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Ike's Place makes another go at Stanford; Palo Alto outpost stalls

Uploaded: Feb 5, 2016
While Ike Shehadeh, owner of Bay Area sandwich favorite Ike's Place, waits for the green light from the city to open a new location in downtown Palo Alto, he's also put in a bid for a new Stanford University outpost.

Shehadeh has been trying to open a new sandwich shop in Palo Alto ever since the contract ran out for his popular location in Stanford's Jen-Hsun Huang Engineering Center in 2014. (There was so much uproar over the loss of the sandwiches that students formed an organization called "Ike's Army" and held a protest against the university’s decision to replace the restaurant with Forbes Family Cafe. The new cafe serves "flexitarian fare of earth friendly and pure foods," its website states.)

The line for the now-shuttered Ike's Place at the Jen-Hsun Huang School of Engineering building at Stanford University was typically long, sometimes stretching out the doors during lunchtime. Photo by Veronica Weber.

In October 2014, he put in a bid for a space at the Lathrop Library cafe, but it didn’t pan out.

Then, last June, he landed the lease at 401 Lytton Ave. in downtown Palo Alto, the former home of John’s Cafe. He planned to be open the next month, but said on Friday that he’s encountered a delay due to a technicality: Because Ike's will have less seating than John's Cafe did, and although it will continue to sell sandwiches and coffee like John's did, it's considered a use change, Shehadeh said.

"We should have been open in July and it's way past July now," he said. "I have literally no clue when it’s going to open."

He stands at the ready, though. Whenever he gets the green light, the new location can be open within 30 days, he said. They're doing some painting and installing a new ventilation system but other than that, it will be a quick turnaround. They would like to put in a take-out window to ease ordering congestion, but if it proves difficult to get permits for, they'll ixnay it, Shehadeh said.

The process, however, has deterred him from future locations in Palo Alto, especially considering the high rents in the area. Shehadeh said he originally wanted to open multiple Ike's Places downtown, "mainly because we feel like Palo Alto has really supported us in the past.

"The issue that's happening now doesn't make me want to go, 'let me go sign another … big-time lease and then have the city stop me for six months,'" he said. (Read more about the process for opening restaurants in Palo Alto: Key ingredient for opening a restaurant in Palo Alto? Patience.)

In the meantime, Shehadeh is making efforts to return to Stanford. Last Friday, Jan. 29, he submitted a request for proposal (RFP) for a space at the new McMurtry Building for the Department of Art and Art History. The building, located at 355 Roth Way, near the Cantor Arts Center, opened to students for the first time in fall of 2015.

The space there, however, only has a TurboChef oven that doesn’t make a lot of sense for a place that could be churning out hundreds of high-quality toasted sandwiches every day, Shehadeh said. (It’s more appropriate for an operation like Starbucks or La Boulange, he said.)

So this would mean a "cold version of Ike's" — no toasted sandwiches — and a limited menu, Shehadeh said. There would be four to five staple sandwiches always available, like the popular "Menage A Trois" (Halal chicken, BBQ sauce, honey mustard, honey, pepper jack, cheddar and Swiss cheese) and the "Matt Cain" (roast beef, salami and turkey with Ike's "Godfather" sauce and provolone cheese), plus five or so that rotate.

Above: Ike's Place's "Herbert Hoover" sandwich features ham, bacon, American cheese, mozzarella sticks, lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, banana peppers and a double heaping of Ike's famous "dirty sauce." Photo by Veronica Weber.

This would be a marked difference from most Ike’s, where the ever-growing, 70-plus item menu is overwhelming (in a good way).

But this Ike's would also have something new: grab-and-go sandwiches. Shehadeh said they tested the concept at spring training last year and it was a "phenomenal success." (This year, they’re returning to do it for the Oakland A's, and hoping to also sign with the Chicago Cubs and San Jose Earthquakes, Shehadeh said.)

At the potential new Stanford outpost, there would be several cold sandwiches for sale — chosen or designed specifically because they will sell well cold and all made within the last hour. You might see, for example, a pastrami, cream cheese and "Jim Harbaugh" sauce sandwich that’s best served cold, Shehadeh said. The grab-and-go sandwiches will be slightly cheaper than the made-to-order ones, from $7.50 to $9 instead of about $8 to $10.

With no toasting of sandwiches and some customers expected to be taking advantage of the grab-and-go option, Shehadeh said he expects wait time at this location would be cut down. A common complaint about the Engineering Center location was that there were very long lines.

The new Ike's would also sell coffee, to-go salads, snacks and desserts. Shehadeh said he’s in the midst of acquiring a cake company and would hope to serve their goods.

If the grab-and-go concept (dubbed "Ike'spress," as in "Ike's Express") is successful, it would open up many doors for the company in spaces that previously were prohibitive due to a lack of cooking equipment, Shehadeh said.

He said he's not sure what the timeline is for the Stanford bidding process; stay tuned for updates.

Ike's, which was born in San Francisco in 2007, has steadily grown to almost 20 locations throughout the Bay Area and southern California. New locations on their way this year include Santa Barbara, San Diego and Chico, Shehadeh said.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Palo Alto is a joke, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 5, 2016 at 4:55 pm

Elena you should do an expose on these ridiculous shenanigans in Palo Alto. 7 months delay in being allowed to open with no end in sight? In what other universe would it be considered a " change of use"?? But I guess when you have an incompetent city council that is beholden to certain anti- growth organization, an out of control city manager and a staff that is more concerned with putting barriers in the way of,progress, you get incidents like this

Posted by charles reilly, a resident of another community,
on Feb 5, 2016 at 6:05 pm

Those sound like good sandwiches. I'd check it out. Actually, we have an Ike's here in Redneck City, but it's right across from Sequoia High School. Geographically undesirable. (And, I'm a crabby old guy and only go places where it's quiet; no evil High School students)

BTW; I went and looked at Crawfish Fusion in Palo Alto. Great menu. I was shopping for a Valentines Day restaurant, but it seemed a little too lunchy.

