding that the sauce "will have a bite" if you aren't used to eating spicy foods, and it is "on the mild side of hot sauce." Yet another customer review went so far as to call it "the best hot sauce ever" and lamented that there were no more Schlotzsky's locations in their state.

Schlotzsky's once went bankrupt

In August of 2004, just over 30 years after its founding, Schlotzsky's filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This means that Schlotzsky's was allowed to remain in operation while it reorganized its affairs. Locations were closed across the country, the company's stocks were removed from Nasdaq, and the business was auctioned off three months after its bankruptcy filing.

Fast Casual reported in 2013 that Schlotzky's had rebounded. Then-president Kelly Roddy decided to focus on what the restaurant did well, and what set it apart from other similar chains. For example, Schlotzsky's signature sandwiches are round rather than long like the sandwiches at Subway and Jimmy John's. The chain also recommitted to its promise of freshness by improving its salad menu.

The Austin Business Journal described Schlotzsky's push to freshen up its brand by returning to its Austin, Texas roots in an attempt to draw a cooler, younger customer base. Today, Schlotzsky's is looking for enterprising franchisees to help reach more regions across the United States.

Schlotzsky's joined forces with Cinnabon

One of Schlotzsky's tactics as it recovered from bankruptcy was to cobrand with Cinnabon. Schlotzkey's parent company, Focus Brands, also owns Cinnabon, making this an easy pairing.

Former president of Schlotzsky's Kelly Roddy said of the strategy in 2010, "We were pleasantly surprised to see how customers gravitated toward the Cinnabon, and how they complimented each other" (via QSR). Data had already indicated that having Cinnabon alongside Schlotzsky's at the ordering counter "actually boosts the Schlotzsky's sales." Roddy added, "It's really a win-win for both brands, and it makes a lot of sense for the franchise partner from a unit-level economics standpoint, because they're paying one rent, one manager's salary, [and] overhead is pretty much the same for being able to run two concepts."

Merchandising and marketing were also packaged together as one unit. However, Schlotzsky's locations that were in too close proximity to a pre-existing Cinnabon were not given the cobranding treatment so as not to compete.

There are still healthy options

Even with the all-too-tempting Cinnabon staring at you, there are still plenty of healthy options to choose from on the Schlotzsky's menu.

According to Schlotzsky's nutrition info, a small order of The Original sandwich contains 620 calories and an impressive 33 grams of protein. The values are similar for the Turkey Original, so don't count on poultry to shave off calories in that sandwich. A small Smoked Turkey Breast sandwich, on the other hand, has only 330 calories and a still-significant 18 grams of protein. The Southwest Chicken salad comes in at only 260 calories but boasts 32 grams of protein. A classic garden salad contains less than half the calories of the Southwest Chicken. Soups run from 110 calories (Chicken Noodle) to 500 calories (Broccoli Cheese) per serving.

As you can see, a trip to Schlotzsky's, when done mindfully, doesn't have to be a calorie overload. And a Cinnabon Minibon contains 350 calories, so you might still be able to indulge.

Gluten-free is on the menu but there aren't many options if you're vegan

For customers who eat gluten-free or vegetarian, Schlotzsky's has a convenient menu just for people who follow those diets (Note: The menu is labeled "gluten friendly" because Schlozsky's restaurants are not dedicated gluten-free environments).

The regular buns used for the sandwiches can, upon request, be substituted with gluten-free buns made by popular gluten-free brand Udi's at an additional cost of $1.50. For an extra $2, Udi's gluten-free crusts can be used for any pizza. You can even get Udi's gluten-free breadsticks added to any salad for $1.50. The bags of potato chips are also gluten-free, except the BBQ flavor.

As for vegetarian options, there are plenty of meat-free sandwiches, soup, salads, and pizzas. If you eat vegan, however, the choices shrink. Both Cruelty Free Reviews and Go Dairy Free have compiled lists of vegan-friendly foods available at Schlotzsky's. You might think that the bread would be ok, but unfortunately, Schlotzsky's breads and pizza crusts contain milk, rendering them neither vegan nor dairy free. There are tortilla wraps and the Udi's gluten-free buns, though Cruelty Free Reviews warns that the tortillas don't taste good. None of the soups and only the garden salad are vegan friendly. Most of the chips are suitable for a vegan diet, but none of the desserts are.

Those who are seriously sensitive to gluten or who eat a vegan diet may want to find another restaurant.

Schlotzsky's caters

If you are having an event and need someone else to handle the food, Schlotzsky's is not a bad option. The many choices on the menu make it easy to accommodate different diets and dietary needs. And you can choose different styles of catering to suit the needs of your specific event.

