*Click here to skip my story and go right to the Chicago Tribune piece about the Italian Beefless Sandwich!
Obviously I got the scoop on this because I was copied on the original email when Buona reached out about a partnership! But truly, I can’t explain how excited I am that we at Upton’s Naturals (where I am the Marketing Director) got to partner with Chicago institution Buona to launch their first-ever vegan Italian Beefless Sandwich.
If you’ve never heard of an Italian beef sandwich, it’s a Chicago staple – like deep dish pizza and dragged-through-the-garden hot dogs. It’s roots are said to be in the Union Stock Yards, where Italian-American immigrants made the sandwich from the less desirable (and therefore cheaper) cuts of beef. This story is contradicted by Al Ferreri, founder of Als #1 Italian Beef, who claims to have created the sandwich himself in 1938. Regardless of where it actually started, it’s now a mainstay in our cuisine. It’s a simple sandwich made with thinly-sliced and highly seasoned roast beef, a crusty Italian roll, au jus (we call it “gravy”) and spicy giardiniera. That’s it! Oh, but I should also mention that it comes doused in extra gravy so it’s a wet, wet sandwich and we love it.
There have been plenty of vegan versions over the years, but never before has one been taken on by one of the “big beef” brands. Upton’s Naturals founder Dan Staackmann and I worked closely with the folks at Bunoa to create an Italian Beef Seitan that had the look, mouthfeel, and of course flavor they’re known for. Combined with their own specially made vegan gravy and signature toppings, it’s the most authentic Chicago style Italian Beefless Sandwich anyone anywhere has ever made.
The italian Beefless Sandwich is available at all 24 of Buona’s Chicagoland and Indiana locations starting Monday April 26th. They’re planning to keep it on the menu until this summer, but if it’s a hit it might just stick around – and possibly pave the way for more vegan options. I should note that in addition to partnering on the main ingredient, Dan and I also personally advised on best practices to ensure that vegan and vegetarian customers have the best possible experience when dining with Buona.