Wai Eng, owner and sandwich maker of Sub Shop, hands over a sub to a customer. Eng started the hole-in-the-wall art-covered sandwich shop 35 years ago in north Everett. It’s a one-man, cash-only operation with 21 sandwich choices. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Wai Eng, owner and sandwich maker of Sub Shop, hands over a sub to a customer. Eng started the hole-in-the-wall art-covered sandwich shop 35 years ago in north Everett. It’s a one-man, cash-only operation with 21 sandwich choices. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

The ‘Sub Man’ knows what customers want before they walk in

Wai Eng opened his shop 35 years ago. Once he gets to know you, he knows what to make you. Cash only!

He never forgets a face or the sandwich that goes with it.

What’s up with that?

“I recognize people, I recognize what they like,” said Wai Eng, owner of the Sub Shop at 2017 19th St., off Broadway in north Everett.

The shop is pushing 35 years, and he’s pushing 73.

“I think I’m the first sub sandwich shop in this area,” Eng said. “Everybody knows me in this area.”

Many know him as “Sub Man.” That’s fine with Eng. He likely doesn’t know your real name, either. Your order is your name.

“Ninety percent of the people, they walk in my store, they don’t have to order because I know already,” he said. “Sometimes they park their car outside. They walk in. Sandwich is ready.”

The one-room storefront in the low brick building is a one-man show. Eng works 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., six days a week, in the two-table eatery with eight chairs and a rocking horse for kids.

The decor is more artsy than sandwichy. Festooning the walls are an eclectic mash of framed pictures and carved masks curated from yard sales. The surplus spills over to the floor, along with wooden drums and a statue of W.C. Fields.

To admire his collection and hear a story or two, admission is free.

With one exception, all 12-inch subs are $6.50, and 6-inchers are $4.50.

Cash only.

“I’m too busy for credit cards,” Eng said.

White bread only.

Don’t ask to have it toasted.

“No time.”

The bread is soft, and the owner is a bit of a softie. (Secret: He uses hoagie buns from WinCo.)

“The food must be good and your service good,” he said.

What makes it good?

“Try it. Find out.”

Just remember to bring dough.

“Tell them. Make sure to bring cash.”

Wai Eng collects art and artifacts at thrift stores and yard sales to decorate his Sub Shop in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Wai Eng collects art and artifacts at thrift stores and yard sales to decorate his Sub Shop in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald) Purchase Photo

Standard toppings are mayo, mustard, vinegar oil, lettuce, tomato and onion. Hot sauce is an option. He doesn’t mind making it your way.

Choose from 21 sandwiches on the menu board.

“No. 15 is Number 1 every day. It has seven kinds of meats and two cheeses,” Eng said.

It’s the Full Boat, and it will set you back $8.50 for the foot-long.

“I keep the price almost five and a half years,” he said. “I want to sell cheap, and make more and more people come in.”

Most are repeats. The sandwich artist starts orders when he sees the person approaching through the picture window.

“I get his Full Boat. He’s already making it for me. He knows,” Jim Schmoker said as he opened the blue front door on his weekly stop.

Eng slices the meat fresh every time, splits the bun and lathers it with condiments. He rolls the torpedo in paper and bags it up.

“Usually in one minute I can make one sandwich,” Eng said.

Expect to spend at least five minutes chatting about what’s new with your family or listening to one of his stories.

Subway serves 5,300 sandwiches every minute and will toast your bread, but Eng doesn’t consider the chain, with over 40,000 locations worldwide, as competition.

“He has a cult following,” customer Jonathan Moore said. “He knows what the American mouth wants.”

Moore has been coming for 21 years.

“Frequently we would stop here going between the community college and home. I got to know him,” Moore said. “I’ve lived in about 15 countries doing humanitarian work, so I’m back and forth. I always stop in.”

He usually calls in his order.

“I say, ‘It’s me. Ham, pepperoni, everything inside with hot sauce,’ ” Moore said. “I don’t know his name. He’s Sandwich Guy.”

Eng came to America from mainland China about 45 years ago.

He learned to speak English but not read it. He got married and divorced. He has even more art at his home than his shop. He’s happily single and a proud grandpa.

He briefly considered opening a Chinese restaurant 35 years ago.

“I don’t like it in the kitchen, it’s too hot. All the grease,” he said.

And it would mean having employees and a partnership with a friend or family.

Not his style.

But Chinese is his food preference.

“I never ever eat sandwiches, I get tired of it,” he said.

Andrea Brown: abrown@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.

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