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How Po' Boys Became the Proletariat of Sandwiches

Photo: What's Cooking America

The po'boy wasn't concocted for a an actress with the munchies or for Philadelphians who were sick of hotdogs ? it began as a sandwich for the workers of the world.

Or the non-workers of the world. The Times-Pic on Sunday chronicled the well-known origins of the New Orleans culinary mainstay that is most definitely not called a "poor boy", even though, in July of 1929, it kept the bellies of almost 1,800 striking streetcar employees full.

In an effort to show solidarity with the strikers, restaurant owners Martin and Benny Clovis (former streetcar conductors themselves) started selling French loaves filled with roast beef for a mere 15 cents, but the tapered ends of French bread produced a lot of waste and made for much harder sandwich-slicing. Enter John Gendusa, a baker on Touro Street. According to a 1981 story in the Times-Pic's Dixie Magazine, Gendusa solved the Martin brothers' problem by developing "an elongated tube-like French loaf of approximately 32 inches in length that was more or less straight from end to end."

Popular legend has it that whenever a striking worker would come sauntering into the Martins' restaurant like a hungry jackal, the Benny would call out, "Here comes another poor boy!" By the time the Martins moved from their original French Market location to to a bigger place on St. Claude, their new innovation in sandwich had assumed the name of their first customers. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a very abbreviated lesson in branding.

?Doug Barry

· Po-boy beginnings born of strike in 1929 [Times-Pic]