The “grinder” sandwich has been credited to Benedetto “Benny” Capalbo, who might have made the sandwich as early as 1926 at his New York Fruit Store in New London, Connecticut. Early grinders consisted of salami, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, salt, pepper, onions, olive oil and peppers.
The origin of the name is not known, but it’s been said that the sandwich is so big one could grind one’s teeth on it. A likely name origin is from the men who worked as “grinders” at the Electric Boat shipyard in Groton, Connecticut. The sandwiches were called “grinders’ sandwiches” (sandwiches for the grinders) and then shortened to simply “grinders.”
“Delicious Grinders and Sandwiches. Elm Tavern. 277 Main St., Wethersfield.—Advt.” was printed in the Hartford (CT) Daily Courant on December 14, 1935.
The long list of the names of sandwiches served on long rolls includes blimpie, bomber, Cuban (medianoche), Dagwood, garibaldi, gondola, hero, hoagie, Italian, jawbreaker, muffuletta, peacemaker (La Mediatrice), pilgrim, pistolette, po’ boy (poor boy), rocket, skyscraper, spiedie, spucky (spuckie, spukie), submarine (sub), torpedo, torta (Mexican po’ boy), wedge and zeppelin (zep).
Wikipedia: Submarine sandwich
A submarine sandwich, also known as a sub, grinder, hero, hoagie, Italian sandwich, po’ boy, wedge, zep, or torpedo, is a popular Italian American sandwich that consists of an oblong roll, often of Italian or French bread, split lengthwise either into two pieces or opened in a “V” on one side, and filled with various meats, cheeses, vegetables, spices, and sauces. The sandwich has no apparent generic name, and major US cities have their own names for it. The usage of the several terms varies regionally but not in any pattern, as they have been used variously by the people and enterprises who make and sell them. The terms submarine and sub are widespread and not assignable to any certain region, though many of the localized terms are clustered in the northeast United States, where the most Italian Americans live.
. Grinder (Italian-American slang for a dock worker) — Midwest, New England. Inland Empire of Southern California.
. Grinders are sometimes made with toasted foccacia bread and melted mozzarella cheese.
. Both hot and cold sandwiches have been called “grinders”, though the term usually refers to a baked or toasted sandwich.
14 December 1935, Hartford (CT) Daily Courant, pg. 9, col. 7:
Delicious Grinders and Sandwiches. Elm Tavern. 277 Main St., Wethersfield.—Advt.
3 April 1937, Hartford (CT) Daily Courant, pg. 15, col. 7 ad:
A large glass of beer—sandwiches, grinders—comfortable booths.
THE MODERN TAVERN
1225 MAIN ST.
25 October 1940, Hartford (CT) Daily Courant, pg. 21, col. 1 ad:
Announcing the Formal Opening of the
194 STATE STREET
Big Italian Grinders—Sandwiches
April 1946, Hartford (CT) Yellow Pages Telephone Directory, pg. 183, col. 1:
Pasquale DeParolis—Raphaela LaBadia
Grinders & spaghetti
June 1946, New Haven (CT) Yellow Pages Telephone Directory, pg. 186, col. 3:
TASTY SANDWICH SHOP
Italian Cooking Our Specialty
Delicious Sandwiches & Grinders
To Take Out
25 E. Main…Clinton-688
August 1946, New London (CT) Yellow Pages Telephone Directory, pg. 103, col. 1:
ANDREW SPESA, Prop.
HOME MADE SALADS—FISH AND
CHIPS—SOUTHERN FRIED CHICK-
SPAGHETTI AND MEAT BALLS,
467 WILLIAMS ST., NEW LONDON
14 February 1947, Naugatuck (CT) Daily News, pg. 5 ad:
MEAT BALLS and PEPPERS
SAUSAGE and PEPPERS
HAM, CHEESE, TOMATO,
(Loretta’s Roadside Drive-In—ed.)
Google News Archive
10 June 1950, New London (CT) Evening Day, “Tales Told by The Tattler,” pg. 18, cols. 2-3:
We were sorry to learn a couple of weeks ago about the death of Benedetto Capalbo. Mr. Capalbo, a local storekeeper, claimed the distinction of having introduced the Italian sandwich to the United States, which made him the subject of a feature story in The Day two year or more ago. A mild, soft-voiced man, he was not given about to boasting about it but he had never heard of anyone concocting one of those delectable tonsil ticklers in this country before he put one together in his Shaw street store in 1926. His claim was never challenged.
