Sandwich Stand May Soon Be Forced To Close

UPDATED: May 11, 2012, at 4:28 a.m.

A sandwich stand on Harvard Medical School property that has long been beloved by the Longwood Medical Area community has been threatened with closure if it does not make improvements to meet city codes.

During a routine check in March, Boston inspectors flagged Sami’s Wrap and Roll, a sandwich shop that has done business on Medical School property for 33 years. The City of Boston determined that since the stand is not on wheels, it does not qualify as a portable establishment like a food truck and is instead subject to the codes for permanent structures—meaning it would need plumbing to legally stay open.

“When you have a permanent structure, you must comply with different regulations,” said Lisa M. Timberlake, a spokesperson for Boston Inspectional Services.

Sami’s currently pays rent to Harvard, and Harvard pays the stand’s electricity costs. The University will not install plumbing at Sami’s, according to Richard M. Shea, the associate dean for physical planning and facilities for the Medical School.

The small business was initially given until Friday to stay open unless it made changes but was granted a 30-day extension on Thursday after G. Sami Saba, who owns the stand with his wife Amy, went to City Hall to seek a reprieve.

Sami’s is a popular lunch stop for Medical School students and for employees of the many Harvard-affiliated medical institutions in the area.

Stacey M. Brown, a project manager at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, gets her daily coffee from Amy Saba at Sami’s.

“Amy knew my name and exactly what I was going to order,” Brown said. “Wherever I go to get my coffee, it’s not going to be the same.”

Sami G. Saba, the owners’ son, said that he expects the stand will be forced to close if the city does not grant it a permit even without plumbing.

“This location is my parents’ only source of income,” the younger Sami said. “If they lose this, pretty much they’re going to lose the house.”

The Saba family started a petition online to muster support for the business. As of Thursday night, 221 people had signed.

Calling the potential closure of Sami’s “a terrible shame” and asking the city and Harvard not to “rob future generations of HMS students of the tradition of delicious, convenient Sami’s,” dozens of commenters spoke of the importance of the Sabas and their food to the Longwood Medical Area community.

One signer wrote, “This place is an icon. We, as residents, have to save this institution. It has kept many folks visiting loved ones in the hospitals well fed for years. Food being comfort, this place has been a rock for some.”

Another contributed, “We need Sami’s! Sami’s staff is the nicest, the food is wonderful, the cart looks nice where it is and it makes so many people happy. It is a major part of the Longwood community. Don’t ruin tradition.”

The Saba family wrote in the petition that they hope to buy a food truck and obtain a license to park on any public property. The petition includes a link to donate via PayPal to help the family purchase a truck.

The younger Sami said he was disappointed that Harvard has not made an effort to help the stand survive.

Shea, the Medical School administrator, said that he would consider approving an appropriately sized truck if the Sabas obtain one.

Speaking of the truck’s long residency at the Medical School, Shea said he would like to see it remain. “It works for us and has worked for us for a long time,” he said.

—Staff writer Maya S. Jonas-Silver can be reached at mayajonas-silver@college.harvard.edu.

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