Marshall’s Panino Man
Specialty sandwich leads to successful career
Marshall has become known as a panino capitol of the Midwest, and it’s all due to the efforts of Extra Innings owner Mike Sweetman.
Sweetman is in his 20th year of baking paninos at the Varsity Pub in Marshall. He began by working for previous owner Nate Wanzek, and purchased the business in 2003.
He said he thought from the beginning that paninos had potential to generate widespread popularity, that they could become a drawing card for hundreds of customers.
“I always thought they had potential,” Sweetman said. “It’s a unique kind of sandwich that’s not found in many places. I knew customers would like them.”
His purchase of Extra Innings corresponded with plans to establish the Varsity Pub at the former Corner Bar location in downtown Marshall.
The establishment is located at the corner of Main Street and College Drive, in a location that’s currently slated for downtown redevelopment. Three new apartment buildings are planned for the same square block. Two of them will have ground floor commercial space.
Sweetman employs about 50 people at locations in Marshall and St. Peter, where he expanded in 2019. His pizzas are also made at a bar in Arlington, which is owned by his St. Peter landlord.
Paninos account for most of the sales at Extra Innings. Several other popular menu items are chicken wings, cheese bites and pizzas.
The buffalo chicken panino is by far the most popular of all selections. The next most popular paninos are the Alfredo variety and the chicken barbecue.
Paninos take about 6 minutes to make. After baking fresh dough in the oven, employees add the fried ingredients and fold each sandwich into a wrap shape.
About 100 paninos are made on a typical weekday. A busy Friday or Saturday sometimes involves as many as 300 of them. The oven at the Varsity Pub is capable of turning out about 60 to 70 paninos every hour.
Sweetman was born in Tracy, grew up in Maple Grove and attended Osseo High School. He returned to the Marshall area in 1996 to attend Southwest Minnesota State University.
He’s enjoyed seeing his business grow, and would like to own between three and five locations within the next several years.
He said the Varsity Pub and his St. Peter location both attract a combination of college students, local patrons and people who drive in from the surrounding areas.
He recently had a group of customers who flew to Marshall from Fargo, North Dakota, for the chance to try his locally made paninos.
“I’ve stayed with it because it’s been successful and because I enjoy it,” Sweetman said. “The people are my favorite part of the business. I’m fortunate to have many good customers and a great group of employees.”