Emma and Arnies Sandwiches

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Illinois SBDC at SIU Success Story: Emma and Arnie's Sandwiches

Website: www.emmaandarnies.com

Some people dream of becoming their own boss. For Maria Lass, that dream blossomed unexpectedly while working a shift at Arnie’s Sandwiches in October of 2019. Just 3 months later, and as new owner; Lass re-opened the shop as Emma & Arnie’s Sandwiches.  

Arnie’s has been a local staple in Carbondale for 47 years. It was located inside Arnold’s Market, but a decade ago the shop moved into its own space next door. That’s when Lass decided she would apply for a job.

“I wouldn’t take no for an answer. I was hired on as one of the main cashiers and eventually, I was promoted to a shift leader,” Lass said.

After working at Arnie’s for 4 years, she took some time off for the birth of her daughter Emma and moved out of the area. After a year and a half, Lass was back in Carbondale and back on the Arnie’s team.

In late October 2019, Lass’ boss, Sarah Kroenlein, pulled her aside during a shift to discuss taking over ownership. Kroenlein told Lass that she would like her to take the business over by the new year and Lass, still in shock, accepted.

“I’ve actually always kind of dreamt about owning this business, but I never thought it would happen. I love this place with all my heart, so it’s always been a dream of mine that I had never told anyone,” Lass said.

You can see Lass’s love for her community and customers by the way she runs her business. Through the transition of ownership, she has kept the comfortable feel of Arnie’s by maintaining their signature sandwiches, having a mini-library, and incorporating a play area for her daughter and other children. In addition, she chooses local suppliers as often as she can, getting most of her produce at Fresh Foods and her customer-favorite sprouts from Autumn Ridge Farms.

Although it was a dream come true, starting the journey of business ownership was no walk in the park and Lass was nervous about her lack of business-based knowledge. She asked for advice from friends who own other local businesses. They directed her to the resources and help available at the Illinois Small Business Development Center at SIU.  She set up a meeting with Greg Bouhl, director of entrepreneurship and business development at the center.

“Greg really had my back. He sat me down and reassured me that I had this and that I could do it. Then he took me through the process step-by-step,” said Lass.

The SBDC helped her with all the things needed to build a successful sandwich shop. They assisted her in deciding how to set up the business structure, creating a business plan, registering for a tax ID, finding a bookkeeper and learning how to apply for loans, which she was lucky enough to not need. In the future, she plans to consult the SBDC again to help her find resources to rebrand and grow Emma & Arnie’s Sandwiches.

Though she has help navigating the business side of the shop, she is still perfecting daily operations. Since Arnie’s was loved by so many in the community, the store has been consistently busy since re-opening. Her goal now is to hire more staff so she doesn’t have to be there every day and can spend more time with her daughter.

In the near future, Lass looks forward to moving her business onto the mobile ordering platform Chow Now, which links directly to her business's search results on Google. She hopes this will replace EatStreet and drive more online ordering traffic. She’s also making some menu additions, with new monthly specials featuring sandwiches from countries around the world. Finally, she hopes to hold a public grand opening this spring for the community to meet the new Emma & Arnie’s.

Emma & Arnie’s Sandwiches can be found on Facebook and Instagram. For more information, contact them at (618) 529-4300 or www.emmaandarnies.com. If you’re interested in working at Emma & Arnies Sandwiches, apply on their Facebook or visit their store, located at 2031 South Illinois Avenue, Carbondale IL.