Feb. 25 2009 12:00 AM

Sandwich shop pleases with good food, service and creative marketing


It hasn’t been easy to keep any business open over the last year, let alone a restaurant in the packed dining scene of downtown Lansing. But since opening its doors in December 2007, Ted-Dee’s Sandwich Shop has been pumping out deli sandwiches and wraps, soups, salads and plenty of other lunch-hour favorites.

"I always wanted to own my own business," says owner Ted Robison. So after many years working on the corporate side of fast food as a human resources director, he opened shop and named it after himself and his wife, Dee.

Robison is there every day, making sure service is not only quick but also personalized. He says his hands-on approach keeps the business running right. "It is one of the best things about running a place — helping customers," he says. "On the corporate end, I really missed working with people. I’m not an office person."

The most important ingredient to success, though, is the food. The spicy turkey wrap ($5.49) mixes smoky barbeque sauce with the fresh zip of pickles, tomato and lettuce with a bit of onion thrown in to stir the flavor.

The pepper turkey and bacon sandwich ($5.49) — complete with thick slices of tomato and red onion with leafy green lettuce — dances on the tongue with velvety smooth horseradish-infused mayo. The whole shebang is served between Texas-toast style slices of multi grain bread, or, if you’d prefer, on dark rye or white.

“We have the feel of a New York deli,” Robison says.

The sandwich menu is shaped by a combination of cooks’ ingenuity, time-tested favorites and customer demand. Roast beef and Swiss ($5.49) and club sandwiches ($5.49) are familiar sights in any deli. Panini sandwiches are on the menu, because Robison saw an underserved demand in the area. The Italianstyle toasted sandwiches are available with chicken or bacon and cheese ($5.49).

Robison has also used the Internet to build his business. On Ted-Dee’s Web site, customers can peruse a menu, then fax in an order and have it delivered within seven blocks of downtown, never having to step foot into mid-Michigan’s biting winter winds. A bagged lunch, for individuals or groups, costs $6.25 and includes a sandwich or wrap, apple, chips and pickle spear.

Daily specials are also advertised online, along with a rundown of the day’s soups. The roasted tomato and portabella mushroom Robison soup ($3.49 a bowl) is a thick, meatyflavored comfort food perfectly suited for mid-February noshing. And this time of year, the timberline and southwest chicken chilis sell well.

On Fridays, pulls out pulledpork sandwiches ($4.75), a customer favorite. Listening to diners is important at Ted-Dee’s, and the menu reflects it. The tuna and egg salad sandwiches ($4.79) came about from repeated requests. “I would have never had them on the menu, but people kept asking for them,” Robison says, adding that he and his small crew of sandwich builders are happy to honor any special requests. Vegetarian sandwiches and a selection of salads keep more selective diners happy.

Standing out in a crowded restaurant market is not an easy task, so Robison’s employees, which include his wife on the weekends, slap on a giant, sandwichshaped foam hat and pass out promotional fliers that double as coupons.

Keeping the mood festive never hurts, either. With a straight face, Robison sometimes informs customers they may not leave until they finish their meal. After a moment of nervous contemplation, Robison lets them off the hook with a jovial laugh.

Ted-Dee’s, 119 S. Washington Square, Lansing. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday. (517) 374-2784. www.ted-dees.com.