SJ Boney: The Patron Saint of Sandwiches

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SEARCH NO MORE ‘I’ve gone to many sandwich shops,’ Boney says. ‘And you’re always looking for that amazing sandwich—and it’s not easy to find.’

“I grew up in a sandwich household,” Chef Saint James Boney says. Part of Boney’s family folklore originates on the night his parents first ate dinner together. His father cut off pieces from a roast and then spread mayo on two slices of bread to make a sandwich. The story may account for the fact that Boney’s wanted to open up a sandwich shop since he was a teenager. Last month, he realized that dream when he opened the eponymously named The Saint Sandwich Shop and Eatery. Directly across the street from The Food Mill, Boney’s shop is one more positive addition to a formerly forlorn stretch of Macarthur Boulevard.    

“I’ve gone to many sandwich shops,” Boney says. “And you’re always looking for that amazing sandwich—and it’s not easy to find.” His menu has several sandwiches to choose from; they are also available, breadless, as salads. I tried the Bay and the Bird. The Bay combines roast beef and turkey with cheddar cheese and tomatoes on a sesame roll. That particular roll was specially made for The Saint by the local bakery Acme Bread.

“They have a regular hoagie roll that I tried,” Boney says. But he asked Acme if it was possible to add sesame seeds to it. They agreed to start making the roll that way for The Saint’s business.

“I like condiments,” the chef says. “I like mayonnaise. I like a little bit of tanginess. When tomato mixes with mayonnaise, the combination creates a different flavor.” Boney’s also clear about his architectural approach to slicing deli meat in thin slices, and about what doesn’t work in a sandwich.

“For some weird reason, I get a lot of sandwiches that are thick, just stacked,” he says. “Everything looks flat inside. I like it to be a little bit more textural and thin, almost like a shaved sandwich.” With both sandwiches, I could distinguish the many layers visually, and also taste the various ingredients. As a turkey sandwich aficionado, I’ve adopted a puritanical approach to how they should be served. So it was a pleasant surprise to discover that the roast beef on the Bay acted as a complex counterpoint, rather than a distraction, to the milder slices of turkey breast.

Boney’s from Naples, Florida, but the interior of The Saint is painted dark, like a shop in the French Quarter of New Orleans. There are three or four tables inside, but most of the customers wait for to-go sandwiches at a countertop with stools, or on the bench outside. I was intrigued by the contents of a tall cooler next to the register, and saw containers of homemade potato salad—two kinds—and coleslaw, along with a tiramisu dessert bursting at the seams.

Those who have read advance reviews about The Saint will know about Boney’s banana cream pie with an Oreo cookie crust. At this point, I’ve only heard about it. Boney offers weekly sandwich specials and changes up the dessert menu, but people are already asking for the return of that banana cream pie. He’s also just started to make cookies, too.

“We just have the convection oven, so there’s really not a lot of space,” Boney says. He’ll make a couple dozen cookies in the morning and that’ll be it for the day. “I’m always looking around and trying to make more room and be more efficient.” The chef, who just turned 44, worked in the restaurant industry his whole life—though his most recent job, as a corporate sales consultant, kept him out of the kitchen for six years. Regarding running a restaurant, he says it’s “totally different when it’s your baby.”

This career change took place during the pandemic. Boney asked himself the essential, existential question: What do I want to do with the rest of my life? The answer pushed him to open The Saint. “If it fails, at least I tried,” he says. “I talked about it with all my friends, and it just seemed like the right time.”

The Saint, open Tuesday to Saturday 11am to 3pm, 3016 Macarthur Blvd., Oakland. 510.479.3554. www.thesaintsandwichshop.com