Business Lifeforms

The Sandwich man. Flying visitor Roger Doultry is a breadhead in more ways than one.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The cry of 'Sandwiches! Sandwiches!' echoes across the office and the deskbound drones lift their heads in unison like so many prairie dogs. There's a stampede towards the sandwich man and his bulging hamper of epicurean delights. Look, here's a Parma ham and rocket bloomer... there's tarragon chicken on focaccia... ooh... bresaola on rye – haven't had that before... Get there late and you'll be left with tuna or free-range egg mayo. Diet Cokes, crisps, nuts, apples, bananas, all flying out of the basket... and five minutes later he's out of there, pockets fat with change and only another four offices to hit before one o'clock.

With his daily visit, the sandwich man is a curious adjunct to office life – in the workplace but not of it. A friendly fellow, he enjoys a chatty relationship with quite a few staff in the buildings he services, though all of them tend to talk down to him a bit. How little they know: before he got a clue, the sandwich man was one of them.

Roger Doultry had a typical middle-class upbringing in north London. His parents were schoolteachers, he did well at school and went to Warwick University, gaining a 2.1 in History and Economics. After graduating, he taught English in Naples, then returned to London and joined a medium-sized ad agency as a trainee account executive. He stuck it 18 months until he could take the oversized egos and undersized pay packet no longer. Now cooler on the idea of 'cool companies', Doultry took a more practical punt on the marketing department of globe-girdling FMCG business Beckett & Bramble. It was better than the agency with its risible self-regard, but it was one of those places where his freelance cynicism didn't go down well. Doultry's fellow fast-trackers tended to be true believers, genuflecting before market-leading polishes, and his penchant for saying things like 'they're only dishwasher tablets, for Christ's sake!' raised eyebrows.

Just as he came to realise that he had as little left to offer a branded oven cleaner as it had to offer him, the entire department was relocated to Stuttgart. Given the choice between redundancy and the Rhineland, he took the cash and headed for India. Doultry knew that the subcontinent wouldn't be a voyage of Ashramic self-discovery, but he did hope for some perspective. As it was, any aperçu he might have achieved drifted away into the Goan sunshine like so much smoke from a chillum pipe.

But, jetting back to Heathrow on Air India, he had an epiphany of sorts. He was sat next to an Indian entrepreneur much given to managerial philosophising. One thing stuck: 'Sir, I would rather be the lowliest pauper and be my own boss than rich and working for someone else.' Doultry was unconvinced about the rich/poor bit, but he knew he wasn't good at working for others.

On the Heathrow Express, he had another thought. At the ad agency, he'd asked their sandwich delivery man how many units he shifted. About 1,500 a week, the SM reckoned. As the train pulled into Paddington, he wondered: how hard could it be? Harder than he thought. There was preparation, there were health & safety regulations, transport and getting into the offices – few appreciate how much else goes into a sandwich. But a month later, Doultry had a small industrial unit suitable for food preparation, a number of outré-sounding fillings and that sandwich man essential, a three-wheeled bike.

He targeted three large office buildings that seemed to contain individuals with a high disposable income in a location where sandwich penetration was low – witness the queues at the local M&S. He aimed for an ambitious sandwich, but not too ridiculous. Carpaccio and beetroot chutney was an early failure, but the parma ham, fig and curd was (and is) a firm favourite. Such über-munchies were carefully balanced by old stalwarts like cheese 'n' pickle and ham with mustard.

It worked out better than he could have hoped. With a sandwich, you get paid within hours of making it. Indeed, there are few more cash-generative sectors to be in. And even the swankiest sandwiches are highly profitable. At an average unit cost of £1 per sandwich (including all overheads), which then retails for £2.50, the SM makes about £2,000 a week clear profit. The quality of his offerings is their own best advert and, a few days ago, two companies actually invited him to sell in their offices. He's now looking at taking on staff and expanding. A bap-based empire beckons.

Of course, every now and then, when he's being subtly patronised by someone, or spreading his 120th roll at 8.15am, he wonders if there are better ways to earn a living. Then he remembers what he used to earn and the hours he worked. The sandwich man knows which side his bread is buttered.

Doultry in a wrap

1975 Born 8 July in Edgware, London. Educated: local comprehensive school

1993-96 Warwick University, 2.1 in History and Economics

1996 Teaches English in Naples

1997-99 Trainee account executive, Brandjob

1999-2002 Graduate fast-tracker, Beckett & Bramble

2002 A little time out in India

2003 Becomes the sandwich man.

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