Gabriel’s Submarine Sandwich Shop celebrates 60 years in College Park

“Some foods are so comforting, so nourishing of body and soul, that to eat them is to be home again after a long journey.” — Eli Brown, “Cinnamon and Gunpowder: A Novel,” 2013

On January 29, 1958, a turquoise blue stucco storefront swung open its doors on Edgewater Drive, and Orlando’s very first submarine sandwich shop was launched. The first day, Doris and Paul Gabriel’s shop brought in a total of $8.57 at 50 cents a sandwich and 10 cents for coffee.

One submarine at a time and three generations later, happy, loyal customers still fill their shop. Celebrating a 60th anniversary in a family restaurant is remarkable. Serving the same families — many five generations deep — on the same drive, is legendary. And Gabriel’s is still very much a family affair; from founders Paul and Doris to their son Kevin and his wife (and high school sweetheart) Delaine and now to grandson Kyle, a Gabriel has always been in charge of the shop College Park equates with home and comfort food.

Delaine and Kevin in the1972 Edgewater High School yearbook ad.

Growing up, Tuesday was my father’s night at The University Club downtown. What that meant at the Bryan house was Gabriel’s for supper. The familiar flavor of a Gabriel’s sub can still evoke literally a lifetime of memories:

Memories that take me back to the original store with the screened door that squeaked and no air conditioning — just fans and that oh so familiar aroma. Memories of hanging out at Gabriel’s after cheerleading practice at Edgewater, knowing all the football and baseball players would be there before games with Kevin Gabriel, one of Edgewater’s star athletes. And even memories of daringly sneaking off campus to get a sub for lunch. Memories of the Tuesdays of my childhood and youth.

After I went away to college, often my first stop upon returning home and my last meal before I headed back to Gainesville were Gabriel’s subs. When I had my babies at Florida Hospital, where “maritime patties” of the day were a mystery, my daily request was for someone to please bring me a Gabriel’s sub. And whenever there was a picnic to pack, a field trip for the kids, a road trip to make, or just a good old hankering, it was likely to involve a regular, regular on white with extra pickles and banana peppers.

My guess is it’s the one sandwich I’ve eaten at least a thousand times.

I’ve always suspected there was a secret involved in a Gabriel’s sub, and sure enough, there is. It’s in the bread. Baked fresh daily, using the original 1958 recipe from Zeidwerg Famous Bakery in New York, it’s amazingly gratifying to bite into the soft roll of a Gabriel’s sub. And it creates in you a desire for another. And another.

If there is any food that can create a hankering, it’s a Gabriel’s sub.

It must’ve been some kind of hankering for a Gabriel’s sub that led Roger Phillips to craft a letter from Vietnam to Paul and Doris in 1968. He began by telling them of his work on the landing ship tank USS Tom Green County. As the executive officer, he coordinated efforts between the Army and the Navy, and he wrote how important he felt his work was to the war effort. He even mentioned the traditionally good Navy “chow” and that he had bragged to the other officers about Gabriel’s fabulous submarine sandwiches back home.

Phillips had also wondered: Was there any way Paul and Doris Gabriel could ship a dozen regular subs to Vietnam to share with his wardroom? Phillips was so sure his praise of the famous Gabriel’s sub would be affirmed once his officers tasted it, he expected from that moment on they would never dispute the word of their commanding officer.

Answering the challenge, Paul and Doris wrapped a dozen double regulars, packed them in dry ice, and shipped them to Phillips’ ship in the Mekong Delta.

So smitten were the officers with Gabriel’s subs, Phillips’ thank-you telegram reported they now vowed to request Naval Training Center Orlando for their next duty station.

Now that’s a hankering!

In December, I had lunch with my junior high school boyfriend. We met at Gabriel’s. We’ve been meeting like this for more than 45 years, and it’s always fun to catch up. (And honestly, he’s always turning on the charm.) My greeting usually starts with his very loud introduction to all in the shop that I was his girlfriend way back in ninth grade.

Thanks, Kevin Gabriel. You can still make me blush like a fourteen-year-old school girl.

Please, don’t tell him, but I’d come back to Gabriel’s just for the sub alone.


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Leave your opinion here. Please be nice. Your Email address will be kept private.