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Sandwich Board Still Going Strong After 40 Years

Talking turkey with the East End sandwich shop owner

If you’ve ever had one of Sandwich Board owner Mike Lee’s amazing sandwiches, it won’t surprise you to learn that he has loyal customers from all over the state. “Some of them head over here as soon as they land at the airport,” he said.

Alameda Post - the outside of Sandwich Board, a small one story brick deli building
An Alameda favorite, the Sandwich Board has been located at 2412 Webb Avenue for decades. Photo Adam Gillitt.

They just can’t resist that fresh roasted turkey—or its tempting aroma that wafts out of the kitchen of the tiny brick building at 2412 Webb Avenue (near the corner of Park Street). Lee, whose family has owned the business since July 1983, says the shop roasts six 30- to 35-pound turkeys every day, six days a week. And those sandwiches are simply the best—just ask Yelp reviewers.

“Do you want the deliciousness of leftover Thanksgiving food without having to fight your Uncle Joey for the turkey leg?” wrote Diana S. from Oakland. “Sandwich Board can make your turkey sandwich dreams come true.”



Erik D. of Los Angeles agrees. “Some of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had,” he added, calling the Sandwich Board “a must-stop if you ever make it to the tiny island of Alameda.”

Island locals feel the same way. “There is no reason to go anywhere else for a turkey sandwich,” posted Alameda resident Eileen P. “Not fancy, nowhere to sit, but the only place to go.” So do food critics at KQED who recently praised the Sandwich Board  (at 45:30) during a recent local sandwich roundup.

Alameda Post - A photo of a young Mike Lee carving a turkey
A photograph on the wall shows Young Lee carving a turkey over 35 years ago. Photo Adam Gillitt.

And though the Sandwich Board menu certainly offers a variety of sandwiches—their vegetarian options are delicious and huge, by the way—it’s the roasted turkey combos that have made people rave for 40 years. So how did that come about?

Mike Lee was just a kid when his parents, Young and Susan Lee, immigrated to the United States from South Korea in 1976 and settled in San Francisco.

“My mom and dad were both high school teachers,” Mike said. “My dad was a PE teacher, and my mom was a music teacher. For seven years, my mom worked as a teacher’s aide in the San Francisco Unified School District.” Then, in 1983, they decided to look for a business to purchase. The Sandwich Board was up for sale, so they bought it and started a new chapter as Alameda business owners.

The business originally was owned and operated by Bob and Brenda Dutton, who also owned Harbor Lights Restaurant here in Alameda. The Duttons specialized in fresh roasted turkey sandwiches, and passed that along to the Lee family. The Lees had no experience in running a sandwich shop, so for the first few months the Duttons trained the Lees, who kept the same menu. “We kept everything the same, but we upgraded a little bit,” Mike said of the popular turkey sandwiches. “We started adding avocados and sometimes cranberry sauce. A lot of people liked it.”

Alameda Post - the inside of Sandwich Board with a counter to order and pay at
The dedicated staff work hard every day, serving sandwiches to hungry Alamedans. Photo Adam Gillitt.

At the time, Mike was still in high school in San Francisco, so he didn’t work at the shop. After he got his diploma, he studied at Cal State East Bay, which was Cal State Hayward back then, he noted. “I graduated in International Business, and then worked in the Silicon Valley, mostly in semiconductors,” he said. He continued with that for several years, until he got a life-changing phone call from his mom in 2003.

“She said, ‘Hey, we’re getting older, we want to retire. So can you take over?’” Mike recalled. “I thought about it, then said, yeah, OK, why not?” That was 20 years ago. “At first I didn’t know anything,” he said, “so I was just training and then I finally took over.”

Mike’s dad, Young Lee, passed away in 2018, and his mom, Susan Lee, passed away in 2020. “We miss them,” he said.

Then, in 2021, Mike faced a new challenge when the Sandwich Board was among a number of small Park Street businesses—and dozens of others across the bay—named in American with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuits by a Southern California man who had never even been a customer. The man had filed more than 700 similar lawsuits, most of them in 2020, according to a CBS News report.

“First of all, I was shocked,” Mike told CBS. “We never saw the plaintiff come into my business.”  Most of the businesses chose to settle rather than face an expensive legal battle, but Mike fought back, as did Mark Rogers, owner of Lola’s Chicken Shack. Mike voiced his reason for disputing the charges: “Because it’s not fair,” he told CBS. “We’ve been in business for almost 40 years and never had a complaint. So we are not going to settle.”

Both businesses made minor changes to ensure ADA compliance. The Sandwich Board added a small folding table in front of the counter for taking payments and removed a table and two chairs in front of the shop. The lawsuit was subsequently dismissed.

Alameda Post - Mike Lee
Owner Mike Lee is the second-generation owner of the Sandwich Board. Photo Adam Gillitt.

The good guys won. And through it all, Mike continued to focus on what matters most to him—taking good care of his customers. He truly appreciates his “regulars” and takes pride in knowing what they want even before they order.

“I would say at least 50% to 60% are regulars, so I know their names,” he said. “I know their orders, so they don’t need to say anything when they come in. I just say, ‘Hey, John, same thing?’” Stand in line for a minute or two and you’ll see that happen more than once.

And it’s not just customers who are loyal to the Sandwich Board. His employees tend to feel the same way. Some of them took the opportunity to post comments online about what it’s like to work there. “Staff is friendly, as well as customers, almost a family-like feeling,” a sandwich preparer wrote on Indeed.com.

After we ended our interview, Mike offered to make me a special vegetarian sandwich on one of their heavenly Dutch crunch rolls. I accepted, of course, and asked him if there was anything further he’d like to add about himself or the business.

“The only thing I can think of is that I’m an honest businessman,” he said. “I don’t cheat. And even though sometimes a customer may be difficult, I always try to make them happy.”

Liz Barrett is the Copy Editor of the Alameda Post and writes about our community. Contact her via [email protected]. Her writing is collected at AlamedaPost.com/Liz-Barrett.

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