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Tim Ma Talks Classic and Experimental Sandwiches at the Upcoming Chase the Submarine

The sandwich shop may even feature Ma's famous wings.

Tim Ma.
Tim Ma.
R. Lopez

After opening Maple Ave in 2009 and Water & Wall in 2013, Chef Tim Ma is ready to try again. He's joining forces with local Michael Amouri of Caffe Amouri in Vienna to open Chase the Submarine later this year, named after his son.

But family comes first for Chef Ma. During an interview with Eater, his children sit at a table eating dinner at Water & Wall. Despite the pressures of two restaurants, two kids, and one of each on the way, Chef Ma took some time to sit with Eater DC to tell us some planning details for his new sandwich shop with butchery component, due for Vienna in Fall 2015.

Editor's Note: The Ma family welcomed their new baby, Camden, on December 23, after this interview took place.

Where did you get your inspiration for a modern deli with a butchery operation?

So Maple Avenue had a food truck, Max.  It continually changed its concept and menu but at the core, it always served sandwiches. We eventually shut it down, mainly because its harder to operate a food truck than a restaurant. Michael Amouri of Caffe Amour and I always talked about partnering on a business together. We decided to extend that same sandwich concept, wanting to do some charcuterie, some production. So we always had this concept in mind, with a sandwich shop in the front but in the back you will see a connected butchery component. It will be a lot of fun.

So now I understand the sandwich connection, but the butchery and charcuterie? What's your experience there?

We are confined with space, especially at Maple Ave and now Water & Wall too. But there's always been a butchery component within the restaurants, it's just not in your face. Take the duck confit: to me it's kind of like a butchery component, doing preservation. Like all charcuteries, it's essentially preservation. Here at Water & Wall, we're always doing the whole pigs. And even when something seems simple, like a pulled pork sandwich, that's curing and brining whole shoulders with a slow cook, sometimes overnight. So this would all feed into the sandwich shop, doing as much production as possible in-house.

But if we need to bring something in from outside, we will. Am I going to sit there and make all the salami and hams and everything? No. That's going to be an impossible task with the size of the space that we have. For example, Edward's makes incredible Virginia ham, we use that already.  I could make ham, but we will do what makes sense for us in-house, as much as we can, picking and choosing the production. You can't be good at everything [laughs]. Heinz makes the best ketchup in the world, because that's all they do.

What stage are you at with the planning?

Michael Amouri and I have been working on Chase the Submarine for probably over a year and a half now. We actually started the concept before we opened here [Water & Wall] and had the space with lease. Right before we were going to sign the lease, we found another space in Vienna which seemed interesting but turned out not to be. So we flipped back and that's why it took a while from concept to lease signing to design. And we had the opening here [at Water & Wall] at the same time with a lot going on in the first year, so things kind of got dragged out.

But we are supposed to open in Fall 2015. Of course I hope that gets pushed up a little bit, and we'll see how hard I can push. Fall is a good time to open but maybe I can ramp up before it gets busy. We have a conceptual design, layout...we are in schematic design meaning about to go to permit, and into the hands of Fairfax County. I've seen other restaurants get stalled out there during the permit process, I guess because they are busy, with a lot is opening in Virginia. So we'll see.

What specifically do you think will set Chase the Submarine apart from other artisanal sandwich competition?

I think the same things that set Maple Ave. and Water & Wall apart. There's a lot of great competition out there, all competing for the same customers, which is getting to be a tight market. But we seem to already and hope to keep our edge up. Basically it comes down to our treatment of the food at its core, trying to do as much as we can the right way, if that makes sense. But we have a group of talent here looking at food differently. I hate the use the word but fusion, in a way, makes us unique. From Asian to French Asian to French to Southern, we tend to not confine ourselves in one corner and hope to do that also in Chase the Submarine.

Tell us, which sandwich do you think will cause a cult following, like the wings at Maple Ave?

I don't know, I have a feeling I might want to serve wings at this sandwich shop [laughs]. And there have been talks about incorporating the sauce we use for the wings in a sandwich one way or another. I'm setting up the kitchen there to be very flexible, so that I'm able to do the wings if I want to. It will have a kitchen bigger than Maple Ave, similar power to what we have here at Water & Wall.  But the menu here is 100 percent different from what we opened with, so I expect the same to happen with the sub shop.

Chase's menu will have some experimental sandwiches and some staples to expect all the time.  I'll carry over one or two from the food truck that had a following, maybe the bulgogi, the kimchi on a hoagie roll... but I see that a lot more these days so let's see what we can do differently. But honestly, I just love classic sandwiches and that's why the menu will be split. I love the Italian Store here in Arlington, awesome quality meats with simple set up. Then the experimental sandwich menu will be based on what we discover on our slow days. That's where a lot of our stuff comes, and from family meals. Just like the other two restaurants, I hope Chase the Submarine can have some fun and find its groove.

Three restaurants sounds like a lot to juggle, how do you expect to manage?

The jump from one to two was a big jump for me. I handled some things poorly, other things well, and now I've figured out how to juggle two. As for the third, luckily I have a partner on this, Michael. Although it's never been just me, I have Joey my wife. At the beginning of Maple Ave it was just me, Joey, my parents, and her parents. The second time it was easier to prepare, organize the staff, and hopefully the third time too. Unfortunately I'm dealing with a lot of administration these days, owning two restaurants, but hopefully I can off load some of that in the new year.  And try not to do everything myself. I have a really talented group here to rely on.

The third time's the charm, right?  Any mistake you made with your last two restaurants that you know to avoid this time?

Just like children, Joey and I are about to have our third child. They always joke you forget how hard it is to raise a child, and that's the only reason why you choose to do it again. I feel like that's what's happening now, opening a new restaurant. Maybe I learned nothing.