Shane Giger had to get a special permit to work at The Sandwich Shop in Collinsville in 1988 because he was only 13.
He washed dishes and worked his way up to cooking. Owners Judy and Gene Johnson took him under their wing as if he were family. They even helped him buy his first car.
Little did Shane know he would be reopening the landmark restaurant 31 years later.
“It’s definitely going to be different for me,” said Shane, 44, of Maryville, who has spent most of his career in the nightclub and D.J. business. “But I think I can take it to a place that will make Judy proud.”
The Sandwich Shop closed last year, when Judy retired after 44 years in business.
The historic storefront at 216 W. Main St. sat empty for more than a year. Now word is spreading that it will again become a local gathering spot for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Shane hopes to open on Oct. 2 or soon after.
“We are so excited,” said Stacy Kneedler, 47, hair stylist and owner of Parkside Salon across the street. “We want The Sandwich Shop back. It’s been dead since the old one closed. It changed the whole downtown Collinsville vibe in the morning.”
Jerry Dallape, 72, owner of Dean’s Liquor on Main Street, expressed similar sentiments.
“I’m glad to see it open,” he said. “It’s good to have neighbors, and I wish them all the luck in the world because I need someplace to eat breakfast.”
Theme will be ‘50s diner
Shane has vowed to stick with Judy’s way of doing business for the most part. She has given him her recipes and advised him on other matters, big and small.
The restaurant’s name is changing slightly. It will be called “The Sandwich Shop Diner,” indicating that it will serve more than just sandwiches.
Shane has hired former longtime employees, including servers Shelly Howell and Diane Keeling and prep cook Debbie Luckett.
“I’m so excited,” said Debbie, 60, of Fairview Heights, who was part of the crew from 1999 to 2017. “It’s like coming home. This was like a big family. It was fun. It wasn’t like coming to work.”
The new head cook will be Jimmy “Ogre” White.
Shane kept the classic bright-orange counter with stools; the orange booths, wood trim, paneling, wainscoting and shake shingles over the serving windows. But he spruced up the interior with new floors, light fixtures and signs.
The Sandwich Shop Diner will be patterned off 1950s diners with guitars and memorabilia hanging on walls.
“You’re going to hear ‘50s music non-stop,” Shane said. “You’re going to hear Elvis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Otis Redding. ... That’s the D.J. in me.”
Crissy Scharringhausen, office manager for Collinsville Chamber of Commerce, called news of restaurant’s opening “positive for the community.”
“I’ve worked here for a year,” she said. “And you wouldn’t believe how many people have asked, ‘What’s going to happen to The Sandwich Shop? Has anybody bought The Sandwich Shop? Is The Sandwich Shop going to reopen?’ They miss it.”
Restaurant opened in 1974
The Sandwich Shop originally opened in 1974, when Judy and then-husband Gene, now deceased, bought the building and replaced a shoe store with a restaurant.
They served a full breakfast, sandwiches, burgers and home-cooked specials.
“You couldn’t get better clientele,” Judy told the News-Democrat in 2016, when she first announced her retirement plans. “My customers are just the greatest.”
Shane worked at The Sandwich Shop from 1988 to 1993, but he also helped the Johnsons with snack bars they operated at Camelot Bowl and Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site.
Judy tried to sell the business for two years before closing in 2018.
“I drove up and down this street, and I thought, ‘I’m going to beat myself up if somebody else buys it when I know I could do something with it,’” Shane said. “... I’ve always had a love for this place.”
Shane will bring back the old menu and add a few new items, including a pizza burger and grilled Elvis sandwich with peanut butter, banana and mayo.
The 63-seat restaurant will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and closed Sundays.
Children will eat free on the second Friday of each month, and all meals will be half price for first responders. Plans also call for karaoke, trivia and balloon sculptors on some nights.
“We’re just going to make it a fun place,” Shane said.