Sí Señor’s Guillermo Perez on his Life-Changing Sandwiches
The Peruvian restaurant has departed Downtown, but its owner is still making sandwiches worth raving about.
“Your chicharrón changed my life.”
Guillermo Perez, owner and head sandwich artist at Sí Señor, is laughing as he recounts the time a customer walked in and made that bold declaration, referring to one of Sí Señor’s sandwiches—the Chicharrón Peruano, featuring chunks of Peruvian-style fried pork shoulder with pickled red onions (salsa criolla) and sweet potato mayo. An employee balked. “That’s too much!” Perez recalls him saying. “These are sandwiches. Having a baby will change your life.”
Hey, we get the sentiment. When you’re eating a Sí Señor sandwich, the world seems to melt away and the only thing that matters is the pleasure in that moment. And while Perez laughs at the absurdity of the comment, his decision to open a Peruvian sandwich shop in Central Ohio certainly changed his life.
While in his 20s and bored with school, Perez left his home in a small seaside town outside Lima, Peru, and moved to the United States by himself. He spent time in New York before arriving in Columbus, where he lived with a family in German Village. He took a series of restaurant jobs, primarily in Greek restaurants like bygone Niki’s Restaurant on Morse Road.
Peru has a rich tradition of sandwiches (sánguches), eaten at all hours of the day. Perez, however, wasn’t schooled in the ’wich craft of his home country until much later. “I didn’t know a lot about Peruvian cuisine, even though I am Peruvian, because I came here when I was young. But I wanted to have something different,” he says about opening a Peruvian sandwich shop in Columbus. “I came from a restaurant background, and I didn’t want to buy anything. I wanted to make it.”
Perez and his wife, Christell Gózzer (who also is Peruvian), opened Sí Señor’s first location in Downtown Columbus’ Atlas Building in 2010. Following a burst pipe at their first brick-and-mortar, the couple moved their business in 2013 to 72 E. Lynn Alley and had a successful (if challenging) run. Then last year, the pair had to give up the popular Downtown location. Years of never-ending construction in Lynn Alley, combined with landlord disputes and, finally, the pandemic, led to the decision to close the shop so that it wouldn’t drag down the newer Grandview location.
“I never worked in a McDonald’s. I never worked in a deli, so for me it was a bit challenging,” Perez says about his early days slinging sandwiches Downtown. The difference between Sí Señor and the restaurants where he had worked was speed. To feed a workday lunch crowd at his sandwich shop, Perez had to learn how to “work faster and smarter, not harder,” he says. “I’m not the guy that comes in at 5:30 in the morning. That’s crazy.”
As we talk, Perez builds a turkey club and a chorizo meatloaf sandwich and then slips them, open-faced, into a convection oven set at 550 degrees. The sandwiches stay in just long enough to toast the bread, release the proteins’ juices and melt the cheese—provolone on the turkey and Manchego on the meatloaf. “While this is going on, I’m making two or three more sandwiches,” he says, describing his normal process behind the line.
At Sí Señor’s remaining location on West Fifth Avenue, which is open for lunch only, Perez continues to make almost everything by hand—from the roast turkey breast, pork tenderloin and meatloaf to the hot sauce, flavored mayonnaises and creamy pasta salad.
Perez coaxes flavor by using pretty straightforward techniques. He roasts one turkey per day in a bag, which keeps the meat moist. For the restaurant’s pork tenderloin and beef sandwiches, he uses marinades with “a lot of soy sauce, because in Peru we have a lot of Japanese and Chinese influence.” The pork’s marinade also gets a dose of Coca-Cola to give it sweetness. Otherwise, Perez says he keeps seasoning simple, primarily using chile powder, smoked paprika, salt and pepper.
But back to that chicharrón sandwich—the life-altering one. Today, it’s Sí Señor’s most popular sandwich, but Perez admits he almost didn’t put it on the menu given his onetime audience: the Downtown lunch crowd.
“I didn’t think people would eat onions if you’re going back to work,” he says with a laugh and a shrug.
Perez dreams of opening a more upscale Peruvian restaurant someday, but he says that hearing his customers’ response to his sandwiches is what makes the grind of running Sí Señor worth it. “You know, they get emotional,” he says. “People like it so much and maybe they don’t expect it. It’s kinda cool. I like that. That kinda keeps you going.”
Sí Señor Peruvian Sandwiches & More, 1456 W. Fifth Ave., Grandview, 614-369-1500