Potbelly, a sandwich-focused quick-service restaurant chain, has been a fixture in Chicagoland since 1977. Now, more than four decades after the first shop started feeding residents of the Windy City, the chain has grown beyond the bounds of the city to reach coast to coast—and according to chief operations officer Adam Noyes, Potbelly is just getting started.

Noyes recently connected with Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery to share the company’s origin story, its growth plans, and the importance of incorporating quality baked goods.

Jenni Spinner: Could you please tell me a little bit about Potbelly—particularly, how it got started, and what sets the restaurants and company apart from other companies in the same space.

Adam Noyes: Potbelly is a beloved neighborhood sandwich concept that has expanded across the U.S. since opening its first shop in Chicago in 1977. For more than 40 years, we’ve served up our signature warm, toasty sandwiches, fresh-made salads, hand-dipped shakes, and other delicious items, customized however customers prefer. We provide a consistent guest experience at every shop, promising fresh, fast, and friendly service. Our mission is to provide great food and good vibes in every neighborhood—and great food starts with great bread.

JS: Can you tell me a little bit about you—your career before arriving at Potbelly, your responsibilities and any accomplishments you’re proudest of, and anything else you’d like to reveal?

AN: I joined Potbelly just under four years ago in the middle of the pandemic as Potbelly’s COO. I oversee company and franchise operations, operations services/training, supply chain, development (franchise real estate and construction), and more. Our last few years have been very active, building on the uniqueness and the heritage of the brand, and helping scale the business to unlock capacity for growth. We are focused on driving more traffic at our current shops, while simultaneously growing the number of locations and regions we have a presence in to make it even more convenient for our customers to pick Potbelly first.

Prior to joining Potbelly, I served in a similar capacity at Checkers and Rally’s, helping both brands grow from 50 shops to more than 900 locations during my extensive career there. 

JS: Then, please share a view of the company’s growth trajectory and current growth strategy—i.e., how have you expanded in recent years, and where; and where do you plan to grow in the coming months/years?

AN: These past few years have been very foundational in terms of adding systems to unlock capacity with added transactions. We have also been building a strong infrastructure for growth. We are prioritizing a franchise-focused development strategy and have shared that our goal is to increase shop count by 10% annually, with a long-term goal of 2,000 locations across the U.S. We are expanding our concept in neighborhoods across the U.S., and recently announced development commitments in regions spanning coast to coast. 

JS: Please tell us a little bit more about the breads your sandwiches are tucked into—what kinds of loaves and flatbreads are on the menu, and how would you describe the taste, texture, nutrition profile, and quality?

AN: We have three bread options on our menu: white, multi-grain and flats. Our first shop started with our original white roll, derived from an artisan-style French bread, with an eggshell crust and soft center. Over the years, we added Multi-grain to the menu, as another option for our customers. Lastly, we added flats, a lighter flatbread option that offers a unique way to experience Potbelly. Overall, each of these breads is critical to our menu. Each serve the same purpose, a carrier that highlights the incredible ingredients within.

We offer three sizes of sandwiches—Skinny, Original, and Big—in both white and multi-grain rolls, and offer a flatbread option as well. All of our bread is baked in Chicago and then delivered to Potbelly shops around the country. 

JS: What can you tell us about your bread partners—from whom do you source your doughs/bread products?

AN: We have partnered with Turano in Chicago since our first shop opened in 1977, and they currently support all shops across the country. We value our relationship, as they are passionate supporters and innovators of our brand.

Potbelly_inside.jpgJS: How do you maintain consistency and adherence to quality standards as you continue growing—is it more difficult as you expand your presence and reach?

AN: “Serving Great Food” is one of our values; we love serving great tasting, high-quality craveable food. This value is maintained through our Gold Standard Program, an end-to-end process that ensures our suppliers, distributors and shops execute our specifications consistently. As we expand our reach, this program will serve as our benchmark, aligning new suppliers with our expectations.

We have clearly defined specifications for all our products with quality checks throughout the process. We also closely monitor products in our shops to deliver Great Food to our customers.

JS: Does Potbelly have anything in the works you can tell us about? This can be new bread products beyond your current offerings, new sandwiches or sides, anything you can reveal.

AN: Our consumer insights and innovation teams are always evaluating trends to ensure that we have the products that our customers desire most. We have a rolling limited time offer (LTO) strategy, where we introduce and cycle three to four sandwiches, six cookies and fourshakes per year. We also have an Underground menu for our valued Perks loyalty program customers, who can select unique items that are only available on our mobile app. One of my favorites is the Lucky 7, that combines the Wreck and the Italian built into one hearty sandwich! 

JS: Do you have a favorite product on the menu?

AN: My favorite is the Wreck sandwich—served with those famous Potbelly peppers! I also really enjoy the Avo Turkey and Mediterranean for a change of pace.