What’s holding it all together

Bread as a stand-alone starter has become a menu star, an option that diners pay for, making the dispensable free stuff a memory.

But what about bread that keeps it all together, from sandwiches to burgers? Consumers say that the protein in sandwiches and the quality of meat in a burger are the most important element, but chefs argue that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. If any components, such as cheese, spreads or other fillings, don't measure up, burgers and sandwiches aren't living up to their potential.

Consider the sandwiches from Hector Santiago, chef and owner of Latin-inspired sandwich bar El Super Pan in Atlanta, where classics converge with innovation. These are iconic items like the Cubano, which combines Cuban roasted pork, ham, salami, pickles, yellow mustard, Swiss cheese and “mojo,” as well as Pan de Jamon y Queso with serrano ham, manchego cheese, almond-date spread, arugula and piquillo agridulce on Spanish focaccia.

“Every component plays a different role – and all are equally important,” Santiago says.

While burgers are a mainstay unnerved by specialty diets or higher prices, sandwich consumption, according to foodservice research firm Datassential, has returned to pre-pandemic levels. And even though consumers eat sandwiches more often at home than from foodservice, the increase still presents opportunities for operators.


Freshness, such as fresh-baked and longevity of freshness, and preferred brands are all top reasons why consumers will pay more for bread, says Datassential. Following such factors are the appeal of whole grains, organic options and sources of fiber.

The diners at Antigua's Bar & Grill in Dorado and Magnolia, Arkansas, aren't aware that the Nature's Own Perfectly Crafted Brioche Style hamburger bun holds together the burger, but manager Lili Sanchez knows that the flavor, texture and freshness all contribute to the experience. Customers say they love the burger overall, but the restaurant knows each ingredient counts. If one is missing, it wouldn't be the same. Nature's Own Brioche Style hamburger buns have no artificial flavors, preservatives or colors and no high-fructose corn syrup, and they are Non-GMO Project Verified. They are soft and subtly sweet, which makes them perfect for any sandwich or burger on menus across the country.

Soft rolls have taken center stage, thanks to the popularity of crispy fried chicken sandwiches.

In the last several years, brioche has grown 66% on menus, says Datassential, and it's projected to continue on a similar trajectory, in part because of its rich buttery texture, as well as the fact that it can be cross-utilized. Restaurants such as Blue Moon in Seattle use brioche for its burgers, plant-based burgers and chicken sandwiches.


Japanese milk bread, the soft, pillowy slices also known as shokupan, is trending on menus, showing up as sandwiches, breadbasket starters, avocado toast and even French toast. Dallas-based Sandoitchi gets some credit for popularizing the Japanese sandwich, which they had planned for 2019 but launched during the pandemic as a pop-up. Stevie Nguyen, the culinary side of the operation who has worked in the kitchens of Morimoto and Momofuku Ko in New York City, and his partners experienced overnight success as the visual appeal of his creations – white bread sandwiches halved and stacked showing the ingredients inside – exploded on social media. While ingredients such as egg salad, panko-crusted chicken and even fruit and cream are the star, the bread brings it all together, Nguyen said.


TikTok self-made chefs like Owen Han have developed a following by giving sandwiches a glow up. Words are not spoken, music isn't played. Instead, each video is packed with the sounds of cooking and prep, from the sizzling of meat to the clinking of metal mixing bowls. But it's the crackle of crusty bread – from baguettes to ciabatta rolls – and the visual of pressing the surface to show its plush cushion that brings the sandwich to its crescendo – all in 10 to 15 seconds. With nearly 4 million followers, Han has a cookbook deal in the works, due out in fall 2024.

That kind of textural sensation comes through from the jackfruit sandwich served during brunch at Baar Baar in New York City – but in the reverse. The crispy cutlet that's a dupe for pork sits on a soft potato roll with housemade barbecue sauce, chili mayo and coleslaw.

Convenience and speed draw customers to sandwiches, chefs like Santiago say. But ultimately, the bread and the filling in between keeps them a popular choice.