Posted by Menlo Voter., a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Feb 5, 2016 at 7:50 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

What the heck is "flexitarian" cuisine? Putting on airs much?

Posted by Reader, a resident of another community,
on Feb 5, 2016 at 8:12 pm

@Charles Reilly:

Hey, you should visit on a weekend or when school isn't in session. I don't know Sequoia HS's exact schedule, but many schools will be taking their "ski week" in the next few weeks.

I sure do wish there was an Ike's here in Mountain View. I don't even think it needs to be on Castro Street, it could be on one of the side streets like Villa or Dana Street.

Anyhow, I'm not surprised that the City of Palo Alto is completely shafting him. And the dude met his wife at a bar a few blocks from the permit-bogged Lytton Avenue store.

Posted by rock bottom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 5, 2016 at 9:16 pm

The City couldn't care less about everything that matters -density,design control, streetscapes,
destruction of the character of the city,safety,
etc and then hassles Ike over a supposed "change of use" which makes absolutely no sense. We are at
rock bottom folks.

Posted by John, a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 6, 2016 at 2:28 pm

Before everyone starts pointing fingers at the City, let us hope that all this information on this article is true and substantiated. Often in these sort of projects, it is the entrants who are clueless about how to do things or what they are getting themselves involved in.

I speak from experience, and the process is not as problematic as all these articles always make it out to be. It does take time because there we have laws and standards for a reason. We're not in a third-world country, and these must be followed.

Posted by Reader, a resident of another community,
on Feb 6, 2016 at 4:19 pm


C'mon, Ike has built about nine other stores around the Bay Area and the chain is well regarded by customers. He is not a dilettante.

The City of Palo Alto is anti-small service business. The City has not problem hassling an experienced restaurateur opening a business in an existing restaurant location, but has no problems letting developers convert retail/F&B into office space.

The City of Palo Alto has poor vision.

Posted by charles reilly, a resident of another community,
on Feb 6, 2016 at 7:36 pm

Restaurant owners face miles of red tape - dozens of permits and endless fees to get their location open. BUT the claim that this is all the City's fault is silly and naive. Every one of those permits is driven by well-intentioned policies aimed at enforcing fire, health and safety laws. And, the City demands business licenses to raise tax revenue.

So please point your finger toward the cause - not the effect !

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto,
on Feb 7, 2016 at 10:09 am

I'm sorry to learn about the problems opening Ike's in PA. The Stanford location is missed by many. It was one of the first places we'd introduce newbies to, and they remained loyal to the end. The former John's location seems ideal, as does the idea of the grab 'n go sandwiches on campus. Years ago, when John's was Lytton Roasting Company, a bag of fresh roasted beans was my favorite hostess gift to grab before a dinner party. It would be nice to see that corner thriving again when driving by.

We've enjoyed sandwiches from The Willows Market on Middlefield and Willow Rd and Mardini's on Willow and Gilbert. Mardini's also has a kid menu and some of the lightest falafel around.

Posted by JoAnn, a resident of Ventura,
on Feb 8, 2016 at 5:57 pm

Charles, go early or late to Ike's and you will find almost no line. I usually go sometime 1:00 to 3:00 when they close.

Posted by bill rayburn, a resident of Woodside: Kings Mountain/Skyline,
on Feb 8, 2016 at 11:04 pm

Ike's is striking while the iron is hot...but reputation alone can and often does die a quick death due to one fateful impulse too many entrepreneurs (fancy word for sammy makers)fall prey to: rapid and aggressive expansion.

Just Watch. Ike will have too many plates spinning at once and once one falls, well, the cliche is a cliche for a reason....

The quality of sandwiches, the consistency of how they are made, the level of service...how will Ike maintain that to HIS standards?

Answer? He can't. And he knows it. Or he should.

Posted by McMurty location, a resident of Stanford,
on Feb 9, 2016 at 11:59 am

When do you anticipate that Ike's (or anyone) will move into the McMurty location? It would great to have a grab-n-go lunch vendor there again.

Posted by Reader, a resident of another community,
on Feb 9, 2016 at 12:53 pm

@McMurty location:

The article states that Ike himself doesn't know the timeline for the McMurty project. It's possible that the university hasn't set a strict timeline and that they will review various proposals before setting a timeline for the winning bid.

It's a new building and the space has never been occupied, so the university isn't under extreme pressure to find a tenant.

It's already February, so my guess is that the food service place won't open this academic year. A more likely scenario would be to have the restaurant/cafe/whatever running when students arrive in the fall.

Posted by McMurty, a resident of Stanford,
on Feb 10, 2016 at 11:17 am

The McMurty space was previously occupied by a nice cafe that sold muffins, ready-made sandwiches, and other brunch options. Unfortunately, it closed after a few months of operation.

Posted by Reader, a resident of another community,
on Feb 10, 2016 at 12:42 pm


Hmmm, the plot thickens. Perhaps Stanford is taking its time in getting the right tenant into the place since it sounds like the first one didn't find much success there.

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