News » Blake Pontchartrain:

New Orleans Trivia

Blakeview: Po-boys, the Martins and John Gendusa

How a coffee stand, streetcars and a rectangular loaf made the city's signature sandwich



Update: 2017's Oak Street Po-Boy Festival is postponed to Nov. 12 due to threat of rain.

On Sunday, Oct. 22, thousands of people will fill Oak Street for the 11th annual Po-Boy Festival, a celebration of the city's signature sandwich. What better time to also pay tribute to three men who helped popularize the po-boy: restaurant owners Bennie and Clovis Martin and baker John Gendusa. Born in Raceland, the Martin brothers came to New Orleans to work as streetcar conductors before opening Martin Brothers' Coffee Stand and Restaurant in the French Market in 1922. According to historian Michael Mizell-Nelson, their work on the streetcars helped form a bond between them and the conductors and motormen who went on strike in 1929. "We fed those men free of charge until the strike ended," Bennie once said. "Whenever we saw one of the striking men coming, one of us would say, 'Here comes another poor boy.'" The name would become linked to the sandwich the men served, though some historians say the French bread loaf loaded with any number of ingredients pre-dated the Martins. One of the brothers' undisputed innovations was the modern po-boy loaf. They worked with Gendusa, who opened his bakery in 1922, to develop a 40-inch loaf that was uniformly rectangular from end to end, unlike the narrowed ends of a traditional French bread. The Martin brothers later moved their restaurant closer to Gendusa's bakery on St. Claude Avenue. When the brothers parted ways in the late 1930s, Bennie kept the St. Claude location while Clovis developed other restaurants. Clovis died in 1955, and Bennie lived until 1970. John Gendusa's grandson and great-grandson continue to operate a bakery in Gentilly, producing loaves used by some of the area's most popular po-boy shops.

Add a comment