Food News

How to Score East Coast-Style Sandwiches From Little Arthur's Hoagies Pop-Up

The classic Italian from Little Arthur's, fully loaded.
The classic Italian from Little Arthur's, fully loaded. Molly Martin
"The night before my hoagie days, I don't really sleep," says AJ Shreffler, the "Arthur" behind Little Arthur's Hoagies, a pop-up that specializes in the kind of sandwiches found at East Coast delis, particularly in Philadelphia, Shreffler's hometown. That's because he makes everything from scratch — from the bread, pickles and garlic mayo to the meatballs and chicken cutlets.

If these loaded sandwiches on sesame-seeded bread look familiar, that's because they enjoyed widespread popularity in the spring of 2020, when they were served to go out of Bar Dough under the name Jabroni & Sons. Shreffler is the sous chef at the Highland Italian eatery, and when the pandemic hit, his hoagies were a way for the restaurant to bring in extra cash through takeout. But Shreffler had actually started his sandwich side hustle long before. "It's been my passion project," he explains. "With cooking, you don't make a lot of money, so I've always had a side hustle."

Shreffler was born and raised just outside of Philly, where he grew up playing football. But after an injury left him unable to keep playing, he found a career in restaurants. "My passion comes from my parents; they raised me on home cooking," he explains. "The kitchen was always calling me." After high school, Shreffler moved into the city, and "by like twenty or 21, when I started working for a chef who was kind of my first mentor, I realized this was gonna be my life," he recalls. "I love it."

In 2017, Shreffler took his very first flight — to Maui, where he lived for a year and half. While there, he quickly realized that something was missing from the culinary scene, and decided to fill the need with a pop-up venture. "You can't find bagels and good bread. Stuff like that isn't really around in Hawaii," he says. "So that was my thing."
click to enlarge The “Aunt Suzy,” with chicken cutlets, vodka sauce, mozzarella, parmesan, broccoli rabe and basil. - LITTLE ARTHUR'S HOAGIES
The “Aunt Suzy,” with chicken cutlets, vodka sauce, mozzarella, parmesan, broccoli rabe and basil.
Little Arthur's Hoagies
When he landed in Denver three years ago, Shreffler found a similar hole in the food offerings. "I noticed that Denver had the whole grinder thing down — that toasted-hoagie thing with Quiznos starting here and Snarf's is huge and all that," he explains, "but I couldn't find anything that really spoke to me East Coast-wise."


Through word of mouth and Instagram, he sold about a dozen hoagies on his first try. By the second, around thirty people were interested. "I was like, 'I think this is it. I think I can make my favorite thing into my life,'" he recalls. "It was really cool how naturally it came about."

Before the pandemic, though, Shreffler sold his hoagies only sporadically. "There were times — which I do regret — that for four months I wouldn't do anything," he says. But for the last two years, and especially since Jabroni & Sons ended in the summer of 2020, he's "been going hard." Now, he sells between 100 and 140 every time his hoagies go on sale.

Though he's still working at Bar Dough full-time and doesn't have plans to venture out fully on his own just yet, he is committed to doing Little Arthur's pop-ups much more regularly. "I would love to book two or three a month," he says. "The ultimate goal is really to have my own storefront, and maybe eventually have a few of them throughout Denver."

But even as he dreams of future growth, he's committed to a high quality standard. "I want it to stay a really special thing," Shreffler says. "I never want it to be this big corporate thing."

He wants it to be a thing that reflects his childhood love of hoagies. "When I was a kid, the things that made me the happiest were going to the pizzeria and getting an Italian hoagie — that's always been my favorite thing — or going to the deli and you're with your mom, and you get a pound of provolone and the deli slicer will give you a slice," he remembers.

His Italian hoagie — "my heart and soul," he says — is his only sandwich that includes pre-bought ingredients, the imported Italian cured meats. "It's always me cooking or preparing something, every aspect of the sandwich," he notes.
click to enlarge The bread for the hoagies is baked the night before each pop-up. - LITTLE ARTHUR'S
The bread for the hoagies is baked the night before each pop-up.
Little Arthur's
The sesame-seeded bread, for example, is inspired by a 103-year-old Italian deli in Philadelphia called Sarcone's. "There's so many great Italian bakeries in Philly, don't get me wrong," Shreffler says, "but if you ask the real Italian goombahs in South Philly where to get the bread for a hoagie, it's Sarcone's."

Bringing a taste of that longtime tradition to Denver, where culinary roots don't go as deep simply because of the city's age, is part of the appeal for Shreffler, and he sees a bright future for the Mile High's culinary identity overall. "That's why I think this town is so awesome," he explains. "It's just so up-and-coming in the food scene, and there's so much more, better competition every year. In ten years, it's going to be really awesome — not that it already isn't awesome, but it just keeps getting better and better."

While the hoagies may appear pricey — the recent Italian pulled-pork hoagies Shreffler sold out of Bakery Four were $20 — they are huge, fully loaded and can easily be split with someone. (Better yet, you can stash the second half away for a late-night snack.)

Shreffler recently announced his next pop-up, a partnership with one of Denver's top food trucks, Penelope Wong's Yuan Wonton (one of our 2021 picks for Best Chinese Restaurants). Shreffler will make two meatball hoagie options: the Nonna, with provolone, red sauce, parmesan and basil; and the Cousin Paulie, with smashed, fried meatballs, vodka blush sauce, provolone and broccoli rabe giardiniera. Yuan Wonton will take care of the sides. The two will be at Banded Oak Brewing at 470 Broadway on October 12 from 4 to 7 p.m. or until sold out. Pre-orders go on sale October 11 at 10 a.m. at yuanwonton.square.site.

For more information on how and when to pre-order (and to stay in the know in case an earlier pop-up, well, pops up), follow Little Arthur's on Instagram. In the meantime, it's perfectly acceptable to daydream about these pretty perfect sandwiches. 
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Molly Martin is the Westword Food & Drink editor. She’s been writing about the dining scene in Denver since 2013, and was eating her way around the city long before that. She enjoys long walks to the nearest burrito joint and nights spent sipping cocktails on Colfax.
Contact: Molly Martin