When Purdue's Memorial Union Commons replaced an aging scatter system four years ago, a new concept that evolved to replace it was Flatbreads, a casual, high-end deli that emphasizes both fresh handcrafted sandwiches and flatbread melts (not traditional pizza). Central to the restaurant is an open-hearth oven (Woodstone) which provides a strong visual sense of theater and produces much of the signature bread used in its menus. The oven is also used to finish off many of the menu items, including the melts.
According Purdue's Director of Retail Dining, Tom Coleman, the original goal was to offer sandwiches, not loaded down with bread, but emphasizing all the fresh ingredients within. Flatbreads' wide menu variety was developed with that in mind. Although the station nominally competes with Oasis, another sandwich café in the Union, Coleman says each has a loyal following and little sales cannibalization occurred when Flatbreads went in. It regularly serves an average of 550 customers a day.
Two signature artisan breads are produced: one is herb, the other is multi-grain. The loaf style bread is prepared from scratch and finished off daily in the open-hearth oven. The resulting relatively flat loaves are then sliced horizontally and cut into sandwich slices. In high volume periods, additional bread production is provided by a behind-the-scenes deck oven in the main kitchen.
During peak periods, most of the hearth oven's production time is dedicated to the popular line of Flatbread Melts. These use a seven-inch, thin, un-leavened bread topped off with various ingredients. Although there is a core menu of six melts to choose from, Coleman notes the staff regularly creates special items offered for a limited time, such as the Loaded Potato or the Chick'n Noodle. “It helps us come across to customers as being creative, fresh and having fun with our offerings,” he says.
The cold sandwich menu includes Club, Smoked Chicken, Spicy Roast Beef, Turkey Breast and Mufaletta sandwiches, each with a signature aioli, or sauce, and other fresh topped ingredients.
Toasted flatbread sandwiches — a third style — is also made with the signature breads but is finished off in a rapid-cook oven (TurboChef). These include Toasted Chicken with Havarti, Smoked Chicken, Falafel Flatwich, Cheese Steak, Hot Turkey and a Veggie Slider. In the A.M., a breakfast menu offers toasted flatbread egg sandwiches, scrambled egg pockets and breakfast wraps.
A novel Flatato Bar — yet another option — offers both Idahos and Sweet Potatoes topped off or stuffed in different ways. (These are pre-baked in the kitchen's deck oven, then finished out front). — JBL