Food Facts & Lore

The Heart of the Po Boy Sandwich

You may be most familiar with the Shrimp Po Boy, but delicious variations have been served and savored since the very beginnings of this abundant sandwich. These include, crawfish, crab, catfish, shredded beef and fried chicken. And in New Orleans, where the Po Boy originated, you can order a spicy Louisiana sausage Po Boy.

Former Louisiana streetcar conductors Clovis and Bennie Martin opened the Martin Brothers’ Coffee Stand and Restaurant in New Orleans’ French Market in 1922. While this was a new venture for them, they did not forget their roots, nor their loyalty to fellow railway employees.

The streetcar motormen and conductors went on strike on July 1, 1929. Contract negotiations had failed. Thousands of jobs were at stakes. This affected the entire nation; workers and public alike. Both the public and business owners showed tremendous support rather than anger. Local striking union members were flooded with donations of goods and services.

Preserved letter archives housed at the Tulane University Libraries reveal the sentiments of the Martin Brothers in no uncertain terms. “Our meal is free to any members of Division 194,” pledged the brothers. The Po Boy was about to be born.

With the help of a local baker, the Martin brothers created a 40-inch loaf that could be garnished abundantly and cut in half to feed two hungry men quite satisfactorily. The full sandwich was a welcome meal for their families. Their sympathy for the struggling, striking men provided the inspiration for naming the feast. “Here comes another poor boy!” they would say, whenever one stopped in.

The Martin’s generosity, as well as the innovative sandwich, lived on well into and beyond the Great Depression years. In the end, the streetcar workers lost their jobs, but they never lost their allies and they did not go hungry.