Weeks before they called Nico Hischier's name at the 2017 NHL draft, the New Jersey Devils already knew their soon-to-be No. 1 pick would be more than a name around Newark.
Shortly after securing the top selection, the team made a call to Hobby's Deli, just a few blocks away from the Prudential Center, and asked if the eatery would name a sandwich after the choice. Michael and Marc Brummer, the owners of Hobby's and longtime Devils fans, were happy to oblige.
"This was nice. They recognized that the kid is coming to the Metropolitan area, this area is known for the delicatessen if nothing else, and the famous delicatessens have sandwiches named after people," Marc said. "So here you have the No. 1 pick, he's coming to Newark, how great is it. Let's get a sandwich named after him. It was a natural."
Coming up with a special named after a player is nothing new at Hobby's. Their menu is already littered with Devils-inspired fare. There's the No. 30, inspired by Martin Brodeur's visit to drop off the Brummers' season tickets (avocado, roasted peppers, tomato, arugula, fresh mozzarella and herb mayo on whole-grain toast), or the "Chico," created by beloved former goalie-turned-analyst Chico Resch (a spin on the Reuben), as well as the No. 27 Niederburger (a burger with pastrami, pepperjack cheese, sauteed onions and hot sauce), named for Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Scott Niedermayer. There's also a selection of current New Jersey players.
"A couple of years ago, Adam Henrique and Kyle Palmieri, as part of the fan appreciation week for the Devils, came in and bought lunch for the dining room," Michael says. "We came up with sandwiches. No. 14, which had been on the menu for a hundred years, we didn't think that Adam Henrique wanted to eat a roast beef with chopped liver, tomato and onion, but we heard that he did like roast beef. So we created a roast beef, american cheese, hard roll, lettuce, tomato. And then for Kyle Palmieri, being that his family owned a farm in Montvale, we did grilled chicken with lettuce, Jersey tomato and provolone cheese and roasted pepper. When he was here, he said 'I'd love that sandwich, but with chicken cutlet.' So that is how that came about."
It helps that they Brummers are naturals when it comes to pairing players and sandwiches—and boy, do they have lots of ideas. For New Jersey rookie JesperBratt, maybe a knockwurst. Something with pickle juice for forward Blake Coleman. In the brothers' perfect world, the Devils would acquire forward Nick Schmaltz from Chicago and lead to a brisket-based special. There are, however, lines they won't cross: a Taylor ham sandwich for forward Taylor Hall is just too easy.
When it came to a new sandwich for the upcoming pick, the tension did dial up a bit. Being hockey fans, the Brummers know the reality of the sport, that the pick could have been traded if the right deal came along.
"How do you make a sandwich for a trade?" Michael says with a laugh.
Thankfully, the Devils selected Hischer and the sandwich came together. The hockey team shared their vision: grilled chicken, raw onion, lettuce, tomato, Swiss cheese on a hard roll with mayonnaise and honey mustard.
"I do believe the Swiss cheese was a prerequisite," Michael says.
"Authentic Swiss cheese!" Marc says, "as was a Jersey red tomato. We recommended adding bacon. [Hischier] said no."
When the sandwich debuted with Hischier in the house to try his namesake lunch, the deli was packed—absolute bedlam, the Brummers say. There were fans, team personnel, the Hischier family, reporters and photographers, all eager to see the real-life and sandwich version of the Nico No. 1 in action.
Thankfully, both have had a positive reception thus far, and that's more than some of Hischier's teammates can say.
"We've had a few hockey players come in here from the Devils and order food, and we're like 'Oh, we'll make this your sandwich,'" Michael says, "and they're like 'No. I don't want anyone to know I just ate that!'"