Yes, you can order a tray of cold or oven-baked sandwiches and wraps with various meats, vegetables, and topping combinations. Plus each tray comes with chips to go with the sandwiches. Or you can go with the boxed lunches.

Schlotzsky's lunch boxes are more individualized than just ordering a mixed tray. Options include a cold sandwich, salad wrap, oven-baked sandwich in small or medium, salad, or pizza/flatbread. They come with a side such as chips or a pickle and a cookie for dessert. Each lunch box is a complete meal tailored to your individual tastes.

Soups and salads are also available, as are gallons of lemonade and tea, sweetened and unsweetened. If you really want to please the crowd, you can order a tray of cookies and brownies or a pan of Cinnabon classic rolls.

Drive-thru got an upgrade

Schlotzsky's is always looking for ways to innovate and est serve their customers. In Spring of 2022, Restaurant Business reported that the sandwich chain was trying something new in restaurant design: two lanes for drive-thru and no indoor seating.

Interim chief brand officer Shelley Harris explained this move away from traditional dining room seating as a response to "consumer behavior changing toward more speed, convenience and variety." Roughly 85% of Schlotzsky's restaurants have a drive-thru, and at those locations, about half of all business is done through the drive-thru.

COO Tory Bartlett pointed out in QSR that even more business was shifted to drive-thru as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and accompanying dining room closures. "We started looking at the business and the trends and just realized that here's a great opportunity for just really leaning into drive-thru," he said. In May of 2021, Pymnts reported study findings that showed 40% of customers "would spend more on food orders if restaurants offered drive-thru pickup."

NSYNC's Joey Fatone helped launch a new sandwich

February of 2022 saw something new hit Schlotzsky's sandwich menu: calzones. And who better to rep the hot new item than someone whose name rhymes with calzone? Joey Fatone, formerly of NSYNC, even changed his name on social media to Joey Calzone as part of the promotion.

Fatone is a big fan of Italian food, so he was enthusiastic about this new sandwich venture. The calzone originated in Naples, Italy in the 1700s. The name literally translates to English from Italian as "pant leg," a reference to the calzone's portability.

While the original calzone is a folded pizza with a sealed edge, Schlotzsky's calzones are more like flatbread sandwiches. These folded-over pizza sandwiches come in three varieties: Italian, BBQ chicken, and French dip. The Italian calzone comes with marinara dipping sauce while the French dip, naturally, is accompanied by the traditional au jus. Amazingly, there is no extra BBQ sauce for dipping the BBQ calzone into, which seems like a missed opportunity. Each calzone is baked from scratch.

Schlotzsky's holds a Guinness World Record

Guinness World Records is a world record-certifying organization that started in the 1950s with the Managing Director of the Guinness Brewery, Sir Hugh Beaver. While participating in a hunting party, he and the other hunters wondered which was the "fastest game bird in Europe." Unfortunately, at the time, there was no reference book with this information.

Nowadays, you can find all manner of fastest, strongest, longest, biggest, and more in the annually updated Guinness World Records books. And in 2017, Schlotzsky's was entered into these hallowed annals for the Most Contributions to a Painting by Numbers. The subject of the painting, a mural actually, was, of course, The Original sandwich. Austin street artist Sloke One designed the mural. It was painted on the brick wall of the South Lamar Boulevard Schlotzsky's location with contributions by 2,643 people using 22 gallons of paint.

Then-Schlotzsky's president Kelly Roddy said of the occasion, "Our Austin heritage is what the Schlotzsky's brand was built on, and we couldn't be more proud to work alongside the local community to bring home a Guinness World Records title."

Schlotzsky's sponsors the Bun Run

One contribution that Schlotzsky's makes to its community is sponsoring the annual Bun Run, a people- and pet-friendly charity run that usually takes place in September (the 2022 race was in June). 

For several years, the money raised by the run went to JDRF, an organization that supports research on type 1 diabetes. One of the ways the restaurants raised money was through what Schlotzsky's called "Give $1, Get $1." For every dollar that a customer donated to JDRF, they received one dollar off their next order at Schlotzsky's. On the day of the run, each location also donated 10% of sales that day. In its first five years of raising money for JDRF, Schlotzsky's donated nearly $1 million. In 2019, the beneficiary of the Bun Run was Sunshine Camps, an organization that runs summer camps for children from low-income families in Austin.

While previous races have taken place in Austin, Texas, the 2022 race was held in Ruidoso, New Mexico.