Poor Boy Enterprises is a name based on the founder’s favorite childhood sandwich, the Po’ Boy. For some interesting history on this famous sandwich, read on.

The Story of the Po-Boy Sandwich

The world is full of all sorts of unique sandwiches, like the Reuben, with its heaping helpings of deli meat served with sauerkraut and Russian dressing on rye, to the Philly cheese steak, a mixture of chopped steak, cheese sauce and onions, to the panini, an iron-pressed hot sandwich. While there are some great sandwiches in the world, none are exactly like, or as good as, a good po’ boy!

What is a Po Boy Sandwich?

The po boy’s beginnings can be traced to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Louisiana. Now most sandwiches are partly notable for the type of bread they use and the po boy is no exception here. In the second half of the 1800s, it was common to serve fried oysters as a sandwich, using French baguettes. These baguettes picked up the nickname of “oyster loaf,” which is still used in modern parlance when describing a po boy sandwich that has been filled with fried oysters. There are two major bakeries that supply the bread specific to a proper po boy, Alois J. Binder and Leidenheimer Baking Company, and the competition between the two companies is well known.

  • In short, a po boy is a meat sandwich that traditionally contains roast beef, the leading protein until the ’70s, or some variety of fried seafood; almost anything caught swimming within the Gulf Coast is a potential option. Adding lettuce, mayonnaise, pickles, and slices of tomato to the sandwich results in a “dressed” po boy.
  • If the po boy does not use fried seafood, it will commonly be served with Creole mustard.
  • If a po boy contains fried shrimp and fried oysters, it is known as La M├ędiatrice; a “peacemaker.”
  • A “sloppy po” is a hot sandwich served with gravy, reminiscent of Chicago Italian beef. Folk wisdom regarding this version of the sandwich says that the beef is done when it falls apart with no effort; the cooking beef is then allowed to simmer for hours in order to absorb more of its juice and robust seasonings before finally being served on the baguette.

“What’s in a Name?”

The earliest mention of the term “po boy” in regard to food can be traced back to restaurateur brothers, Benny and Clovis Martin. Back in 1929, a strike against the streetcar company had reached its fourth month. The Martin’s, both of whom had previously worked as conductors for the streetcar company, did their part to help out by offering free sandwiches to the striking workers, whom they referred to as “poor boys.” Eventually, the sandwiches became prominent enough to gain the name by association, though it is worth reiterating that the sandwich is called a “po boy” due to the local dialect, one that forgoes pronouncing the R in words like “poor,” “door” and “floor.”

Controversy

There are a few bones of contention with the Martin origin for this sandwich’s name.

  • The sandwich does not appear in any sort of text, by proper name, until 1969.
  • The Martins occasionally claimed that they had invented the sandwich to cater to the blue-collar clientele, including farmers and longshoremen, at their French Market eatery.
  • While a newspaper entry from 1929 contains a letter written by the Martins, stating that they would do their part to keep the workers fed, no mention is made of the “po boy” sandwich, only a promise that the Martins would feed the workers “our meal.”

Cultural Significance

  • The po-boy has become such a specific meal to the state of Louisiana that the term “po-boy shop” arose. A po-boy shop is a casual eatery that offers Creole fare like boudin sausage, gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice, seafood and, of course, po-boy sandwiches.
  • There is an annual festival dedicated to this sandwich, known as the “Oak Street Po Boy Festival.” As a celebration of everything associated with this sandwich and where it hails from, the festival features a wide array of unique and special versions of the sandwich and also musical performances covering genres relevant to Louisiana.