Since I’m into my Florence pictures right now, I might as well post my Oil Shoppe-related post that I’ve been thinking about for a while.

I spent my first semester of junior year — fall 2004 — in Florence, and it was absolutely fantastic. It wasn’t until after fall break that we found out about a place called the Oil Shoppe, a little sandwich shop only a few minutes away from my apartment. We went and fell in LOVE with the sandwiches and went as often as we could.

The shop only sold sandwiches from about 11:00 to 2:00, or whenever they ran out of bread — the rest of the time, they sold varieties of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and wine, plus meats and cheeses that they used in the sandwiches. The man who owned the place was named Alberto and he made every sandwich to order. You would make a simple request — salami with parmesan cheese, for example — and he would immediately chew you out for choosing something that didn’t mesh well, and he’d make the rest of the sandwich for you, choosing everything down to the sauces.

The best part was when Alberto would yell at you — it made him like the Sandwich Nazi. Sometimes my friends would intentionally concoct something inedible and feign ignorance, just to hear what he’d say. Alberto was amazing. He would often say, “I am the poet of the sandwich.” One day he cut himself on the meat slicer, and, after bandaging his hand up and slipping a rubber glove on top, announced, “I am the doctor of the sandwich.”

My favorite sandwich was spicy salami with spicy sauce, pecorinato cheese, arugola, bell peppers and artichoke hearts, with oil and vinegar, of course. There were so many combinations — turkey with parmesan and truffle sauce, or prosciutto crudo with pesto….

I’ve been back to Florence twice since then. It’s completely different.

When you go into the Oil Shoppe nowadays, it’s obvious that it now caters ENTIRELY to American students. It’s covered in signs, all lettered in English. It’s a bit obnoxious. There’s now a kitchen in back, where you can get hot food. (That I don’t mind.) And the prices are different — 3.50 a sandwich, 4 Euro for a sandwich and a water — and the formerly plain white bags are now emblazoned with the shop’s logo. Not that much of a difference, but enough to show that the place keeps improving upon itself.

But worse things happen.

You can’t pick out a sandwich from scratch.

Alberto has a list of ten different sandwiches you can choose from — a certain kind of meat with a certain kind of cheese, with the appropriate sauce and accoutrements. (Hehehe. That word always reminds me of The 40-Year-Old Virgin.) You can’t order a sandwich from scratch. My favorite thing to do was to tell him the kind of meat I wanted and then for him to do “whatever would be good with that.” Now, if you ask him that, he’ll look confused.

I hate it! THIS is what made Oil Shoppe so good back in 2004! It was all about the attitude you’d get from Alberto! Getting yelled at by him was the best part. Of course, the freshly sliced meats and good prices were good incentives as well, but you can get amazing food all over Florence.

Alberto wouldn’t compromise for anybody or anything, so it really sucks that he’s sold out for better business. The perfect example of this is in the signs that have been added. I’ve seen people ask him for two kinds of meat, and he’s adamently refused. But now you can get “double meat” for a slightly higher price. There are also sandwich combo deals, as if we were at a Subway. Nobody self-respecting Italian orders a sandwich combo any more than he would order cappuccino past noon.

I’ve been back to Oil Shoppe on two separate trips since my semester abroad: in March 2006 for Gleetalia, and just now with Sars. Both times I told Alberto that I was a faithful customer in fall 2004, and the first time he was absolutely delighted to hear that and told me how excited he was about the changes. (The second time, he apologized for not recognizing me. I’d never expect that!)

But it’s so disappointing now. The essence of Oil Shoppe, and any other cult food place, is that you don’t expect them to compromise; you get great food and you get it THEIR way. But now they’re conforming to the standards of what American college students want, and I think it’s much worse that way.

I’m never returning. My lunch of choice in Italy is pizza for less than 2 Euro now, anyway. It’s too bad. I just hope that Alberto doesn’t expand Oil Shoppe into a franchise, because he is the REASON why people go there.

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