The story of a Port Townsend tuna sandwich
Seattle’s Brad Benson has a thing for the sandwiches at Penny Saver in Port Townsend.
“We went in there and I was amazed by all the plastic wrapped sandwiches in the glass case that they had.”
On June 6th I asked my Facebook followers to pitch me their best story ideas in the Port Townsend area and the results were…interesting. One guy recommended the Bremerton Pyrex museum, which is permanently closed. Another simply suggested “paella.” Three people liked it. Another said “My super cool construction company. Business is booming.” It’s a good thing ya’ll aren’t in the storytelling biz.
But in the end I decided to take a few of the most vague, seemingly uninteresting suggestions and challenge myself to find the story. Brad Benson’s suggestion to me? “The sandwiches at Penny Saver.”
“The most important part of the sandwich is wrapping it up in plastic, letting it sit in the refrigerator over night, letting the bread get a little bit mushy and letting all those flavors meld together.”
Located on the edge of Port Townsend, Penny Saver looks like your average corner mini mart. Inside, the aisles are stocked with bags of chips and candy bars and there’s a spinable rack of romance novels for vacationers looking for a saucy read.
“We have 28 different sandwiches and we sell 500, 600, 700 sandwiches a day,” says owner Roger Ramey. “We have assorted beverages; water, teas, lots of parking.”
Ramey has owned Penny Saver for 35 of its 40 years. He moved to Port Townsend from Florence, Oregon to buy the store. After a quick interview with Ramey, a man of few words, I stepped up to the refrigerator case to choose a sandwich. The clerk told me tuna is her favorite, so that’s what I got. It rang up to $3.91, a bargain for this city mouse, and walked down the road to eat it overlooking the water. I attempted to peel open the plastic wrap with one hand while holding my microphone in the other, to record the experience. This was not easy.
“Maybe that’s why people love Penny Saver Sandwich,” I said into my microphone. “It’s so hard to open the wrapper that by the time you get to eat it, you’re starving and everything tastes delicious.”
I finally freed the sandwich from its plastic wrap.
“Okay, so this is just run-of-the-mill, very light wheat bread with just tuna salad in it,” I narrated, alone, like a weirdo. “The ratio of tuna to bread is easily two-to-one. Mmm! Lots of mayo, which is great. Little chunks of red and white onion appear to be in here. It’s super good. It’s the best version of a tuna sandwich you ever had as a kid, before you started buying the really healthy wheat bread and scaling back the mayo. This is the very soft wheat bread that’s basically white bread with a tan. Mmm! This is tuna sandwich comfort food at its best. Well done, Penny Saver, well done.”
But with all the adorable little restaurants down the street on downtown Port Townsend, why would Brad send me here?
“I guess I kind of grew up blue collar. It brought me back to some of the places that I’d find on fishing trips as a kid.”
After I ate, I felt like I didn’t dig deep enough with Ramey, so I walked back to Penny Saver to get more details about The Penny Saver. Owning the mini mart was a bit of a birthright.
“My father owned 17 stores so I started when I was about eight years old in the grocery business. I stocked shelves, racked pop bottles, cleaned, swept.”
Now both his grown sons work at Penny Saver and Ramey said his family enjoys the community feel of the store. I asked him if it was a locals hub, a place where people gossiped at the register. He said yes, so I asked him to spill the beans on the good gossip.
“Haha, I don’t know any gossip right now. There’s no hot take.”
Hear that folks, no hot take. So maybe there isn’t a story behind every sandwich. But as the old expression goes: No news is good news.