Why wait to post about this? It’s on my mind today.
Bassett’s Original Turkey may be the greatest tribute paid to the turkey since Ben Franklin wanted to name it our national bird.
City Paper did a story on the rise and fall of the franchise. They did one thing and they did it well: they roasted fresh turkey breasts, cut them down in front of you and made the most delicious sandwiches and salads with them that you’ve ever had.
They still do at the Reading Terminal Market, under the name “The Original Turkey” since Bassett sold the franchise to morons who promptly ran it into the ground.
As a side note, said morons have begun using the name and selling prepackaged, cold knock offs in rest stops along the PA Turnpike. Don’t be fooled. That’s just a turkey sandwich. It is not a Bassett’s Original Turkey sandwich.
Yes, it’s the same Bassett family famous for their outrageously rich in butterfat ice cream sold in the Philadelphia region. So much butterfat, in fact, that plastic spoons break off when you’re trying to eat (personal experience).
Click to read the whole city paper story on Bassett’s.
Meet the man behind Philly’s signature turkey sandwich.
by Carolyn Wyman
You might think this would be exactly the wrong time of year to be talking about Bassetts. That’s only if you think Bassetts just makes ice cream. This story is about the Bassett family’s other food business, the Original Turkey sandwich stands at Reading Terminal and Liberty Place, run by 44-year-old Roger Bassett.
The Bassetts Ice Cream company was launched by Roger’s great-great grandfather, Louis Dubois Bassett, in 1861. The Bassetts only started talking turkey in 1983. At the time Roger was operating a satellite to their main stand in Reading Terminal devoted to ice cream sundaes. Financially speaking, the side operation was kind of a turkey. One day Roger’s father, David Bassett, stopped by the market on a lunch break from his printing business looking for a turkey sandwich. Amazingly, there was none. “So,” Roger recalls, “I went to Godshall’s for some turkey meat, Edible Adventures for some bread and a produce stand for tomato and lettuce and made him a sandwich.” While enjoying the sandwich, David Bassett speculated that it could be the basis of a successful new Reading Terminal business. Roger thought his father had identified a viable niche. Within a week Roger was selling turkey sandwiches from a corner of the sundae stand; within the year Philadelphia Magazine declared the business namesake “original” the best turkey sandwich in all of Philly.
Roger credits the rest of the Original Turkey’s compact menu to customers. They suggested the Special (with Russian dressing and coleslaw) and the Stuffin’ Cranberry (his shops’ bestseller after the Original). Tortilla wraps were added about five years ago; hot grilled wraps like the Florentine (see left for recipe) even more recently. Boston Market-like hot turkey dinners were on the menu before Boston Market existed and now account for about 30 to 40 percent of sales.
About 20 other stands sell turkey in Reading Terminal Market; 10 of them also sell turkey sandwiches. But, “I’m the busiest. I’m not the cheapest but I’m the best,” clucks Roger, a friendly but serious and efficient sort who fields questions about his business in between consulting with his architect about “refreshing” the design of the Reading Terminal stand and several frantic cell phone conversations with his bread supplier about the unexpectedly larger size of the loaves delivered that morning.
He attributes his success to the quality and freshness of the turkey he roasts on the premises, and appropriately sized hearty artisan bread, now from LeBus Bakery. Quality and consistency are more important than price, especially when it comes to food, he says. He found that out about five years ago when he added a commercial turkey meat option to his menu and began charging a dollar more for sandwiches made from the much more labor-intensive hand-carved birds. “I expected hand-carved sales to drop but they actually increased to the point that the percentages flip-flopped: I went from selling 90 percent commercial product to 90 percent hand-carved. People want the best.”
Today all but the Original’s smoked turkey sandwiches are made from turkeys roasted in-store. Roger cooks almost 150 pounds of turkey breasts daily between his 22-year-old Reading Terminal and two-month-old Liberty Place stands. (The Bassett’s Original Turkey store at Locust and 15th streets and three at the airport are what’s left of a franchise operation Roger sold in 1995 along with the rights to the Bassett’s Original Turkey name. Those stores are now owned by the same New Jersey restaurant company that runs Glam nightclub.)
Original Turkey boosts mid-November sales by catering both turkeys ($59 for a 22- to 25-pound roast) and the complete holiday meal ($22.99 for meat and side dishes for three to four people). That’s fortunate considering that the biggest sales day of the year for the stand’s fellow Reading Terminal Market merchants—and indeed most U.S. retail businesses—is Roger Bassett’s worst. “The day after Thanksgiving is absolutely dead. Things don’t get back to normal for one and a half to two weeks,” he says.
The Original Turkey, Center Court, Reading Terminal Market, 12th and Filbert sts., 215-925-5598 and Food Court, Shops at Liberty Place, 16th and Market sts., 215-496-9925, http://www.theoriginalturkey.com.