A few years ago, Anthony Calleo—the lanky, bespectacled, tattoo-covered proprietor of the popular Pi Pizza Truck—was listening to Lady Sovereign and something clicked.
"She's this little, British lesbian rapper," rememebers Calleo, "and she's saying 'Where's my Red Bull and my sandwich I need food.' But the way she pronounced 'sandwich' was like 'sandy witch.' And it got stuck in my head."
The phrase repeated itself over and over in Calleo's mind. He caught himself thinking of "sandy witch" more and more frequently as the months and years passed. Before long, the entire idea of a restaurant had taken shape. "I saw this witch conjuring a sandwich out of a cauldron," Calleo says, "and it was metal as f*** but still cute." He saw visions of sandwiches named after famous witches, of to-go menus decorated with witches riding brooms off into the night, of side items called "familiars" like the witchy sidekicks of lore.
"Once an idea comes full circle and takes shape I have to do something about it," says Calleo. "Once something has a name, it's done." He knew that it was only a matter of time before he'd open a sandwich shop in addition to the busy food truck that he parks outside of Catbird's in Montrose most nights, slinging pizzas with names like the 420 Slice and the Screwston. But finding a place to set up shop in the increasingly saturated neighborhood was tough.
Fate intervened, and the substantial kitchen inside Grand Prize Bar—another Montrose bar which, like Catbird's, draws a late and hungry crowd—became available. Owners Brad Moore and Ryan Rouse both knew that Calleo was interested in the space; they called him, and a deal was quickly struck. Unlike previous food services that have been run out of the Grand Prize kitchen, however, Calleo wanted to define Sandy Witch as its own, nearly standalone business.
"I want to do this right," Calleo remembers telling Moore and Rouse. "I want to lease this kitchen from you, it's going to be my sandwich shop, I want branding inside the bar, I'm going to buy new equipment. I'm going to put some serious money into this." His vision for Sandy Witch does away with the sporadic pop-up dinners that served creative cuisine on a somewhat inconsistent schedule. Instead, Calleo's sandwich shop will be open seven days a week, from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. every single day.
The hours were of particular importance to Calleo, who's long lamented the dearth of quality late-night dining options. "Once it gets to be 9:30 or 10 p.m. your options fall off a f***ing cliff," he says. "There's plenty of places out on Bellaire that are open at 3 a.m. but after I'm done with an 18-hour day at midnight or 1 a.m., I don't want to drive to Bellaire."
Unimpressed in particular with the quality of the ingredients at the few Inner Loop spots open past midnight (with Down House as his noted exception), Calleo is committed to serving high-quality products that are locally sourced and house-made whenever possible. This roster of ingredients includes Kraftsmen bread—the shallot-laced challah bun for round sandwiches and the American hoagie for subs—and homemade bread crumbs that Calleo's crew intends to make with any leftover scraps.
Those breadcrumbs will be put to good use in such items as Sandy Witch's chicken parm sub, which will batter the brined chicken before it's deep-fried and slathered with marinara and Provolone. Calleo is also aiming to have a roster of other, more creative sandwiches that includes a pulled pork with pickled slaw, a Dr Pepper-braised short rib sandwich with collard greens and house-made honey mustard, and a Philly cheesesteak stromboli with homemade beer "Cheese Whiz."
"I make Houston pizza," Calleo says, when asked to describe his pies at Pi Pizza. "That's how I think of it. And I'm trying to do the same thing with sandwiches." His "familiars" will be Houston-oriented, too: collard green chips, chips with beer Cheese Whiz queso, and beef chorizo chili, the latter of which can also be found on Sandy Witch's own Frito pie. "You can get queso on it, too," says Calleo.
The team that Calleo has assembled includes two former cooks on-board the Good Dog Hot Dogs truck and two former cooks from the Eatsie Boys Cafe, which means two things are certain: Calleo's crew knows how to handle volume and how to handle meats and breads. It also means that Calleo will still be free to man the Pi Pizza truck, which he has no plans on changing or closing.
Some of the Sandy Witch items are even inspired by the pies he makes on his 19-month-old truck, like a dish that Calleo refers to as "the drunken burrito of doom, Baphomet," with an evil chuckle. "It's the 420 Slice of the sandwich shop," he laughs, "but with no Fritos."
And while the drunken burrito of doom is sure to quell many an alcohol-logged stomach, Calleo is quick to note that Sandy Witch, which is aiming to open inside Grand Prize Bar on July 5, means more to him than just "feeding drunks."
"Noteworthy food inside a bar can be done," Calleo says. "It happens. It can work."
"I want people to say, 'Damn, this is better than it should be.' I want it to melt their f***ing faces off."