RU Hungry: Bite into history fatter than these famous sandwiches
If you attend Rutgers, chances are you have heard of the “fat sandwich.” These calorie-laden meals have sustained thousands of college students through late-night study sessions and cash-strapped weekends.
Some students still remember their first sandwich. Matt Cerisano, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said he came to visit his older brother when he first came across one.
“The first time I had it, all my brother’s friends were drunk. I didn’t really understand why they wanted one, but I went with it,” Cerisano said. “I had never seen something like it ever in my life, and I had it, and it was disgustingly delicious.”
While it is popular in the Rutgers community, the sandwiches are often viewed as a meal meant specifically for drunk or late-night visitors.
Connor Forde, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences senior, said the trucks remind him of “being drunk with friends," hanging out, having a good time and making conversation with people.
Healthier alternatives are now served at most locations on campus, but the fat sandwich continues to be the food of choice for many Rutgers students. The Office of Major Events and Programs at Rutgers still lists “Eat a Fat Sandwich” at the top of its "RUcketlist," according to its website.
Luis Pimentel, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, said he appreciates the tradition that is built around the sandwiches. His favorite sandwich is the Fat Beach.
“I feel like the way they advertise it really caters to the target demographic here at Rutgers,” Pimentel said.
Ayman Elnaggar, the owner of RU Hungry, is a familiar face at the University. His restaurant is the “Home of The Original Fat Sandwich,” according to its website. He said it provides a history lesson for students who want to learn more about the origins of the sandwich.
“When I came in 1997, I saw there was a huge opportunity to enhance the food,” Elnaggar said.
He said his mission was to turn the grease trucks from just another fry joint into a college tradition.
“I always looked in the future, I didn’t look to just grab that dollar, give the people anything, (thinking) ‘Oh they’re drunk.’ I always cared. I always gave them the best I could do,” Elnaggar said.
He said the business has been on television many times now. The sandwich was ranked number one in the country by Maxim Magazine as well.
RU Hungry now sits at The Yard @ College Avenue, a student apartment complex built in 2016 located on top of what was once a parking lot, according to The Daily Targum.
“Before The Yard, we used to be an empty parking lot,” Elnaggar said.
The original trucks were forced to vacate the parking lot in 2013, according to the RU Hungry website.
Elnaggar said that he helped the business through challenges, seeing as the trucks had to move for the first time after being stationary for years.
While RU Hungry has since left behind its original pop-up trailer for a permanent location, Elnaggar still remembers the carnival atmosphere the trucks used to bring.
“We used to have (students') pictures on our trucks," he said. "We used to play music for them. We used to sing and dance together. So it was much more than eating a sandwich, it was a kind of relationship. They really appreciated it, and we appreciated it too.”
Elnaggar said it is the connection he and his employees have developed with students over the years that leads to them coming back, sometimes long after graduation.
They enjoy talking about when they would eat at RU Hungry as students, Elnaggar said.
One of the ways Elnagger continues to bring in customers is though the “Eat 5 in 45” challenge.
The challenge requires students to eat five sandwiches in 45 minutes in order to get one named after them, according to the website.
The current record holder, the Fat Manimal, came in at just 29 minutes and 15 seconds.
“Whenever a student can meet our challenge, which is eat five in 45, that they could build their own sandwich, and they could name it whatever they want, (sic)" Elnaggar said. "As long as they market it, and make sure it works, because if it doesn’t work, we take it out of the menu.”
Travel Channel host Adam Richman of “Man v. Food” attempted the challenge in 2009, but failed to complete it. Richman managed to finish only four and a half sandwiches in the allotted time.
Although Elnaggar remains a torch bearer of grease truck history, the story began long before his arrival.
The original story began in the 1970s, according to The New York Times.
Tony Giorgianni, owner of Greasy Tony’s, decided to put together a unique sandwich for his menu. The sandwich, known as the Fat Cat, consisted of two cheeseburgers, French fries, lettuce, tomato and onions, all on a single roll. The sandwich quickly began appearing in food truck menus all over town.
By 1997, Darrell W. Butler, a senior at the time, was low on cash and craving “chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks and French fries,” when he decided to try and make a bargain with one of the food truck owners, according to doublefml website.
Butler asked if the owner could make a sandwich in the style of the Fat Cat, but with Butler’s ingredients — and for the same price.
The owner agreed, according to the site.
After getting his food, Butler watched “as the next 10 people in line asked to try his new idea.” It was at that moment Butler realized he was on to something, according to the site.
With the sandwiches still popular more than 20 years later, it is hard not to agree.