Windsor·Pinto on Food

In a sea of Subways, Windsor sub shop SPYS stays afloat by never changing

Facing an intense craving for an old-school submarine sandwich, Jonathan Pinto pays a visit to SPYS, a shop at Howard Avenue and Tecumseh Road that has been keeping things pretty much the same since opening in 1993.

SPYS has been slinging old school submarine sandwiches since 1993

Loyal SPYS customer Elizabeth Lyttle's sandwich of choice is what she calls a 'BL-everything else' — bacon, lettuce and everything BUT tomatoes. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

People often ask me where I get my story ideas from.

Usually, it's by keeping my eyes peeled wandering around the region. Sometimes, it's a hot tip from our audience or a place getting a lot of buzz on social media. 

But then, every so often, a story is borne as a result of strong craving.

The other week, I found myself with a burning desire for a old-school submarine sandwich: cold cuts, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, onions and sub sauce — maybe with a touch of mayo on a long white bun. No toasting, grilling or fancy flavoured breads.

The extensive use of neon signs and MAD Magazine-inspired mascots is a good indication of SPYS' old-school pedigree. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

Finding that sandwich was more work that I expected it to be, with city streets seemingly dominated by a certain franchise shop with a New York City transit-based theme.

Those sandwiches are perfectly serviceable, but with their pre-sliced meats, plethora of bread options and high-tech toaster ovens, Subway just doesn't have the old-school sub I craved.

After a week of unfulfilled cravings, I was set to make my own sandwich when I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, the electric glow of neon emanating from the corner of Howard Avenue and Tecumseh Road.

Growing up in Peterborough, Ont., Ace Submarine, one of more popular old-school sub shops, had an iconic neon sign, so the two have always been linked in my mind. 

Sure enough, this neon was attached to a sub shop — offering exactly what I was looking for.

Mike Stratis is the owner of SPYS, a sub shop in Windsor. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

SPYS — which stands for "Subs, Pitas, Yogurt, Salads" was founded by Mike Stratis at the corner of Tecumseh Road and McDougall Street in 1993.

While it offers those other items, SPYS is, at its heart, an old-school sub shop, with fresh bread from a local bakery, a well-loved deli slicer, and amusingly-named menu items that play up the espionage theme.

I'll have an assorted secret, please. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

At one point, SPYS had seven locations spread across the city. However, a combination of multiplying chain restaurants, September 11th and the 2008 economic downturn caused all but the location at Howard Avenue and Tecumseh Road to shutter for good.

Business is brisk at the sole survivor. While many restaurants try to stay relevant by constantly offering new menu items or fancy cooking technology, SPYS thrives on never changing, doing things the same way they did 25 years ago.

You can even order subs for your office by fax.

You can order up to six subs at once with SPYS' faxable menu. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

To learn more about SPYS, tap on the audio player below.

SPYS is located at 475 Tecumseh Rd. E. They're open Mon. to Sat. until 10 p.m. — and because they're old-school — closed Sunday.

Sandwiches are made on signature 14-inch buns, made exclusively for SPYS by a local bakery. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

Jonathan Pinto is CBC Windsor's "food dude." Know of a place you think he'd enjoy? Have a craving for a food you haven't been able to track down? Send him an email: jonathan.pinto@cbc.ca — and be sure to follow his adventures on Instagram.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jonathan Pinto is the host of Up North, CBC Radio One's regional afternoon show for Northern Ontario and is based in Sudbury. He was formerly a reporter/editor and an associate producer at CBC Windsor. Email jonathan.pinto@cbc.ca.

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