Forget Thanksgiving. The most gluttonous day of the year is Super Bowl Sunday, where bowl after bowl and paper plate after paper plate is filled with finger-food bacchanalia that would make even the mad genius responsible for the TGI Friday’s appetizer selection blush (and certainly the ancient Romans). And so, all week leading up to game day, we’ll be offering up our own menu of scientific investigations, origin stories and majestic feats of snacking that not even the biggest sporting event of the year can top. Read all of the stories here.
At just over 2,411 feet long, it was one hell of a sandwich. A gargantuan pita stuffed with chicken, spices and a menagerie of toppings, it stretched into the horizon at a length of more than six football fields long. Extending along a Lebanon roadway for nearly half a mile, the sandwich took 22 hours to complete, and was finished on May 22, 2011. More than 10 years later, its Guinness World Record for “Longest Sandwich” still stands.
When you hear stories of how these kinds of records are accomplished, they’re often tales of excess. Some person or group managed to create the biggest, longest or most of something, or they completed some bizarre stunt that Guinness deemed worthy of a record. But with the longest sandwich, things were a bit different. While they did set out to break a record, the village of Hazmieh in Beirut saw an opportunity to bring their community together. With 136 enlisted people to cook the sandwich and 639 to put it together, the highly coordinated effort to assemble such a gargantuan creation united families and neighbors alike. Once it was completed and Guinness affirmed the feat, the people of Hazmieh gathered to eat the sandwich and clean up.
The project was overseen by three groups in Hazmieh. The first was Groupe Notre Dame Hazmieh-Scouts de L’Independence, which is the local equivalent of the Boy Scouts. The second was the Municipality of Hazmieh itself, including the mayor of the village. Finally, there was Mini-B, a chain restaurant in Lebanon offering an array of international foods, including American delicacies like hamburgers and french fries.
At the time, the Hazmieh location of Mini-B was managed by Gebran Doueihy, who was also an investor in the company, and whose brother still owns it. Doueihy has since left the chain to start his own business, but he looks back fondly upon his years at Mini-B, and he’s very proud of overseeing the construction of the world’s longest sandwich, even if he wasn’t being entirely serious when he first proposed the idea.
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At first, this was all just a joke. It was May of 2010, and there was an event for the local Boy Scouts that Mini-B was involved with. We had a booth in the corner of the event where we had about 20 sandwiches, and the Boy Scouts lined up the sandwiches end-to-end to make it look like one really big sandwich that was about three or four meters [10 to 13 feet] long. So, I jokingly said, “We should do this professionally and make a giant sandwich for the Guinness Book.”
That was it until the next year. About a month before that event, the Boy Scouts came to me and said, “We’ll take you up on what you suggested.” I told them, “No. Never. I don’t have time for this.” I had a restaurant to run. But, it’s a local community and I knew them, so the Boy Scouts kept nagging me. Finally, I told them, “Yes, I will do it.”
The Boy Scouts took care of getting the Guinness World Record people involved while we at the restaurant figured out how to get the sandwich done. We also spoke to the local municipality to allow us to close the road — we needed a straight road to do this. They agreed, and we got to use the main road between the buildings of the community. The road wasn’t perfectly straight, though, so the sandwich had a curve to it that went with the road. Still, it was perfect because it was the main road, which helped to make sure everybody got involved.
We also looked up the old record for the longest sandwich. I can’t remember what it was, but it was about 200 meters [656 feet] below what we made. We went way over the previous record. [The previous record was actually a 1,500-meter ostrich sandwich from Iran, set in 2008].
At the restaurant, there were about 25 people doing research and development on this. One of the biggest challenges we had was to design a furnace that could cook the one long piece of bread. We tested out about three or four different furnaces. During test runs, we tried an experiment where we cooked the bread from both the top and the bottom, but we couldn’t get that furnace to be movable. We also tried to cook the dough inside the furnace and move it, but that caused it to break. So, we figured out that we had to cook the bread from the top only. Then, we would have a layer of aluminum at the bottom so it could heat up and cook the dough from below. We also put a layer of thick cardboard between the table and the aluminum foil, so that we wouldn’t melt the tables. But we ended up melting a couple of tables anyway.
We custom built a furnace that was upside down, and stood on four tires so it could roll along over the tables. It took three people to move it — two to move the furnace and the third person to move the gas. The furnace was about one-and-a-half meters [about five feet] long, and we’d cook the bread for 60 seconds, one-and-a-half meters at a time. The guy holding the gas would keep the time, and once 60 seconds was up, they’d roll the furnace to the next one-and-a-half meters and cook that.
We started to put everything together at 8 p.m. on Saturday night, which is when the municipality closed the road. We laid out all the tables and cardboard, but when we rolled out the aluminum foil, we were about 20 or 30 rolls short! This was late in the evening, almost midnight, and we needed foil that nobody in the community had. So I called my brother — who owns Mini-B — and he called his friend, the supplier. At 1 a.m., the supplier opened his warehouse so we could get the aluminum foil.
This took all night, and in the morning, we began rolling out the bread. We’d made pieces of dough that were two meters each, which we’d then glue together with more dough. Once you cooked it together, you couldn’t tell they had been separate pieces.
While we were rolling out the dough, others were cooking the chicken. For Guinness to affirm the record, this all had to be done on-site while they were watching. So the Guinness people were there, as well as someone from the Health Ministry to be sure everything was up to the proper health level.
Then we cooked the bread. We ended up making three furnaces, just in case one broke, but we only ended up using two. Each furnace started from opposite ends of the bread, cooking it a meter-and-a-half at a time, before they met in the middle. But the furnaces were too heavy to pick up over the tables, so once they met in the middle, we had to turn them off and roll them both back to the beginning.
Once the bread and chicken were cooked, everyone from the community joined in. That was the nice thing — it was on a Sunday, and everybody came down. The kids were all playing. This was the basic aim of the whole event — to have a good time and bring us together.
To assemble the sandwich, we gave ingredients to each person. The ingredients were chicken breast, lettuce, tomato, pickles, mayonnaise, red vinegar, salt, mustard, white pepper, lemon juice, kammoun spices and coriander. Each person got one meter’s [three feet] worth of ingredients, and this took everyone — 639 people in all — because the sandwich was 735 meters long.
The sandwich was a pita, so there was no separate top and bottom. This meant that once all the ingredients were on the entire sandwich, the bread had to be rolled over by everyone in the community. It had to be done all at the same time, because if it wasn’t, the bread would rip. We had five guys with walkie talkies at different stations, and 15 Boy Scouts at different spots. When it was time to roll, the Boy Scouts all yelled, “Now! Now!” The entire bread was rolled over within five seconds. It was quite a rush!
After we closed the sandwich, Guinness affirmed the record and the sandwich was cut. I had the first bite, and then everyone else joined in. It took from 8 p.m. on Saturday to 4 p.m. on Sunday. We were planning to leave 10 to 15 meters for a local charity, but we only had three or four meters left when we were all done. Later on, the restaurant made up the rest for the charity.
We all had a good time, and after it was over, everything was cleaned by us and the Boy Scouts (as well as many people from the community). I’m still proud of being able to pull it all together. It was good exposure for the restaurant, and it brought our local community together. Also, to have the record stand for this long is amazing. I might like to do something like that again someday, but not in the near future. It was a lot of work!