Just past Groesbeck Highway on the east side of Detroit, right on Eight Mile Road, is a place people make pilgrimages to every day. It's Vince's Bakery and Party store, and it has been there since June of 1970, run by the Cucci family. For 44 years, Vince and his sons Paul and Sam have fed the faithful, who come for the joint's quality sandwiches, made with bread that's still baked every morning by Vince Cucci, who came to Detroit from Palermo, Sicily, a generation ago. In fact, on the morning we drop in, he's right there, celebrating his 86th birthday that day by baking another batch of bread. Up front is Pat Covington, negotiating an order of sandwiches with a Detroit fireman for later in the day. Firemen, police, and contractors form a significant percentage of the store's customers.
Covington tells us, "Detroit firemen, they figured it out and they said, over the years, I've probably made at least 2 million sandwich sales. Because we average 150 a day, and that doesn't count orders."
The mini-subs sell so well because of the quality of Vince's baked-in-house bread, which only cools for a few minutes before the sandwiches are made. What's more, the subs that began selling in 1970 for 99 cents are now just $3.25. To keep pace with inflation, it should cost almost twice as much.
Of course, in these days of spongy bread, not everybody is used to the pleasures of a sesame-studded Italian loaf.
"Some people come in and they're not used to a hard, crispy bun," Convington says. "I tell them if it's not hard and crispy, it's not fresh. That's how Italian bread is supposed to be. But that's what sells our subs. We use good meat, too. I say we don't use 'dog food meat' like some places do. Everyone loves it; everything we put on it they love it, and it's so simple."
Fresh Italian bread is a fragile thing. It loses its deliciousness exposed to air at room temperature, so the sandwiches are bagged as soon as they're made and placed in a cooler.
"We don't have preservatives in the dough," Covington says. "The shelf life isn't great. Unless you're going to eat them right away, you should freeze them."
In fact, the customers at Vince's often prefer their subs cold. But, Covington says, some people are fussy. "They want to see you making it; they think that's fresher. And that's not true because I make like 30 subs at a time on that table, and I have to make them five times. I'll put those in the cooler and make another 30, but they don't think those are as fresh as the ones I'm going to be making."
That said, on the morning we arrive, we get a rare treat, a sandwich from Vince's made while the bread is fresh and still warm. The crust shatters under the teeth but breaks off cleanly, complementing the quality lunch meats inside. It appears to be nothing special, but everything about it is excellent, especially that fresh bread. — mt