The Origin of Po-Boy Sandwiches, A Louisiana Food Favorite

Po-boy sandwich with a small cup of salad and a side of french fries. A Louisiana food favorite.

Po-boys are a well-loved food with humble beginnings in Louisiana. The most common story around po-boys is that they were made for “poor boys” during a streetcar strike. Is that really the whole story, though? In this article, we’ll be diving into the history of these sandwiches to find out how they came to be and how they fit into the larger story of Louisiana food.

What is a Po-Boy?

Although a po-boy may be simple – a sandwich on a half loaf of bread typically prepared with simple ingredients – it’s a favorite among fans of Louisiana food, and for good reason!

But what really is a po-boy? Well, it’s a sandwich that can be made with a wide variety of fillings, as long as traditional po-boy bread is used. Po-boy bread is a French bread loaf, but the bread is made a little differently. It’s typically made with less flour and more water than a traditional baguette, which results in a loaf that is lighter, fluffier, and less chewy. This variation on the traditional baguette recipe was developed during the 1700s as a result of the humid climate of the Gulf South, which made it difficult to grow wheat. Wheat was imported, but this was very expensive, so bakers found ways to make less flour last longer by creating their variation of baguettes.

Although there are now many variations on po-boy fillings in both Louisiana and beyond, traditional fillings include shrimp, oyster, catfish, soft-shell crabs, and even ham and cheese. Here at Felix’s BBQ With Soul, we offer po-boys filled with Chicago-style sausage, andouille sausage, shrimp, and catfish with cheese – served with a side of fries, of course!

How Po-Boys Got Their Name

The most commonly told story of the origin of po-boys two brothers named Benny and Clovis Martin and their French Market Restaurant and Coffee Stand. 

Benny and Clovis moved to New Orleans from Raceland, Louisiana in the mid-1910s and worked as streetcar conductors before opening their restaurant in 1922. The brothers’ background as streetcar conductors and former membership in the street railway employees’ union played a major role in the creation of the po-boy sandwich.

As the story goes, during the 1929 streetcar strike, the name “poor boy” or “po-boy” began to be used to refer to this sandwich that the Martin brothers served to striking workers. In a show of support, the Martin brothers wrote a letter stating that “Our meal is free to any members of Division 194.” However, this letter did not include the use of the term “poor boy”, “po-boy”, or even stated that a sandwich was the free meal that would be given to striking workers.

New Orleans historians are not entirely convinced by the story of the Martin brothers and 1929 strike for a few reasons. There are many inconsistencies with this story, such as the fact that this story was not recorded in local newspapers until 40 years after the strike occurred. In addition to this, the Martin brothers told a very different story about the creation of the poor boy before 1969 that involved them creating the sandwich for farmers, dock workers, and other “poor boys” that visited their restaurant.

Some believe that “po-boy” may have come from the phrase pour bourre, which means “for tips.” In this version of the story, Ursuline nuns offered the tips of their French bread loaves to beggars during the late 1800s. This story seems unlikely, though, as there is no documented evidence that shows a connection between “poor boy” and “pour bourre”.

Enjoy Louisiana Food Favorites at Felix’s BBQ With Soul 

We may never know the true story of how po-boy sandwiches got their name, but that doesn’t make them any less delicious or enjoyable! What we do know is that they were created by the Martin brothers and are an enduring, delicious staple of Louisiana food, and what more do you really need?

When you’re in the mood for Southern classics like po-boys, look no further than your neighborhood Felix’s BBQ With Soul. Served on a delicious and crispy bun and with a side of fries, our po-boys always hit the spot. 

At Felix’s BBQ With Soul, our goal isn’t just to provide our guests with great food, but with the Southern hospitality that should go along with Southern food as well. When you step into any of our locations, our goal is to make sure you feel just as comfortable and welcome as you would at home. Visit us today! You can even order ahead of time online. We hope we’ll see you soon!