Marolt: Have it their way at Johnny McGuire’s Deli |

Marolt: Have it their way at Johnny McGuire’s Deli

They, too, embraced the mayonnaise. A slathering of the white goo has become automatic on nearly every commercially produced sandwich — oftentimes on both slices of the bread — five-star dining boutique or fast-food joint, whether you want it or not. Johnny McGuire’s Deli was no exception. The customer is always right, as long as they don’t ask for it on the side. I bet that every other time I went in and ordered a sandwich at Johnny’s and plainly asked for my sandwich without mayo, it came with mayo.

Beside the point I’m trying to make is wondering why this bologna-with-your-mayo trend is happening. When you order a salad, doesn’t every single restaurant in America ask what kind of dressing you want on it? Choices. We like choices! Why can’t they do the same thing with sandwiches? How popular would salads be if every single one of them automatically came drowned in Thousand Island?

My mouth would water when I ordered one of Johnny’s potentially great sandwiches. If you have ever been there, you know that it is more probable to look an owl straight into both of its eyes at high noon and get a head nod back than it is to make eye contact with anyone working at Johnny’s, but I’d make dang sure to do it after they botched my first order. I wouldn’t hand over my cash until I stared deep into the soul of the person working the register and got a promise that my sandwich would not have mayo on it.

Even still, I can’t count the times I opened up my bag and unwrapped my sandwich at the park, back at the office or halfway up Independence Pass in my car to find my doggone meat doing the survival float in that vile concoction of beaten and broken egg whites, vinegar, oil and salt.

The first few times it happened, I took it back and had them redo it while I watched, enraged at the inconvenience. You think they cared? Not noticeably more than a turtle would if you said it was slow; never apologetic, never appeasing.

It was so common to get what I didn’t want there that the shock was replaced by awe — how is it possible that they can screw it up this often? I began ordering there knowing that roughly half … OK, honestly, probably about one-third of the time I would be going hungry for the next few hours after unwrapping the sandwich and later having to supplement with ice cream. Gone completely was any energy necessary to expend taking it back to be fixed or demanding a refund.

But, here’s the thing about Johnny’s — I kept going back. Even during the brief time shortly after Facebook was discovered when the persistent rumor was that a high school kid or two picked up intestinal parasites after consuming Johnny’s product, I kept going back. Personally, and feel free to call it a phobia, I find mayonnaise more disgusting that a living, breathing, albeit primitively developed (but a survivor nonetheless) microscopic organism. I’ll take a case of Johnnyrhea over a jar of mayo anytime.

I like Johnny’s and I’m not sure why. The sandwiches are really great, when you get a good one the way you ordered it, but that hasn’t happened enough in my case to be the reason I will miss it. It’s not the friendly atmosphere, because there isn’t one. It’s not the meticulous housekeeping, because there isn’t any. What is it, then?

There is their guy who delivers the sandwiches around town, riding wheelies through intersections while slapping five with pedestrians. He’s cool, friendly and has been around for a long time doing it his way. Maybe we’re getting somewhere now. Johnny’s has been around this town doing their thing and not much caring what anybody thinks about how they’re doing it. That’s not only unique, it’s what we hate to love but crave in modern Aspen. In a town where subtle pressure is on all of us and everything to be professionally presented all the time, Johnny’s was content to be what it was — pretty much just one step ahead of the health inspector. Everybody wants to be that relaxed. If we don’t have the confidence to pull it off ourselves, at least we can do it vicariously for 10 minutes while we witness the imperfect creation of lunch.

When feeling ugly in this population of perpetually pretty people, you felt more beautiful with every step closer to Johnny’s. That’s the best eulogy I’ve got for an iconic Aspen fast-food joint.

Roger Marolt laments that Burger King is not gone, but Johnny’s will soon be forgotten. Email at

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