I was strolling through the wide hallway in the lowest level of the First National Center when I saw a friend waving at me. He wanted to say hello, but he didn’t want to lose his place in line.
He was standing in a line that snakes from a small shop out into the hallway. Signs on the windows say “Scooter’s.” Why is he waiting in a long line for a cup of coffee? I thought.
“I’m waiting for a sandwich,” he said. “They’re good here.”
Here? I don’t see signs of a sandwich shop, I thought. But there is indeed a sandwich shop inside, sharing the space with Scooter’s.
It’s called Worker’s Take-Out, but you wouldn’t know that at first glance. Looking as much as I could, I didn’t see a sign. After walking inside and looking up, I finally spotted an overhead sign that lists sandwiches. On the top of the sign, there’s a small circle with “Worker’s Take-Out” written modestly inside.
The shop is a pleasant, cozy place where you can sit down and eat or take out. My friend’s time is limited. That day, like most, he had to get back to his job at Union Pacific. So he likes getting a sandwich to go. And he appreciates the prices.
Like my friend, most customers come from nearby businesses within walking distance. Worker’s Take-Out is on the lower level of the bank at 16th and Dodge streets. (Note that it is not the First National Tower, but the bank building on the north side of Dodge Street adjacent to the DoubleTree Hotel).
The idea for Worker’s Take-Out came to life about six years ago. Chris Machmuller was working at O’Leaver’s Pub on Saddle Creek when he noticed space opening up in a building next door.
He jumped at the chance to open a sandwich shop there in 2008. He named it Worker’s Take-Out. Many customers were blue-collar workers and nearby residents.
He saw his new shop filling some niches “that I thought were missing in the community.” Chicago-style hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches, Cuban pork sandwiches. “At the time, there weren’t a whole lot of places serving them.”
Two years later, he moved Worker’s Take-Out downtown to the present location in the lower level of the First National Center.
“I liked the idea of the Monday through Friday lunch-only sort of hours,” said Machmuller, remembering long hours at his first sandwich shop. “We had been open from 11 to 11 at our old location.”
Some customers from the previous location have found him, traveling from Midtown to Downtown, even though locating parking isn’t always easy. There is an adjacent parking garage.
He shares space with Scooter’s Coffee. Machmuller has what he describes as a “nice, comfortable partnership” with Scooter’s. His sandwich makers work side by side with the baristas.
The sandwich shop offers food made to order. “No one makes pressed sandwiches like we do,” claimed Machmuller. “We actually stay within the traditional Cuban-style pressed sandwich, which is done on flat grills, as opposed to panini style.”
What’s on the menu? For one, Chicago-style hot dogs including the Worker’s Dog on spinach with Texas caviar. Wait. Texas what?
“Texas caviar is a tongue-in-cheek misnomer,” Machmuller said. “Basically, it’s all vegetables.” Vegetarians find something to eat with items such as the Garden Favorite and Veggie Deluxe.
Do you like your sandwiches spicy? You can’t help noticing that jalapenos are inside the Buffalo turkey pressed sandwich. Each item has a loyal following. The Cuban pork roast, a classic recipe, is popular.
Some of the sandwiches were fashioned by friends of Machmuller. “The ‘Franco’ was created by a friend of mine named Frances,” said Machmuller, who recommends calling in an order ahead of time for faster service.
Machmuller is back to long hours. In 2012, the Council Bluffs native bought O’Leaver’s Pub, the bar where he first spotted that empty space next door.
One thing is missing at Worker’s Take-Out (besides a big sign). A fryer. For Machmuller, it’s a cleanliness issue. “Grease goes everywhere. I won’t pretend our food is the healthiest, but none of it is fried.”