All San Francisco Wants is a Big Sandwich, proclaimed this very publication in September. But David Bullitt, the man behind the San Francisco iteration of Heroic Deli, is hopeful that San Francisco wants more than that — so hopeful that despite the pandemic, he’s opening a new spot specializing in smaller, artisanal sandwiches in the Castro District.
Bullitt wasn’t always a sandwich guy: Along with his brother, Jeffrey Merrihue, he had a whole career in Silicon Valley, working at tech companies like Intel and Samsung. A couple of years ago, Merrihue left the tech world and opened a Santa Monica restaurant called Heroic Italian. When Bullitt, an SF resident, headed down south to help his brother get started, he started thinking that he might want to open a restaurant, too.
“I was burnt out on global travel” as a marketing director for Nvidia, Bullitt says, so working with his brother was a welcome change. And after things went well in LA, the brothers agreed that it was time for Heroic to open an outpost in San Francisco. The plan was to open Heroic Italian SF, with a tightly-edited menu of sandwiches and salads, in the Market, that hybrid food hall and grocery store on the ground floor of the Twitter building. But the pandemic stalled that plan (as it did for others), so Bullitt started casting around for other ways to open an SF location.
“So I walked down to the Castro,” Bullitt says. “The first person I talked to was a wine bar owner who also owns building.” That was Sabeen Minns, who since 2016 has owned Swirl Wine Bar, a bustling bottle shop on a busy block of Castro Street. Minns was intrigued by the idea of bringing a sandwich shop into Swirl, and the two struck a deal: instead of rent, Bullitt would pay Minns a percentage of Heroic’s profits. The more successful the sandwich shop, the better for the both of them — and that way, Bullitt says, he wouldn’t be saddled with the lease worries that have plagued so many restauranteurs during the coronavirus crisis.
According to Bullitt, his sandwiches are a different value proposition than the standard SF sub or hoagie. “They will not be the cheapest sandwiches in the city,” he says, and “they will not be the biggest in the city.” But, he adds, they will be made with excruciating care: All the meats are imported from Italian makers so exclusive that he declined to name names. Their rolls are from SF’s own Montesacro Pinseria, and are made with a soy, rice, and wheat flour blend that’s also imported, this time straight from Rome. But everything else, from the produce to the chips on the side, is local. Together, Bullitt says, the ingredients are “lovingly cared for and lovingly crafted” into a sandwich that’s a “little smaller” than the competition, one from which you won’t “walk away bloated.”
Also a “little smaller” is the menu of items (you can see it in full, below); Bullitt explains it is an intentional distinction from the “build your own” spots that pepper San Francisco. Heroic, he says, “is all about the artisanal experience,” which is why there are only four sandwiches and four salads on offer. Of particular note on the sandwich roster is the OMG: prosciutto, salami, capocollo, mortadella, porchetta, smoked mozzarella, artichokes, tomatoes, housemade giardiniera, mustard, and black truffle mayo. Of the salads, the Mount Etna (roasted farro, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, carrots, and fennel on arugula) is Bullitt’s favorite, as “it’s not your standard deli salad,” he says.
For now, Heroic Italian will be takeout only. While Bullitt was initially thinking about launching delivery through the usual apps, that’s not in the cards for now: between the commissions those companies charge and his worries about quality control — “I want our food to be as fresh as possible,” he says — he decided to hold off. And the feedback he’s gotten so far from neighbors has been positive enough that he’s now wondering if “we might not need delivery” after all.
Heroic has been serving walk-up customers with limited hours since last week, but today marks their official, grand opening, complete with an online ordering system. Hours for now are Thursdays-Sundays from noon until 6 p.m., Bullitt says — “and after we open, we’ll see.”
Heroic Italian is open for takeout inside Swirl Wine Bar from 12-6 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays. Walk-up orders are fine, and orders can be placed online here.