When The Original Fuel Cafe quietly closed during the pandemic, it left a noticeable hole in Riverwest, and it also suddenly left Milwaukee without some of its most iconic sandwiches in the process. Under new ownership, none of those so-called “Riverwest Classics” caught on at Fuel Cafe 5th Street, and, while good in its own right, the Cheesy Tomato at the new Comet just isn’t the same. At this point, longtime Fuel fanatics are either forced to settle for less or create their own unsolicited copycat recipes in a futile attempt to recapture familiar flavors of extinct sandwiches. Or maybe not.

What if we told you some of your favorite sandwiches from The Original Fuel Cafe live on in some guy’s kitchen in Riverwest? Would that please you? Well, get ready for some good news. Just as the city is coming to terms with the loss of beloved bread bombs like the Cheesy Tomato, The Buttafuoco, and the Sloppy Salami, a hero has emerged from the shadows to feed Milwaukee’s need. He calls himself “Cory The Riverwest Sandwich Fixer.”

Without full-on revealing his identity (he acknowledges it won’t be too tough to figure out who he is), we can tell you this isn’t a copycat operation. It’s the real deal. The Sandwich Fixer was a longtime Fuel insider, working at the Center Street location for more than 15 years, and managing the location from 2012 until it closed in 2020. He claims he’s made more Fuel sandwiches than anyone on the planet, estimating approximately 10,000 knocked out in the cafe’s tiny kitchen during his tenure. If you’ve had a sandwich at Fuel, there’s an extremely good chance he made it.

The idea to fire up the oven again and revive these Fuel favorites came about a year ago when he got chatting with some friends about menu items they all missed.

“I went to Riverwest 24 and I ran into some people,” Cory says. “The sandwich talk came up and in early August I was like, ‘Eh, fuck it. I’ll do it.'”

Since that first fateful Saturday spent slinging sandwiches, Cory says he’s done impromptu Sandwich Fixer pop-ups about 20 times. He decides whether he’s going to do it Friday mornings, when he calls the bread order in to Peter Sciortino Bakery. (“It’s the same bread and they still allow me to buy wholesale as a person.”) He picks up the bread Saturday morning and other ingredients he needs for that day’s chosen menu and alerts the internet that he’s open for business.

From noon to about 4 or 4:30 p.m., Cory fields orders and fixes sandwiches to sell to anyone fortunate enough to know it’s happening. It’s kind of like a D.I.Y. basement show, except instead of asking a punk, you DM a sandwich maker.

“It’s mostly people I know, or people will send their husband over, or I think I know him and it’s a different guy with the same name who messaged me through Instagram,” Cory says. “There will be people I literally haven’t seen in years, who I have’’t seen since before Fuel closed. People lose their minds, like, ‘Holy crap! I can’t believe this is real.'”

It’s real and it’s spectacular. While the majority of business comes from his friends and acquaintances living in or around Riverwest, people drive from as far away as Wauwatosa, Brookfield, and Bay View to pick up sandwiches. Sometimes an order will come from a complete stranger who stumbled upon the opportunity to taste old Fuel again.

“Whether people haven’t had it in 15 years or 15 days, they tell me it tastes exactly how it did,” Cory says. “It’s the hands more than where it’s served. And the product being almost identical, if not better than we used to get.”

Cory says a “good day” of sandwich fixing is anything over a dozen sandwiches, and a bad Saturday is less than 10.

“Sometimes it works and sometimes I have a bad Saturday, but break-even is usually several sandwiches,” Cory says. “I don’t lose money, and worst case scenario, I wind up making myself lunch for a week for free.”

He once managed more than 30 orders during a single afternoon and needed friends hanging out in his kitchen to help bring orders out to people and deliver sandwiches to nearby bars. Though it can get busy, the self-imposed side hustle of “making as many sandwiches as fast as possible and hopefully as good as possible” scratches a social itch for Cory, and his specific sandwich expertise makes both him and other people happy.

“It’s fun and there’s nostalgia for me and for the people buying them,” Cory says. “I want to see people, people want to see me, and they want to get food they can’t get anywhere else. Objectively, it all sounds really dumb, but it’s also a lot of fun.”

This weekend, Cory The Riverwest Sandwich Fixer will have his longest and most public pop-up yet. As the Riverwest 24 is happening, he’ll be selling sandwiches out of his home 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Friday and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday. He’ll be making Cheesy Tomato, Buttafuoco, and Spicy Salami sandwiches for $10 apiece (order in advance via Facebook or Instagram, with pickup address provided after payment). Cash, Venmo, and PayPal are all accepted.

“Riverwest 24 was always the busiest weekend at Fuel,” Cory says. “Last year was the first day I got to go to Riverwest 24 and not work. Now it’s time to go back to work.”

About The Author

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Co-Founder and Editor

Before co-founding Milwaukee Record, Tyler Maas wrote for virtually every Milwaukee publication (except Wassup! Magazine). He lives in Bay View and enjoys both stuff and things.