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Which Wich fights ‘sea of sameness’


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Kevin Griffin, top, of Better Than Ezra thinks music and business share much in common. “When I’m writing a song, do the words sing well? When you’re looking at a menu, does it catch you?”

After 13 years in the sandwich business, founder Jeff Sinelli just couldn’t come up with yet another good name for yet another turkey sandwich. So he turned to a new source of inspiration—music—and ended up holding a jam session in the Casa del Mar hotel in Santa Monica with a couple of hit-makers.

The session, with Better Than Ezra lead singer Kevin Griffin and storied songwriter Sam Hollander in January, was a creative jump-start, Sinelli said, and the trio plan more collaboration.

“Here I am the entrepreneur, the sandwich branding guy, and all of a sudden down the hall, here they come—the cool musicians, still wearing sunglasses. It was so cool,” Sinelli said about the first session.

Says Griffin with a laugh: “We sauntered.”

Says Sinelli: “I thought, how could Which Wich be this cool? I said Kevin, can you help me?”

And they did, with Griffin and Hollander using the same skills they employ to come up with a popular song, and applying it to the humble sandwich. “It was second nature,” Griffin says. “Jeff had an agenda to hit a lot of things he wanted our input on, like the names of sandwiches … and we started going to town on each one. The juices were flowing, and Jeff had a big easel up and he was writing things down.”

Adds Sinelli: “We were just spit-balling and then the guitarist comes out,” describing the day-long jam. “What are we going to name the turkey sandwich, the ham sandwich … it really became magical.”

And how did they know when to choose one name over another? “Because it sings well,” Griffin says, adding that’s always his question: “Does it sing?”

Sinelli says he knew about Griffin through Better Than Ezra, and then learned he was on the speaking circuit with a talk about creativity and business. “What if I could meet Kevin and help Which Wich through creativity?” Sinelli thought. “It just kept unfolding and unfolding.”

Better Than Ezra is an alternative rock trio out of New Orleans, best known for their 1993 platinum album Deluxe. Hollander has written and/or produced hits for Weezer, Train, One Direction, Fitz and the Tantrums and many more, and has 21 U.S. Top 40 pop hits to his credit.

Three minutes to sell it

Kevin Griffin

Kevin Griffin collaborated with Jeff Sinelli, founder of Which Wich to create new sandwich names.

Sinelli booked Griffin to speak at the Dallas-based franchise’s annual conference, held in late April, where he planned to get all the franchisees in the room suggesting lyrics and then later write them into a song and produce a record.

Griffin believes there are plenty of similarities between the music business and the restaurant business. “If you think about a song, you have three minutes to give everything to the listener, to sell your product, to hook them,” Griffin said.  Likewise, “you have one chance to hook that customer in a restaurant.

“When I’m writing a song, do the words sing well? When you’re looking at a menu, does it catch you? We all realized it at the same time, it was this aha moment. That’s why, as Jeff said, it was a firehose of creativity.”

As for the new sandwich names, Sinelli would reveal only one at this point. “Vegetarians and vegans represent 20 percent of our Which Wich users and they’re the most vocal. I felt, let’s give them the party they deserve.”

The sandwich will be called the Garden Party Wich. “It will appeal to an older generation” who recalls the Ricky Nelson tune. And then Sinelli sings, softly and pleasingly: “Went to a garden party, to reminisce with my old friends.”

Said Sinelli: “I really want to do things different. I look at the industry and see a sea of sameness.”

Griffin shoots back: “I’m going to put that in a song, by the way.”

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