Bethany Clough

May 14, 2013

Eating Out: Lemoore sandwich shop gets 'Gunny' going

The owner of the new Gunny's Sandwich Shop in Lemoore doesn't like to call his place a restaurant. "We're just a sandwich shop," he says. "We're a little hole in the wall."

The owner of the new Gunny's Sandwich Shop in Lemoore doesn't like to call his place a restaurant.

"We're just a sandwich shop," he says. "We're a little hole in the wall."

It's a hole in the wall run by one of the most entertaining sandwich shop owners I've ever spoken to.

Owner "Gunny," whose real name is Maximillian L. Vernon -- "try to spell Maximillian when you're in the first grade," he says -- got the nickname from his job as a gunnery sergeant fixing the hydraulics on F-18s in the Marine Corps at Lemoore Naval Air Station.

He opened the sandwich shop in late February at 514 N. Lemoore Ave. The military-themed shop sells $5 sandwiches, such as the PFC ham, Cpl. meatball, civilian sliced turkey and the Camp Schwab taco rice -- a rice, taco meat and cheese combo patterned after a dish he had while stationed in Okinawa, Japan.

Gunny named the Reuben sandwich, Lillian's Reuben, after Lillian Billingsley, his landlord and part of the family behind Billingsley Tire. She gave him a deal on the rent.

He tasted nine kinds of pastrami before settling on one he liked.

"I ate dirt for a while," he said, referring to the prepackaged MREs -- meals ready to eat -- the military sometimes serves. "I'm not really that good a judge of what a good sandwich is [but] my customers seem to agree that, one time, I had some taste."

Gunny didn't plan on opening a sandwich shop as a second career when he retired from the Marines at age 42. He planned on spending more time with his accountant wife and three kids.

"I realized I sucked as a house husband," he says.

Looking for something to do with his time, he remembered the best sandwich he'd ever had 16 years ago. It was from Alvin Ord's Sandwich Shop when he was stationed in Beauford, South Carolina. The scratch-made bread is the secret, he says.

He tried to get the recipe from the owner, but the owner said he wasn't going to give it to him just to make at home. The owner was a former Army man who knew the challenges of leaving the military at a young age. He challenged Gunny to open a restaurant.

"When you get out, you're going to fall apart like a lot of these other guys if you don't do something with yourself," Gunny recounts. And the owner had conditions before giving him the recipe: He wanted to see if he liked Gunny first, and then train him for a week.

Apparently Gunny passed the likability test -- that's no surprise, the man had me laughing in the first 30 seconds of talking to him on the phone -- because he came home with the recipe.

Turning a former office building into a sandwich shop proved a bit difficult on a shoestring budget. He did a lot of the work himself, and he got a lot of help from the county and the city and a long list of other people.

He'd run into roadblocks, but someone would always say, "I got a buddy" who can do that type of work, Gunny says. Equipment was out of his price range, but a military guy would say, "'Oh yeah, I've got a stainless steel table sitting in my house. Do you want it, Guns?"

He estimates friends, neighbors and military folks donated between $20,000 and $30,000 worth of labor.

The sandwich shop opened in late February and took off like gangbusters, Gunny says. It's got nearly all five-star ratings on Yelp.com.

Gunny's Sandwich Shop is open 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and is scheduled to stay open til 8 p.m. beginning this week.

You can get more info about the sandwich shop on Facebook at facebook.com/gunnyssandwich. (559) 924-7700.

-- St. Paul Armenian Church will hold its second Armenian Festival from 4-10 p.m. Friday. The church is at 3767 N. First St., at the corner of First and Dakota Avenue.

New this year is the addition of live music, but it's the baked goods that get a lot of attention.

The "baking angels," a crew of church ladies, bake all kinds of Armenian goodies. There's the katah, a rolled out pastry that is buttered and stuffed with a streusel filling. There will be demonstrations of simit, which is a like a crispy cookie with lots of butter. Copious amounts of butter seems to be a theme as Diane Boyajian, vice chair of the church council, describes the baked goods.

You can get a little cup of Armenian coffee to go with them, and dinner, of course. Shish kebob and chicken kebob meals include pilaf, salad and a pastry.

The festival includes dancing, a farmers market, vendors, face painting and a guided tour of the church.

Admission is free.

-- Ooh de Lolli, the ice pop maker who sells from her little cart on wheels, will be selling her ice pops on a regular basis at the Kaiser Farmers Market.

Owner Donna Mott will be there every Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Mott's $2.50 ice pops are seasonal and include kiwi strawberry and cherry, along with the peanut butter chocolate that's always in season. Many of her ice pops are vegan. Mott uses fruit from vendors at the market to make her ice pops.

There's "pooch pops" too. The pops for dogs are made from tofu, peanut butter and almond milk with a dog chew stick instead of a popsicle stick. They've been a hit and she's sold out of them at least once.

Mott raised $9,000 this year through Kickstarter.com, a crowdfunding website. It paid for a machine that makes 240 ice pops an hour, allowing her to boost production.

She also sells ice pops at Bella Frutta at Shepherd and Willow avenues on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Engelmann Cellars' Friday night live music and wine tasting events, and various other events.

Details: facebook.com/oohdelolli

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About Bethany Clough

Bethany Clough

@bethanyclough

Bethany Clough takes you to all the hidden hot spots around the Valley. This is the place to find the comings and goings of restaurants, bars and shops around the Valley. Email Bethany at bclough@fresnobee.com or call her at 559-441-6431.

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