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'A Canada thing': Popular menu hack convinces A&W to offer South Asian-style sandwich



At an A&W in Windsor, Ontario, last December, Priya Dhillon witnessed a unique menu hack that sparked a culinary revelation. A customer transformed the usual order of two buns and two hash browns into a makeshift sandwich. This wasn't a new concept for Dhillon's family, who operates 40 A&W franchisees, where the swap of beef patties for hash browns had been a local tradition for over a decade, particularly in Greater Toronto Area locations.


Determined to explore the phenomenon's reach, Dhillon surveyed various franchisees and discovered that this inventive hash-brown sandwich wasn't confined to specific regions; it was a widespread trend across Canada. The realization prompted A&W head office to recognize it as not just a local quirk but indeed a "Canada thing."


This week, A&W Canada officially embraced this nationwide trend by launching the spicy piri piri potato buddy. Priced at $3.99, the sandwich features a hash brown adorned with red onion, lettuce, tomato, and a zesty sauce, all sandwiched between two toasted buns. Available for a limited time, the menu also includes variations with a breaded chicken breast or a beef patty.


This hash-brown-based creation represents more than just a culinary triumph for Dhillon and her associates. It reflects the evolving preferences influencing fast-food establishments today. The sandwich is affordable, meatless, and inspired by South Asian flavors, aligning with the current trend of customers experimenting with their orders.


Karan Suri, A&W Canada's director of menu development, shared insights into the sandwich's creation process. Months were dedicated to perfecting the piri piri sauce, balancing heat without overpowering the dish. The challenge lay in ensuring the ingredients harmonized and maintained their quality over time. Suri's meticulous efforts resulted in an 11-iteration process to finalize the sauce.


The final product bears resemblance to aloo tiki, a beloved South Asian dish featuring potato patties enjoyed as a snack or within bread. For Dhillon, the launch of this sandwich signifies A&W's acknowledgment of the South Asian community, constituting 7.1% of Canada's population in 2021.


"It's like: 'We see you, we see who you are and here's something that we think is really going to fit what you're looking for,'" Dhillon expressed, emphasizing the sandwich's potential appeal to a demographic not currently frequenting A&W.


Suri highlighted the increasing interest in spicy and meatless options, citing other fast-food chains like McDonald's and Burger King introducing similar items. A&W Canada's new offering aligns with this demand, appealing to those seeking plant-based alternatives.


Despite being vegetable-based, the sauce in the sandwich contains a small amount of egg yolk for emulsification. Dhillon believes the $3.99 price tag makes it an attractive option in today's economic climate, where affordability matters.


In a unique move, the public witnessed the transformation of a grassroots idea into a national menu item, showcasing A&W Canada's responsiveness to its customers. Dhillon and Suri believe this initiative signals a connection between the company and its patrons, setting a precedent for collaboration between staff and corporate offices in the culinary landscape.


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