Openface Sandwich Eatery Inc., perched on South Avenue in the heart of the South Wedge, was the brainchild of Jared Valentine and Drew Sterman, two Rochester Institute of Technology graduates far and distant from culinary arts, who each earned degrees in art and design.

After working the arts scene and coming up with a strong desire for a new and different challenge, they transitioned away from crafting visual arts and toward crafting a veritable sandwich emporium.

The two bought a property on South Ave. from a landlord who was using the space for storage. Walking into Openface now, you would have no idea the startup had been such a gamble.

The place has a steady stream of regulars, a seamless design and a menu that is original, savory and wholesome. There are no signs of cutting corners or pulling the wool over customers’ eyes this place has become an established enterprise.
While the food itself might have been a bit of a stretch without cooking experience, design was a forte for Valentine and Sterman. Envisioned and constructed entirely on their own time, the two scrupulously thought over their vision to make the place look legitimate.
‘We knew we’d be under a lot of scrutiny,” Valentine said, sighing as he looked around at the walls he’d painted. ‘We were two guys opening an eatery with absolutely no cooking background. The place had to look just right.”

The attentiveness to the design was well worth it. Entering Openface is like walking into your best friend’s house, only the kitchen is better stocked and constantly smells like fresh bread.

‘We wanted to make this place homey,” Valentine said, surveying his tour de force. ‘It’s like we’re all just friends hanging out here.”

Ordering is direct: walk forward, pick a sandwich, a drink (espresso or coffee, loose tea, glass-bottled soda) and maybe even a cookie. Along the back is a wide wooden counter with multiple levels for the register, a tea stand and a bakery case filled with gooey cookies, hard candies and a bowl of rocks.

‘Make sure you don’t eat the rocks,” senior Matt Magill jested. ‘They look tempting, but they’ll break your teeth.”

Behind the counter is a black wall, bare except for a silver grate hanging from the ceiling in one corner and a full-length window cut-out connecting you to the well-lit kitchen. Through the window, you can glimpse boxes of cereal, fresh vegetables, a shiny silver oven and a chef’s head popping around, making sandwiches on-site.

The design is engaging and trendy, and it simultaneously creates a feeling of style and comfort. And who said you couldn’t do anything with a degree in art? If there’s one thing that any great eatery tries to do, it’s to create a mood for its (hopefully delicious) food. The decor and the food need to match. But does the food hold up to the design of the eatery?

Fortunately, sandwiches are simplistic, and the basic ones are hard to mess up. Openface’s sandwiches are also extremely fresh this freshness is their secret ingredient. Valentine describes himself as a ‘fresh freak.”

‘I’ll turn away distributors if the food doesn’t look right,” he said.

As for the specific taste of the food, the sandwiches and soups are zesty and satisfying.
‘Drew has a background of Italian cooking, which involves a lot of herbs and spices, and I’m from the Midwest, so that’s the meat and potatoes side of things,” Valentine said.
The sandwiches are for a European palate, but you can walk away feeling satisfied, if not full, after your portion of food, which isn’t always the case in European bistros. The pear and brie sandwich is served on a baguette and seems particularly French, while the side salad is a mix of greens with a bitter taste.

For something more traditional, there is genoa salami with roasted red peppers and mixed greens, topped with a parmesan wafer and drizzled in olive oil on a baguette. Or perhaps you would like the spicy albacore openface melt. The ‘openface” (a sandwich with only one piece of bread under the filling, leaving the top open) is toasted and topped with melted cheese and mixed with spicy red pepper.

The eatery also serves specials, like sticky-bun-flavored coffee, pistachio matcha, frosted drop cookies and roast beef with a banana pepper salsa, garlic mustard, cheddar cheese and mixed greens on a toasted whole grain wedge roll.

Prices are also reasonable, especially considering the quality of the ingredients and personalization that come with individual, hand-made sandwiches. Most sandwiches cost about $8, and most customers seem happy to throw in extra dollars for tips.
If you’re not in the mood for a sandwich, try one of the higher-end variety of loose teas, espresso or herbal extracts. Those unfamiliar with loose tea: Don’t pour the tea directly into your water or you’ll be chewing your tea. The tea comes without a teabag, and you have to add your tea leaves to a bag. Try the chocolate mint rooibos it’s light, rich and comfortingly smooth.

One staple of Openface that Rochesterians want to sell in other shops is the cookie split. Imagine a half-moon cookie, only instead of making the frosting half vanilla, half chocolate, the dough itself is half-and-half. For the black-and-white effect, the cookie is half chocolate chip, half double chocolate chip.
Openface has become so popular in both the South Wedge and greater Rochester area that it’s being asked to expand and open other locations in Geneva, Canandaigua and possibly Buffalo.

According to Valentine, however, they might just stay put for now. ‘It takes the right people to make a place like this work,” he said. It seems like they’ve found exactly that.
Openface is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and it is closed on Sundays. For more information, please visit

Ryan is a member of the class of 2009.

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