Well, that was quick.
Venison fans, if you were planning on making an Arby’s run this weekend, you’re out of luck. The fast-food chain’s dabble into the deer-hunting demographic sold out in 15 minutes at the one Twin Cities outlet – in St. Louis Park – where it was available.
“The PR storm preceding it exceeded our expectations,” said John Kelly, Arby’s senior vice president of operations, West region. “The phones have been ringing off the hook.”
Kelly arrived at 9:30 a.m. for the restaurant’s opening at 10.
“And there were people lined up,” he said. “The parking lot was full.”
I found a parking spot in a nearby lot at 10:05. One of the customers in line ahead of me was trying to buy four sandwiches. No can do: the limit was two. When I ordered mine, a voice rang out from the stove: “We’re almost out.”
By the time my order arrived a few minutes later, the polite man working the cash register was breaking the bad news to customers: No more venison. The restaurant's allotment of 70 sandwiches had sold out.
Would I order another, were that possible? Probably not. Then again, the acquired taste that is venison isn’t my thing. It was a generous portion (it probably landed somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 ounces) of farm-raised meat, cooked (I’m guessing the more accurate verb would be “pre-cooked”) to a juicy medium rare.
I'd been expecting a shaved meat sandwich, along the lines of Arby's roast beef sandwiches, but no. It was a chop. Venison is a notoriously lean meat, and I was expecting a fairly tough texture, but it wasn’t, landing somewhere on the continuum between Salisbury steak and brisket. Not bad.
The predominant flavor – at least at first – was the peppery/sweet punch of Arby’s Sauce. Ugh. But underneath? The unmistakable gaminess of deer meat. (I’ll admit: it took far more Curly Fries than I would normally allow myself to cleanse my palate). A handful of soggy fried onions was the sole garnish, and the sturdy bun, with its criss-cross scored top – held up quite well.
File this one under “V” for “Viral Food Novelty.” Given its propensity for generating talkers, the Minnesota State Fair would be an ideal venue for this sandwich. Fairgoers would undoubtedly line up for the sandwiches, particularly given the surprising low price: $5.
The near-instantaneous sellout in St. Louis Park mirrors the company’s experiences elsewhere.
“I was at the Nashville restaurant on Monday,” said Kelly. “They had more inventory there, and they were still sold out by lunchtime.”
Forget about tapping any inside connections. Kelly said that a number of friends asked him to set a sandwich aside.
“I was like, guys, I’m going to get crushed here,” he said with a laugh, adding that the restaurant’s staff didn’t even get a crack at the delicacy.
Will there be a repeat performance? Probably.
“It’s going to take a process to get it in,” said Kelly. “I don’t know that there’s a supply the size that’s big enough for us. We went to places that have the most hunters per capita. We might do it for a specific regional market, say, Minnesota-Michigan-Pennsylvania-Ohio. But we’re also getting responses from people saying, ‘We hunt in North Carolina, too.’ There are hunters everywhere.”
Just as I was leaving, a friend of Kelly’s – and a hunter -- walked in and got the bad news.
“Sorry about that,” Kelly said to him. “You’ll have to go get your own now.”
Fortunately, Minnesota's deer hunt firearm season opens Saturday.