Saturday, July 21, 2018
Dining

Here's how one writer invented National Cuban Sandwich Day

Tuesday, Aug. 23 is National Cuban Sandwich Day.

It will be celebrated in Tampa, where the Cuban sandwich was born, and across the bay in St. Petersburg, where you can get some pretty good ones.

It will be celebrated in Austin, Texas, and Cincinnati and, I'm told, slightly farther away in Seoul, South Korea. It may be celebrated in a whole lot of other places where they have the Internet.

National Cuban Sandwich Day appeared on the calendar website Days of the Year, which claims about a million views per month.

Here's another fact about National Cuban Sandwich Day: I made it up while sitting in my bedroom one night last week.

• • •

As a writer who has often been tasked with posts and listicles about various food days, I'm fascinated with the whole machine behind them. There are now somewhere between 1,200 and 1,500 of them, depending which "official" calendar you check.

While reporting a story in last week's Tampa Bay Times Taste section on the topic of where they all come from, I learned that a lot of them are simply made up.

EVER WONDERED? Where do all those national food holidays come from? The answer is complicated

I had long had the vague notion that at some point I'd try my hand at creating one of these food holidays that you've no doubt seen jamming up your social media feeds, telling you it's National Taco Day or National Hot Dog Day. I had an even vaguer notion that I'd write something about the experience, but I certainly hadn't told my editors about it.

Here's what I did.

First, I crafted a news release, mimicking that tone of unearned familiarity and fake-it-til-you-make-it-ness that public relations people are so good at.

"Hi, I just wanted to remind you that National Cuban Sandwich Day is coming up on August 23," I wrote. "National Cuban Sandwich Day is a day to celebrate the traditional pressed Cuban sandwich and its many varieties, which have spread from Tampa, Florida's Ybor City neighborhood to all corners of the world."

I picked Aug. 23 because it's National Sponge Cake Day, and who cares about that?

I included some "Cuban Sandwich Fun Facts," and I slapped a photo of a juicy, melty, delicious-looking Cuban sandwich on top.

I wanted an official sounding email address, so I bought a domain and created [email protected], S.G.S. being a tribute to my late grandfather, Santo George Spata.

I texted a friend who works in public relations to ask, "How do you find the email addresses for a bunch of food writers?" Five minutes later she had emailed me a list of more than 1,200 of them. I signed the email "C. Douglas Spata," listed my own home address at the bottom, and sent it to all of them. I also sent it to more than 100 restaurants around the world that serve Cuban sandwiches.

I created a National Cuban Sandwich Day Facebook page, invited all my friends and put up a post reminding people to celebrate by using #NationalCubanSandwichDay on social media.

I submitted National Cuban Sandwich Day to several of the largest calendar sites that list food days — the ones journalists have told me they refer to when looking for content ideas. Those calendar sites, by the way, have handy submission forms for anyone who wants to make up a new day.

The blog Foodimentary, named one of the 140 Best Twitter Accounts of 2013 by Time, is one place that openly promotes made-up food holidays. They planned to tweet about National Cuban Sandwich Day to 861,000 followers.

Anyone with an Internet connection, $12 and three hours to spare could have done the same exact thing.

Within a few days, I was gaining Facebook followers, had my holiday listed on one of the largest calendar sites and had people responding to my release asking for high-resolution pictures.

I started getting a little nervous.

• • •

I told my editors what I had done. After a brief period of head-cradling, they told me I had to walk it back, take down the Facebook page and fess up.

I wrote back to every single person who responded with any interest in Cuban Sandwich Day. I told them my name, that I was a reporter, and explained how I'd invented the whole thing. I expected at least some of them to be angry.

None of them were.

"Does it bother you that it's not a real thing?" I asked Gerry Furth-Sides, content editor for Local Food Eater, a blog about ethnic food that posted something about National Cuban Sandwich Day.

"No, because what is a real thing?" she responded.

The outcome? The website Deadspin posted this video (above) of media outlets that "fell" for National Cuban Sandwich Day.

 

When I told him the truth, Joseph Rosendo, veteran food journalist and host of Travelscope on PBS, responded with an enthusiastic, "Great!"

Rosendo told me he stilll planned to celebrate with friends by getting Cuban sandwiches from Porto's Bakery in Burbank, Calif. He even planned to shoot a video and post it to the official Travelscope Facebook page.

"I'd be interested in celebrating any made-up day that highlights a culture," he told me by phone from Los Angeles. "All you need in order to create anything is enough people who don't think it's ridiculous, and I don't think this is ridiculous."

Ilya Goldberg, owner of Stone Soup Company in Ybor City, and Ramon Hernandez, owner of Pipo's to Go in downtown St. Petersburg, both said they'd still be running specials in honor of National Cuban Sandwich Day. Cuban Pete's in Cincinnati told me they planned to put up a tent in front of the restaurant to handle the extra business National Cuban Sandwich Day might bring.

"It's funny, they have everything else. How can they not already have a Cuban Sandwich Day yet?" Hernandez said. "It's about time we have one."

• • •

Of course, there may be restaurant owners and journalists who didn't respond to my news release, but who celebrated, or posted or wrote stories about Cuban Sandwich Day without knowing its true origin.

If that's you, I want you to know I didn't invent this whole thing to embarrass or trick you. I love the Cuban sandwich and its rich local history. I also love an excuse to celebrate food, and I personally have no problem continuing to celebrate "made up" food holidays.

Is National Cuban Sandwich day "official"? That's not really up to me, or the media, or the calendar sites. Just like every other one of these national days, it all depends on the public's willingness to celebrate it. As long as one person posted the hashtag #NationalCubanSandwichDay, or got a free side of rice and beans with their lunch, I'd say it's as official as any of them.

My guess is that by the time National Cuban Sandwich Day 2017 rolls around, nobody will remember, or care, where it came from anyway.

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