Potbelly restaurants offer salads with a ballad

_Editor’s note: A previous version of this article named the manager of Potbelly as Brian Brown. His actual name is Brad Brown._

Potbelly Sandwich Works is most commonly known for their toasted sandwiches and the mini butter cookies on top of their milkshakes. The chain restaurant, open since 1977, has livened their customers with unique antiques, board games and sugar cookies. Potbelly almost always maintains their same charm and atmosphere in every location.

Potbelly is also one of the only restaurants on campus that offers good music as well as good food. Brad Brown, manager of Potbelly on Fifth and Green streets since July 2011, said the live music is important to maintain the Potbelly culture.

“I feel it creates a warm and welcoming environment,” Brown said. “It also gives people a chance to sing along with the musicians and have fun.”

Two of the Potbelly musicians are students at the University who aim to keep up with school along with this easygoing, unusual job.

Chris Liquin, junior in Business, has been a Potbelly musician since the beginning of his sophomore year. Liquin has been playing guitar for ten years and said the customers always enjoy hearing a song they can sing along to.

“I take a lot of requests, but working there you get a feel of what people like to hear,” Liquin said.

Although the Potbelly musicians are typically asked to play hits from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, Liquin mostly plays “solid singing songs” such as Jack Johnson and John Mayer. He also incorporates some of his own music.

“I play lots of styles, everything from classic rock to blues to popular music, just so that everyone hears what they like,” Liquin said.

Liquin also said playing music at Potbelly isn’t an average part-time student job: It is a way to get away from school and just focus on music.

“It is a great job for going to school,” Liquin said. “It’s nice to get away from school and studying and just play guitar.”

He also joked that he would consider continuing to play at Potbelly in a suit and tie during lunch breaks from the office after graduation.

Jack Ruggiero, junior in LAS, has only been playing at Potbelly for four weeks, and his music isn’t what a Potbelly customer would normally expect to hear.

After getting the job by sprinting eight blocks to Potbelly based on a tip from a friend, Ruggiero plays his music on Sundays to a calmer restaurant environment.

“There are a lot of older people on Sundays, unlike Saturdays when everyone is tailgating during the day,” Ruggiero said. “Sometimes I only end up playing for the employees. I’m sure they appreciate it.”

Ruggiero brings a keyboard and stand to his shift rather than the typical guitar, and, unlike Liquin, Ruggiero plays less contemporary music.

“I just want to add a little variety; I feel like everyone is so used to hearing a guitar,” Ruggiero said. “So I play music designed for piano like Elton John, Billy Joel and James Taylor.”

Potbelly musicians are required to play two-hour sets during their shift, and Ruggiero always adds a few new songs to the set, just to avoid boring others and himself.

“I always like to practice and learn new material,” Ruggiero said. “Having to keep adding new songs to the set keeps me from getting lazy and makes me practice more.”

Both Ruggiero and Liquin have had many memorable experiences while working for Potbelly. From getting a guitar case full of Halloween candy as a tip to a girl giving out her phone number, playing music at Potbelly is never boring.

“One of my favorite things to see is when people get really into my music,” Liquin said, “When little kids are dancing along, or when someone comes up to me and tells me I did a great job, it really means a lot.”

Although the job comes with a lot of great experiences, Ruggiero and Liquin agree that a downside is people being uninterested in their music.

“Of course it’s hard when no one applauds you after a song,” Ruggiero said. “A lot of the time I feel like background noise.”

Even though some customers don’t show their appreciation, they do notice. Rebecca Sconza, sophomore in LAS, said she really enjoys hearing the music, and sometimes it even sways her to eat at Potbelly.

“I just love the environment; it’s unlike any other place on campus, yet I feel comforted knowing there are so many Potbellys that all create the same culture,” Sconza said. “I like being able to hear someone talented sing and play their music.”