Mr. Capalbo ran a cafe in Italy before coming to the United States in 1913. he dispensed Italian sandwiches in his cafe, but did not make them in his first store in this country, in the belief there would be little or no market for them here. It wasn’t until 1926 that he put together his first tentative sandwich. They caught on gradually and for a time during World War II he sold a thousand a day to the Submarine Base ship’s service. Sailors, acquiring a taste for them here, ordered them in other ports without success. Often they persuaded Italian grocers to try their hand at them, giving them the recipe. But something was lacking, many soldiers reported to Mr. Capalbo the sandwiches just weren’t like the ones he made.
MR. CAPALBO’S recipe called for slices of salami, cheese and tomato and chopped lettuce between the halves of a loaf of Italian bread sliced lengthwise, the whole sprinkled with black pepper and sluiced with olive oil. The same recipe, apparently, is used by all the Italian sandwich makers hereabout at least, but there is no denying that each store’s product tastes a little different from another’s. Addicts have their own special stores and no other will do. Many are in the habit of buying Italian sandwiches fairly regularly for supper or for a late evening snack. Sunday night supper is an especially popular time for grinders, or jawbreakers as they are sometimes called. One of the more popular Italian sandwich places in town puts out as many as 500 sandwiches in the hour or two before suppertime on Sundays. This man, incidentally, agrees that Mr. Capalbo made the first Italian sandwich in this country.
Sailors are not the only ones who are spreading a taste for grinders across the land. The Day received a letter some weeks ago from a woman in a southern town who had lived here and had become an Italian sandwich eater. She couldn’t buy them in her new town, and could The Day get her the recipe? The Day sent her Mr. Capablo’s recipe, and hopes she has been able to make the sandwiches that taste like the ones she bought here. There are many who contend that the recipe is correct as far as it goes, but that no artist is going to give away all his secrets. They see the successful Italian sandwich maker guarding some small but important part of his formula like a French chef. “That’s why they don’t all taste the same,” one of our office addicts argues. “Each one makes them a little different. Sure, they all use the same basic ingredients, but you can’t tell me they don’t put a little something extra in, perhaps in the olive oil. Why, I’ve bought the ingredients from the Italian sandwich man himself, gone home and put them together just the way he does. But they aren’t the same. I take a bite, and chew, and I look at my wife. And she shakes her head, and I shake my head. You can’t tell me there isn’t some little secret to it.”
31 July 1950, New York (NY) Times, pg. 20:
Mr. Girard…met the “grinder” when a junior engineer in the Connecticut State Highway Department.
2 September 1950, New York (NY) Times, pg. 23:
From the Reader Mail: “Recently, while I was in Philadelphia,” writes Robert B. Byrnes of Baltimore, “I noticed signs in many of the restaurants, taverns and sandwich shops proclaiming the excellence of ‘Hoagies,’ ‘Hoggies,’ ‘Hogies,’ and ‘Horgys,’ almost every sign being differenlt spelled. Investigating for myself I learned that here was again the type of Italian sandwich you spoke of as the ‘grinder.’”
The “grinder” as mentioned here in July, is that mammoth construction of a horizontally cut loaf of Italian bread with a filling of meat, cheese, olive oil, tomatoes, etc. Besides being called a hoagy and variations thereof, it also is known as a submarine sandwich and, Mr. Byrnes notes, in certain parts of the country, as a poor-boy sandwich.
8 May 1958, Blytheville (AR) Courier News, “Hero Sandwich Ideal for Parties” by Cecily Brownstone (Associated Press Food Editor), pg. 12. cols. 3-4:
A MAMMOTH-SIZE sandwich has been getting around under a lot of aliases. Call it a hero, jawbreaker, grinder, submarine, wedgie, poor boy, hoagy, dagwood, zep, gondola, torpedo, gismo, or BIG SANDWICH. It all depends on where you live. But one thing is certain, this sandwich is made from an individual loaf of French or Italian bread—white or whole wheat—or a long loaf of the same, cut into shorter lengths.
Its filling is something out of this world—a mountain of savory foods to dream about. Ham, salami, bologna, head cheese are some of the meats that may be piled on top of each other, layer on layer. Tuna fish, smoked salmon, anchovies might be the layers of fish. Next comes cheese. Then vegetables—green peppers (raw or roasted), pimiento, raw onion, tomato, lettuce. Olives and pickles give everything extra savor. No law says you have to include all these; that’s the best part of these structures—you can choose your favorites for the filling.
