Would You Drive 100 Miles for a Sandwich?

Many writers and artists I know are stuck between these two places:

  • They are overwhelmed with all of the marketing, promotion, and content being thrown at them via email, blogs, podcasts, social media, phone, TV and every other channel.
  • Yet, they desperately want to grow and engage an audience for their own creative work, usually via these same channels.

It made me consider how one truly creates a magical moment for others, and in doing so creates deep engagement, word of mouth marketing, and lifelong fans.

Which brings me to this sandwich:

You see, my dad drove 100 miles yesterday just to eat this sandwich. I mean, look how happy he is with his sandwich:

Why did he do this? Well, it’s a tongue sandwich (I know, totally gross), and evidently, it’s hard to find good tongue. So he drove up from Delaware with my brother to Harold’s Deli. Now, at Harold’s, everything is huge. Here are the three of us splitting a “single slice” of cake. Look at the size of this thing:

But the size of the food is not the most striking thing about Harold’s. It’s how friendly everyone is. At Harold’s you talk to all the people eating around you, because everyone treats going to Harold’s like an event.

Why does this happen? This guy:

That’s Harold Jaffe, the owner. I overheard him say he has been doing this for more than 55 years, and a quick Google search shows that he started out at the legendary Carnegie Deli in New York City. As I sat eating my lunch on a random Thursday, he’s working the front counter, still on his feet all day, welcoming people to his restaurant.

What’s most amazing to me is that this place is as hard to find as you can imagine. Here it is, shoved in the back corner of a hotel parking lot, next to a huge vacant lot and across from a faceless office park:

When you pull into the parking lot, you pull into the rear of the restaurant. The first thing you see is a large area with dumpsters and their trash. You have to turn the corner, then turn another corner to finally find the entrance in the back corner:

If you challenged me to find the WORST place to open a restaurant in New Jersey, I would pick this exact location. Yet, Harold’s thrives here. My dad and brother drive 100 miles just to come here.

There are thousands of other sandwich shops in New Jersey, every single one of them has a better location than Harold’s and better prices. That sandwich my dad ordered? $32. Yet, Harold’s stands out. When I posted a photo on Facebook, plenty of friends said, “I love that place!”

For you — the writers or artist — when you look around and see a crowded marketplace, I’ll bet that you may feel discouraged. Discouraged about finding a place in the world for your writing or art. Discouraged about being found, being heard, and engaging an audience. Discouraged that you missed the boat on your creative dreams.

In those moments, I want you to remember Harold’s.

I want you to remember that even if you have the most disgusting sandwich (sorry dad), at the craziest price, in the most inconvenient location — there will still be someone willing to drive 100 miles for it, and when he arrives, he will be welcomed by strangers at every table who trade jokes and give a big smile.

That there is always the opportunity for you to choose what Harold Jaffe did: to make your mark and delight people, even if you ignore every trend and every “best practice” that you read about. That you can amaze people with your creative work using the advice of tennis legend Arthur Ashe:

“To achieve greatness: start where you are, use what you have, do what
you can.”