Since Sliced Bread
A thick-cut bologna sandwich stacked high with potato chips, a cole slaw and collard green melt that’s been called mind blowing—in a city of sandwiches, Turkey and the Wolf has redrawn the boundaries of what belongs between sliced bread. The wildly popular, equally whimsical New Orleans sandwich shop is the brainchild of Mason Hereford, a Charlottesville, Virginia, transplant who threw his hat into the food and beverage ring because he didn’t want to grow up. When it comes to cooking, Hereford verges on the absurdist: He garners inspiration in everything from a hometown gas station sandwich to Taco Bell (the best hot dog he’s had in Chicago, he says, was from a Home Depot). Today, two years after opening the Irish Channel superstar, he’s bringing a new eatery to the city: breakfast-centric Molly’s Rise and Shine. We caught up with him to talk what started it all—sandwiches.
How’d you get into food?
I started eating at a very young age. I really liked it a lot. I really fell in love with this charge account that my mom had at a country store in Free Union, Virginia, buying Vienna sausages, Doritos. After college, I moved to New Orleans. I didn’t want to grow up, and I found the service industry was a place where you always stay youthful.
What inspired you to open a sandwich shop?
I’ve always really liked sandwiches—but it’s not like I’m a sandwich obsesser. Charlottesville has a bunch of good sandwiches; there were a few key ones I ate as often as I could when I was a kid. I even based a whole sandwich off one I grew up eating at this yuppy gas station.
Why New Orleans?
When you’re thinking of opening a restaurant anywhere, you’re thinking of a void you can fill. New Orleans is a city of many po’ boys, muffelettas, banh mi. But it doesn’t have a lot a lot of regular old sandwiches. I missed some of the stuff I grew up eating. I saw it as a place where we would fit in really well, and I could use my love of growing up with sandwiches.
We’ve heard you had Turkey and the Wolf in the works for some time before actually opening it.
I decided I would open a restaurant four years before I actually did—I was teasing it for about a quarter of my career.
What’s your favorite sandwich on the menu?
We only have about five sandwiches on the menu, so it’s usually the one that’s changed the most recently. But overall, the bologna sandwich is probably my favorite to eat.
The restaurant is known for its kitschy interior and fun, funky vibe—is that what you’re going for?
The whole idea with Turkey and the Wolf was to open a place where we could have a good time, and then that would translate into showing the customers a good time.
You’ve been on the road lately. Is it to get inspiration for your menus?
Generally when I’m traveling, I’m extraordinarily nervous about whatever event I’m taking part in, and that’s the only thing that occupies my mind until it’s over. After that, I’m trying to put as much food in my body as I can. But it’s all well-researched.
And how do you translate those experiences into food back in New Orleans?
I’m almost always affected in some way by the food we find. Some of it can be translated into inspiration on the menu; a lot of it cannot. When it’s something that does affect a dish, it’s in an intangible way—if I have awesome chiles in Mexico, I’ll make turn those into a chile mayonnaise that goes on a sandwich.
HEREFORD’S FAVORITE SANDWICHES
Stein’s Deli in New Orleans
This at the top of the list for a reason: The shop is owned by Hereford’s favorite person in town, Dan Stein. “He was instrumental in helping us open Turkey and the Wolf. He gave me a slicer and told me to pay him back when I turned a profit.” The sandwich, filled with pastrami, slaw, swiss cheese, and russian dressing, inspired the flavors of Turkey and the Wolf’s collard green melt.
Riverside Lunch in Charlottesville, Virginia
“The best burger in Charlottesville and also the best burger I’ve had in my life,” Hereford says. “It could be nostalgia, but every time I go back to Charlottesville it’s my go-to.” (It doesn’t hurt that he was donning a Riverside Lunch shirt at the young age of 5.)
VIET GRILLED PORK BANH MI
Dong Phuong Bakery and Restaurant in New Orleans
Dong Phuong was Hereford’s introduction to Vietnamese food in New Orleans, and he still loves all the banh mi there. “If you buy ten, you get the eleventh free,” he says. “I buy ten and put them in my fridge and eat three banh mi a day for the next few days.”
Rüya Gemüse Kebab in Berlin
“This one was special in a couple ways,” Hereford recalls. After cooking a pop-up dinner in Paris, he and Colleen Quarls, Turkey and the Wolf’s chef de cuisine, headed to Berlin. Hereford says this was the best bite of the whole trip.
BARBECUE SHRIMP PO’BOY
Liuzza’s By the Track in New Orleans
Hereford’s big on po’ boys, and says this is among the best. The kitchen at Luizza’s By the Track hollows out french bread to better fill it with saucy barbecue shrimp. The whole thing is served swimming in broth. “It’s an institution,” Hereford says.
Bellaire Market in Charlottesville, Virginia
Growing up, Hereford ate this turkey sandwich with cranberry relish and herb mayo as often as he could. “I would eat two in one sitting—I was a growing boy.” He borrowed the flavor combination for Turkey and the Wolf’s ham sandwich, with a couple tweaks, including Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce. “That’s what we use at Thanksgiving, and I’m pretty Thanksgiving obsessed,” he says.
BAGEL WITH SMOKED SALMON AND SALMON ROE
Russ and Daughters in New York
Hereford admits Russ and Daughters is a popular tourist stop, “but it’s because it’s amazing,” he insists. “You gotta love the Jewish-style breakfast.”
ROAST BEEF SANDWICH
Butcher and Bee in Charleston, South Carolina
A short stage at Butcher and Bee’s sandwich-centric original location showed Hereford that he could make his sandwich shop dream a reality. “I realized, ‘Yeah, you can get really talented chefs to cook casual food.’”
Wilensky’s Light Lunch in Montreal, Quebec
This simple sandwich of bologna and yellow mustard was a standout on a recent trip to Montreal. “I ate one and then ordered another immediately after,” Hereford says. Plus, he digs that it’s a small, family-run operation. “They’re all in there bickering and having a good time.”
Lardo in Portland, Oregon
Each month, hip sandwich chain Lardo asks a guest chef to craft a sandwich special, the proceeds of which benefit a charity of the chef’s choice. Hereford—who also staged here before opening Turkey & the Wolf—will create the first at Lardo’s forthcoming Las Vegas location.
SAUSAGE, EGG, AND CHEESE BAGEL
Bodos Bagels in Charlottesville, Virginia
“Bodos is a very polarizing place, because 90 percent of Charlottesville insists this is the best bagel in the entire country. I am one of those people,” Hereford says. “The people who don’t agree (out-of-towners and transplants) are wrong—but they are equally adamant.”
Publican Quality Meats in Chicago
It’s hard to complain about waiting in line at PQM when you can order the truffleata by the slice—a giant muffuletta smeared with truffle pâté that sits on the counter. “Not only was it delicious, it’s a really clever idea,” Hereford says.