SAN MATEO -- The way Ike Shehadeh sees it, having his business shut down by the city of San Francisco was a stroke of good fortune.
The controversy over his wildly popular sandwich joint in the Castro neighborhood generated a steady stream of news coverage. By the time the city closed Ike's Place in 2010 in response to neighbors' complaints over long lines and noise, the culinary entrepreneur was a local celebrity.
The hubbub over Ike's Place helped fuel a swift and remarkable expansion that arrived this month in San Mateo. Ike's now has 15 locations -- including Mesa, Arizona, and a new home in the Castro -- and is planning to open more.
The latest addition opened quietly July 10 on Third Avenue on the eastern edge of downtown San Mateo, putting a hop in the step of existing Ike's fans and giving newcomers a chance to see what the fuss is about.
There are various aspects to Ike's appeal, but any explanation of its popularity would have to include the following: creative recipes with alternately wacky and sports-themed names, from Hot Momma Huda to the Lincecum; a top-secret twist on garlic aioli dubbed "Ike's Dirty Special Sauce"; freshly baked bread infused with the signature dressing; and complimentary caramel apple lollipops.
Shehadeh, 36, credits customer service, saying, "The main key is the fact that the staff cares -- when people come in, they know we're doing our best."
The arrival of Ike's adds muscle to the sandwich scene in the downtown San Mateo area, which already included Ravioli House, the Sandwich Spot and Mr. Pickle's. It could also could help draw business to the sometimes overlooked Third Avenue corridor between Highway 101 and the Caltrain tracks, said San Mateo City Councilman David Lim.
"I don't think you can have too many sandwich shops in the city," said Lim, who occasionally grabs lunch at the Ike's in Oakland. "I'm always looking for another kind of pastrami sandwich to eat, although I shouldn't."
For Jeff and Greta Donais, who recently moved to San Mateo from Los Angeles, Ike's was a welcome surprise. Greta had tried and liked a sandwich from Ike's in San Francisco during a Bay Area visit several months ago.
"The second I saw their name, I remembered Ike's right away," said Donais, 35. "I was excited to have a go-to place near our house."
On Wednesday, the couple shared a Jared the Galleria of Meatballs, a concoction of meatballs, bacon, barbecue sauce, sriracha, onion rings and cheddar cheese that was created by the San Mateo shop's general manager, Jared Gomola. Jeff gave it an A-plus. Greta rated it 9 on a scale of 10.
Meanwhile, the Ike's expansion continues. Shehadeh is opening a shop in Tempe, Arizona, next month and looking for locations in Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Barbara. He plans to push east as well, to Las Vegas, Chicago and beyond.
The lifelong San Francisco Giants fan said he dreams of owning a piece of his favorite franchise, so the target for his expansion is simple: "However many locations it takes to own a baseball team."
Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357. Follow him at Twitter.com/kinneytimes.