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October 18, 2022
The Internet’s Retro Sandwich Sleuth Cannot Be Ignored

Meet Barry Enderwick, the guy bringing the Towncrier Tiffin and James Beard’s sweet onion on brioche straight to TikTok.

Were living in a world ravenous for fresh food content—the more glowing trays of butter board or Flamin’ Hot Cheetos chicken, the better—a viral Roman vomitorium of social media posts for the deep trough that is the internet. But after your fourth or fifth or twentieth scroll, all that beautiful food starts to look a little similar, square after square sautéed together like digital mirepoix. An endless scroll of all-you-care-to-eat empty calories. 

And yet, stuffed like a goose as we are from all this content, its still possible to be impressed every once in a while.

Barry Enderwick is a middle-aged guy who has made himself into one of the more unlikely—and extremely watchable—micro-stars of the food content omnishambles of todays social media. As a lover of food media, you have likely been served one or more of his accounts, the most popular being @sandwichesofhistory, with its nearly 300,000 TikTok followers and its 100,000 followers and counting on Instagram. 

In similarly themed videos posted on a daily basis, Enderwick re-creates sandwiches that have been lost in time—like the Cottage Cheese and Egg sandwich (1941), the Banana, Lettuce, and Anchovy sandwich (1924), and the Bran Sandwich (1936). He scours arcane sandwich texts (cookbooks, newspaper articles, and the depths of searchable culinary history), translating their coolness and weirdness for a large audience of sandwich lovers. The really good sandwiches and the really bad sandwiches are the ones that get people really excited,” he tells me, but you can see it for yourself on these accounts, with each post accompanied by hundreds and hundreds of comments, from friend tags to deeply personal memories to endless rows of response emojis ranging from fire to bacon to poop. 

Enderwick is 51 and lives in San Jose, California. He worked in marketing at Netflix during that brands formative decade, between 2001 and 2012, and has since gone on to be one of LinkedIn’s Top 10 Marketing and Social writers for 2015 and a Top Writer on Quora 2018,” per his Crunchbase profile (which is like an even more California version of LinkedIn). 

In any other moment, or any other social milieu, the Barry Enderwicks of the world would stay behind the camera, focusing on quantitative and qualitative consumer research, global expansion and international market exploration, A/B testing and optimization.” But we live in this moment, this milieu, where the hungriest sentient being in the room will always be the algorithm—which is how you wind up with a middle-aged marketing guy as a new food social media star. 

“I’ve got a number of theories as to why my content resonates with people,” says Enderwick, whose day job at a Silicon Valley productivity app called Boomerang includes analyzing marketing trends and audience behavior. “Some of it was timing and the algorithm. But something I did not want to do was create a persona or go that route.” And, indeed, there is something like an absence of schtick or artifice from @sandwichesofhistory: Enderwick does not dance or dress in costume, nor is he a trained food historian. He doesn’t even really mukbang, and the channel alternates between avowedly outré recipes—Peanut & Mayonnaise Sandwich (1909), Nasturtium Leaf Sandwich (1806)—and more commonly served fare like the French Dip or a nice Chicken Bacon. 

There is something disarmingly normcore, soothing even, about Enderwick’s approach, and it tickles the same part of my brain as watching The Great British Bake Off or an old, beloved rerun of Yan Can Cook. At its very best, food on film can elevate into a style that’s almost nondiscursive, existing outside the realm of language—I can watch Barry Enderwick on mute and still enjoy the show. His work feels effortless.

But almost nothing in life is actually effortless, and @sandwichesofhistory is not Barry Enderwick’s only food project on social media—he also runs accounts dedicated to esoteric potato chips (@inthechipswithbarry), obscure ice cream flavors (@barrysicecreamoclock), guileless home cooking efforts (@barryiscookingagain) and craft beer (@craftbeerbarry). Each one is fed with content at a regular clip, though none as often, nor as popular, as the account dedicated to weird sandwiches. 

Like most people working in or around social media, Enderwick is quick-snap fluent with his own numbers and share counts, rattling off with ease, say, the two million views his peanut butter and fried egg sandwich video did on TikTok, or sharing his relatively meteoric rise on Instagram, on which he has amassed a six-figure viewership in just a few short months. And he is intimately aware that his burgeoning media career is at the mercy of the centralized platforms upon which he publishes. “The TikTok algorithm is a fickle beast,” he admits, reflectively. “One of my last videos had just 5,000 views, and I’ve got 286,000 followers! Clearly, I’m not doing something right.” 

I ask Enderwick if he’s considered opportunities beyond the social media borg, and the answer is a resounding yes: He’s working with a production company in Los Angeles to pitch streaming networks, and he’s shopping a book proposal. He also sells merchandise from the official Sandwiches of History website and receives a small sum from the troubled TikTok creator fund (“Not enough to cover my sandwich expenses for the week,” he says). One of the most interesting things Enderwick does is what he calls “plussing up” a recipe, adding a dash of hot chile to a peanut butter and banana sandwich, for example, or looking for new applications to relatively safe recipes. And I like how he gives a sort of pocket history lesson for each sandwich he makes—mentioning, for example, the disputed authorship of James Beard’s iconic Onion Sandwich (1965), or exploring rural Midwestern PTA cookbook recipes.

These ideas feel bigger than the disposable 30-second food media scroll currently bleating and blaring from my iPhone and yours. There’s something more to it, beyond concept, and I don’t think it’s just the execution either. The books, music, films, and foods we find soothing end up being a reflection back upon ourselves, a kind of sociocultural alchemy of meaning and feeling. Barry Enderwick is an unlikely food media star, which is the best kind, but even he isn’t really sure why his content is so popular. 

“Relatively speaking, when you look at my approach versus most of the rest of social media, I stick out like a sore thumb,” he tells me sheepishly (an audience analyst perfectly willing to analyze himself). “In a weird way, I think that’s kind of why my stuff resonates. Sometimes you just want to watch a guy make a sandwich.”

Rabbit Hole is a column that digs deep into nodes of culinary inquiry, from the recipes and products that expand our home routines to the food culturalists and content creators that make us hungry and curious. Along the way, we’re exploring the ever golden gastronomic moment in the 21st century: never boring, always peckish.

Jordan Michelman

Jordan Michelman is a James Beard Award-winning journalist and author based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, T Magazine, Portland Monthly, Eater, Noble Rot, and Sprudge, the international coffee and wine publication he co-founded in 2009. His debut book, The New Rules of Coffee was released in 2018 with Ten Speed Press. jordanmichelman.com