10-20 Sandwich Champs

Jamie Mudgett, left, and Sam Harkins, who both work at the deli at EM Heath Supermarket, show off their "New England Bounty" sandwich, which won a competition open to all AG New England-affiliated supermarkets. (Adam Drapcho/The Laconia Daily Sun photo)

CENTER HARBOR — What do you get if you combine bread, cranberries, greens, apples, chicken, cheese and a smear of maple aioli? For EM Heath Supermarket, the result is a first-place finish in a sandwich competition.

The sandwich was created by Jamie Mudgett, deli manager, and head deli clerk Sam Harkins, as their entry into a contest offered by the purveyor New England Traditions and open to all supermarkets associated with AG New England.

The challenge of the competition was to use as many products from the New England Traditions brand as possible. Harkins and Mudgett not only did that, they also created a sandwich that is tasty, and pays homage to New England states.

Mudgett has worked at EM Heath for seven years. Harkins is newer to the supermarket, but previously worked behind the deli counter at another supermarket. They leveraged their combined experience to concoct their winning sandwich, which they named “New England Bounty.”

The key to a good sandwich is attention to all of the details, and the team of Harkins and Mudgett spent time considering every element. That includes the bread, and for New England Bounty, they went with a ciabatta-like Cuban roll. They made a maple aioli to spread on the bread, and in between they stacked spring mix greens, dried cranberries, roasted chicken, American cheese and, because they discolor slower than other varieties, pink lady apples.

It took a while to arrive at that award-winning recipe. Harkins and Mudgett went through various iterations and pressed their co-workers into taste-testing duty. (Under the category of "good work if you can get it.") For example, they were making the sandwich at one point with a maple vinaigrette rather than an aioli. All that effort paid off last week when the award certificate, with their names printed on it, arrived.

It had been about two months since they submitted their entry, and Mudgett said they were “very hopeful” about their chances.

“We got a lot of positive reviews around the store, we were pretty confident,” Harkins said. It wasn’t just co-workers who gave the sandwich a thumbs-up. The sandwich has been popular among the paying customers as well.

They knew New England Bounty was a hit but, added Mudgett, “It’s kind of cool to see our names on the certificate.” They also get to split $300 in prize money.

A difficult year

John Cohen, manager of EM Heath, said that 2020 has been a challenging year to be in the grocery business. Shoppers are tense over fears about the coronavirus, there are new social distancing rules to enforce, and supply chains have been disrupted. The store has also been short of staff all year, as some of their older workers have decided to stay home.

The store has had to cancel some of its usual events, such as a big lobster sale they have each year, for fear of attracting crowds. This is also the store’s 75th anniversary, but plans to celebrate that milestone were scrapped.

Then there were other concerns about how the store might fare economically.

“In the beginning, deli sales were a little iffy,” Cohen said, because shoppers were nervous about eating food that was handled by another person. Those nerves calmed eventually, and New England Bounty has been among the prepared foods that shoppers have ordered from the deli clerks or grabbed from the pre-made case.

“That that sandwich is selling means people are putting their trust in us,” Cohen said.

The competition win, coming during a difficult year, has been a “morale boost,” Cohen said, noting that just about every employee had a hand in guiding the development of the recipe.

“That was really exciting for our store to win,” Cohen said. “They put a lot of work into it.”

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