Enjoy Every Sandwich

I am a huge Warren Zevon fan. Most people don’t know about him, but have likely heard his song “Werewolves of London” or at least heard it sampled by Kid Rock in his song about summer in Northern Michigan. Zevon wasn’t a great singer, but he was a brilliant lyricist. Funny, cynical, and sad, Zevon could say things in his music with poetic irony.

A few years ago, Zevon was diagnosed with terminal cancer. In one of his last interviews with David Letterman, Letterman asked Zevon, “Do you know something about life and death that maybe I don’t know?”  Zevon sighed and responded, “Not unless I know how much you’re suppose to enjoy every sandwich.”


That phrase has really stuck with me all these years later. Every time I eat a sandwich, I think about that. So, when I was coming up with team-building ideas for our University Relations retreat, it dawned on me: we should make a UREL sandwich.

The idea is based on how we approach creative projects. Everyone contributes ideas based on their own likes/dislikes, experiences, perceptions. You could say that any project is really an exercise in sandwich building.

I started off the retreat by announcing we were going to build a sandwich. People began contributing basic ingredient ideas like lettuce, bread, etc. I pushed them to get really specific—what kind of bread? Type of tomato? The reason for the specificity is that we don’t just make a brochure with a font. It has to be a font that expresses some kind of personality. That is why it was so important to really describe the ingredients, not just list them.

At the end of the exercise, here was the list of ingredients:

Romaine Lettuce
Gruyere Cheese
Heirloom Tomatoes
Pretzel Bread
Marzetti’s Dijon Honey Mustard
Sauteed Peppers and Onions
Banana Peppers
Fresh Basil

Let’s just say, not everyone was confident about how the sandwich was going to taste. Avocado with banana peppers? Sauteed peppers and onions? Seriously, we had our doubts.

But, that’s the point. When we come together creatively, we don’t love all the ideas that everyone has. We sometimes find ourselves tolerating an idea because it’s not something we believe in. But every now and then, something we set out being opposed to suddenly becomes the brilliant surprise in the end.

And that’s what happened with this sandwich.

Two weeks after the retreat, I brought in the ingredients. For a Michigan alumni connection, I got the Pretzel Bread from Zingerman’s. I bought locally grown peppers, onions, and heirloom tomatoes. Lindsay Dinsmore and Kim Doerr contributed fresh basil from their gardens. The cheese was organic from Whole Foods. I sauteed vegetables in my very special skillet bought with a Sur La Table gift card my staff gave me for Christmas. I wanted the sandwich to feel infused with purpose and meaning.

Alaina Wiens documented the sandwich building process in our kitchen here:

When I was done making an absolute mess in the kitchen, we took the sandwiches to the conference room for the ceremonial tasting. I told everyone that if we didn’t like it, we would keep trying to new things to get the sandwich perfect, just as we do with any of our projects.

Then we took a bite. We liked it. We liked it alot.

All of our seemingly disperate ingredients worked. When melded together into a sandwich, the varying flavors became harmonious. It was a success!

We do need to name our official sandwich. We’ll have to think about that one a bit. And I know I will be serving it again and again at our staff gatherings because we all liked it so much.

I invite you to try our sandwich and try building your own with your team. It is an exercise in discovery and the acceptance of choices that we ourselves wouldn’t likely make. It forces you to shift your perspective.

Enjoy our sandwich and truly enjoy every sandwich in your life.


Jen Hogan