Combining a passion for his work with a wealth of experience and the ability to promptly meet customer needs are the key ingredients that have made Andy Rockwell’s business, Ancient City Subs, Mandarin’s top sandwich shop.*
Ancient City Subs is conveniently located in the San Jose Plaza near Radio Shack and Bonefish Grill on San Jose Boulevard.** They serve a wide array of sandwiches featuring gourmet fare at non-gourmet prices and a like amount of salads, many of which are original recipes of Rockwell’s wife, Rhonna.
“We do things differently here,” Rockwell said. “We’re good, we’re unique and we’re not your run-of-the-mill sub shop. We do it better, cleaner and friendlier than the others.”
One of the reasons for the company’s success is the Rockwell’s insistence that the sub shop be noticeably different from its corporate competitors.
As the Ancient City Subs project moved from infancy, Andy kept to his desire to make his restaurant unique. One idea was to offer items with a more Florida twist than one might find at a commercial sub shop.
Ancient City Subs uses Datil peppers, cultivated in St. Augustine, and offers a spicy Minorcan pork sandwich, named for immigrants from the island of Minorca who settled in New Smyrna in the 1700s. Another one of the Ancient City Subs specialties is the Cuban sandwich.
The Cuban, which many customers believe to be not only the best in Jacksonville, but the best this side of Miami, is among the biggest sellers on the menu along with the Italian sub and one of Rhonna’s originals, chicken salad on a toasted croissant.
“The Cuban sandwich is part of Florida,” Rockwell said. “My grandmother was Cuban and I remember very well us having the sandwich during the holidays when I was a kid.”
Rockwell’s ownership of Ancient City Subs has been years in the making.
His career in food began when he was attending Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville and became a pizza delivery boy. Rockwell then went from dishwasher to manager of a pizza chain; and later spent 11 years at a sub shop chain where he eventually became the area manager. He honed his skills further as the owner of another Jacksonville sub shop where he and business partner John Hess decided to go independent.
Hess remains a silent partner of the business, leaving Andy and Rhonna to attend to customers.
“This is as family business as it gets,” he said. “I’m pop and she’s mom.”
The customers are the beneficiaries of the setup. While there is a lengthy menu of subs, salads and croissants from which to choose, the Rockwell’s are more than happy to accommodate special requests. They also have the ability to add to the menu at any time.
“Our menu is a guide,” he said. “Ultimately you, the customer, are the boss. What we have done is come up with things we would eat, but being independent, we can add new items on a whim.”
Also unique to the business is its name, something that popped into Rockwell’s mind during a discussion.
“As the project went along we kept saying ‘the new sub shop’ and I wanted to quit calling it that,” Rockwell said. “One day I said ‘let’s just call it ‘Ancient City Subs.’ It’s as simple as that…”
The name stuck. And, it made perfect sense to the St. Augustine native.
“We did some brainstorming but couldn’t think of anything better,” he said. “The name was born out of sheer boredom and monotony.”