Taylor Gourmet is going places—specifically to Chicago, where it recently opened its second restaurant outside of its Washington, D.C., home base. Some of the brand’s recent success can be attributed to Chef Jacob Hunter, culinary director at Taylor Gourmet since last year. Hunter has known Taylor Gourmet cofounder Casey Patten for eight years, and joined the brand last year after selling his food truck, Dirty South Deli.

Part of Hunter’s job at Taylor Gourmet, he says, is to make sure it “puts out good food and has fun with it.” The concept, which serves Philadelphia-inspired hoagies, is committed to great ingredients, fresh components, tradition, working with the community, and seasonal innovation. Hunter sees his job as putting his own spin on comfort food, with a side of Patten’s infectious passion. He keeps his finger on the consumer pulse—all while making sure a hoagie is still a hoagie.

What’s different about Taylor Gourmet?

On the classic side of our menu, we start with high-quality ingredients. We make everything in house that we can. We stick to the rules of classic hoagie making. When we get to the other side of the menu, our seasonal stuff, we get to have fun with produce. Our guests are coming in for the classics, but maybe they want to try something new.

How is a hoagie different from a sub, grinder, or sandwich?

A sandwich is between two slices of bread. A hoagie is a very specific thing—a regional term. You start with really good bread and add really great ingredients. We use a roll that’s baked every day locally for us. You don’t want to overload it, because you want those ingredients to shine through that bread. We have really good meats. We also do great things with vegetables.

What does your menu development process look like?

I start with what I grew up with and what I like, then I ask what is trending in restaurants, what people are looking to eat, and how we can adapt that into a nice hoagie roll or salad in our environment.

What’s trendy in hoagies today?

I think in general, food is going toward high-quality ingredients. You don’t want to overstuff a hoagie; you want to be able to taste the bread, the cheese, the meat, and the vegetables, or the spread. The trend is toward cleaner eating, with regards to protein and vegetables. Different bread choices have also become important, like whole-grain and gluten-free.

What are consumers looking for in a sandwich?

Customers are looking for flavor. They want something different, but something they recognize and attach to. With our turkey hoagie for the summer, we do our house-roasted turkey, so people can attach to that, but then we do a spin on it with some chipotle and honey. So people think, “Oh, maybe I want to try this because it’s got spice and pickled onions.” We’re lucky to live in a food town where people want to try new things but also find things that they can understand.

What’s your most popular item?

One of our most popular items is our turkey with tomato, onions, provolone, and a vinaigrette. That’s just a classic. People can walk in, recognize those ingredients, and go, “I love this. I want to get it.” Another thing that’s one of our most popular items is the Memphis Raines, which is based on a chicken cutlet. It’s nice and messy, juicy and hot, spicy and creamy. Our Columbus Salad is one of our top sellers, which is a testament to us; we’re a hoagie shop but can sell a salad that people crave. Our Ninth Street Italian—a straight-up Italian hoagie—also sells well. I eat one of those probably every day.

What’s up next for Taylor Gourmet?

We opened in Chicago’s Fulton Market this summer. We’re doing an all-vegetarian menu at an industry night to show that, hey, we’re hoagies, but we can do other stuff. We like to have fun with food, and at the same time we take this seriously. We’re not just throwing food out there. There’s a lot of thought—a culinary team—behind the food at Taylor. We’re bringing hoagies to the masses and having fun

Menu Innovations, Sandwiches, Story, Taylor Gourmet