6 January 1975, Hartford (CT) Courant, “Grinder Shop Plan Draws Subcommittee” by John DeBona, pg. 19, cols. 1-2:
“I’m (Thomas F. DiMaggio—ed.) mounting a campaign to preserve the New York Fruit Store building, for if it is not placed on the National Register of Historic Places, it will be knocked down by bulldozers as part of an urban renewal program.
“And that would be a shame,” continued DiMaggio, who has an affinity for the good old days. “The delicious grinder, now eaten across the United States by millions, was first made in this country in the New York Fruit store by Benedetto Capalbo, who died 25 years ago.”
The authentic grinder has in it thick slices of Italian salami, provolone cheese, tomato, lettuce, salt and pepper drenched with imported Italian olive oil and encased in thick slices of Italian bread,” DiMaggio said.
27 April 1978, Christian Science Monitor, “Heroic as applied to a sandwich” by J. Lee Anderson, pg. 18:
The supersandwich, depending where in the country you happen to live, is variously known as Submarine, Torpedo. Hoagie, Poor Boy, Grinder, Rocket, Bomber, Zeppelin, and what may be most appropriate for this heroic-sized masterpiece, Hero.
RE: Hoagie/Grinder or Submarine Mon, 08/29/05 12:52 AM (permalink)
I was born and raised in New London, CT and the surrounding area. Sub sandwiches are always called Grinders southeastern CT, and parts of Rhode Island.
I have always heard the story behind the sandwich and the name as follows: A New London shop (perhaps Capaldos Market) made sandwiches and sold them from a cart at the entrance to the Electric Boat Shipyard in Groton (across the Thames River from New London) during WWII. The sandwiches were a favorite with the welders and grinders (the guys who grind the weld down smooth), and were usually called “Grinder’s Sandwiches”, later shortened to Grinders.
The Day (New London, CT)
Italian grinders are part of New London’s delicious legacy
Published August 08. 2010 2:03AM | Updated August 08. 2010 5:54AM
By HENRY A. BUONOCORE
I read an article titled “New London: 2,200 engineers and one fun city,” published July 25, which explored the origins of the Italian grinder.
The article mentions Benedetto Capalbo. Correct.
It also mentions the New York Fruit Store. Correct.
A fact that may not be known to many people is that a group of staff members from Life Magazine arrived in New London many years ago and did a feature article about the origin of the Italian grinder.
The article more or less proclaimed Benedetto Capalbo as the true founder or creator of the Italian grinder.
Simply Ledyard CT
Grinder Capital of the World?
February 10, 2011
One of the pizza chefs over at Colonel Pizza told me this story. The sandwich shops outside of EB began making sandwiches on long rolls, and they became a lunchtime favorite of the men who worked as “grinders” at the shipyard. Soon, because the sandwiches had become so popular among them, the sandwiches themselves became known as “grinders”.
Posted by: Linda Harris | February 10, 2011 at 03:34 PM
The Day (New London, CT)
Grinder heaven in New London Saturday
Published September 13. 2012 12:01AM
It is widely accepted by most lucid folks that New London is the home of the beloved grinder.
Yes, there is a spot in heaven where Benedetto Capalbo rests tenderly, because it was in his New York Fruit Store on NL’s Shaw Street that Benny constructed the first-ever grinder. He split a loaf of Italian bread and thereupon - in a burst of inspiration that renders Cogito ergo sum cretinous by comparison - heaped salami, provolone, tomatoes, lettuce, salt, pepper and a spangle of olive oil.
The Bulletin (Norwich, CT)
Historically Speaking: Now-ubiquitous grinder sandwich has New London roots
By Richard Curland / For The Bulletin
Posted Nov 8, 2014 at 10:14 PM
Updated Nov 8, 2014 at 10:14 PM
Benny Capalbo immigrated to the United States from his native Italy in 1913. He settled in New London, and seven years later, he opened a small grocery store called The New York Fruit Store. It was located in a brick building at 18 Shaw St. in the Italian section of the city. He stocked food, newspapers, magazines and household supplies.
While living in Italy, Benny had concocted a sort of sandwich for his friends and relatives, combining numerous ingredients such as salami, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, salt, pepper, onions, olive oil and peppers.
Benny knew the three most important things for a successful business were location, location and location. His notion began to pay off, and store traffic began to increase — but not necessarily for his grocery items. Customers wanted those sandwiches that Benny had arbitrarily named “grinders,” since one had to really grind his or her teeth in order to eat the chewy bread encasing all those ingredients.