A vegan, gluten-free sandwich + baked good playground at Boulder’s Naked Lunch

Amy McCall’s vision for clean, healthy food hums into its sixth year

By Tatyana Sharpton Jan 24 2020

Walking into the Boulder sandwich shop Naked Lunch, bright red and yellow chairs meet you, tucked behind modern wooden tables set with fresh flowers, gleaming in the sun. Groups of friends catch up while others tap on their laptops.

Nestled near the intersection of Arapahoe Ave. and 33rd Street at 3301 Arapahoe Avenue, the sandwich shop, opened by Amy McCall in 2014, cooks everything on site, including an ever-changing spread of gluten-free, vegan goodies each morning.

Other than its gluten-free and vegan baked goods (you’d never know they didn’t have butter!), the shop specializes in hot and cold sandwiches. It roasts all its meat and prepares sauces in-house, like sriracha aioli, which creamily spices up its slow-cooked pork or portabello Banh Mi sandwhich garnished with cilantro, pickled veggies and jalapenos.

When Amy first opened Naked Lunch, she carried 11 years of management experience at another Boulder-born sandwich shop, which involved opening up new locations around the country as its chief operating officer. Amy loved working with people but found herself missing the creative outlet of cooking. She also didn’t eat the food and dreamed of opening a place that served food she wanted to eat.

Naked Lunch’s daily changing case of vegan baked goods. Image: Tatyana Sharpton.

Naked Start

With the support of her partner Tony Milazzo, who co-owns one of Boulder’s favorite dive bars The Sundown Saloon, Amy took the leap. She quit her job and set out to create a space where she could serve her vision of pure, good food.

To build out the space, Amy and Tony did nearly everything themselves, from staining the floors to spray painting the Ikea light fixtures. The name, “Naked Lunch” is an homage to one of her favorite novels, a chronicle of the dark ride of heroin addiction by William S. Burroughs, and a nod to Boulder’s beatnik past. While a seemingly odd choice to anyone first visiting the clean, white space, the name beckons a feeling of light, which, of course, has a necessary complement in shadow.

While developing the concept, Amy was helping a friend through a difficult heroin addiction and confronting her own life transitions. Naked Lunch became the manifestation and an homage to the pain that rises from beauty.

Naked Cooking

A collaborative team dynamic drives the culture behind Naked Lunch. While the sandwiches on the menu remain fixed, Amy encourages employees to bring new recipes to the table. The back-of-house hums with a constant dialogue of culinary endeavors.

She guides this creative process in a laid-back, organic flow. The team gathers during slow times and she’ll ask everyone what they feel like making that night.

“That’s what I look for when I hire people,” Amy says. “They don’t have to have experience cooking, but they want to learn.” Everyone takes turns cooking, and she always gets excited when an employee returns from a break glowing about something new they made their family.

Because she can’t eat dairy or eggs, the shop bakes all of its treats with vegan ingredients and makes all the soups gluten-free. Amy wants the food accessible to as many people as possible, and enforcing parameters, of course, forces innovation.

A few of Naked Lunch’s most popular menu items include the Spicy Turkey, the Avocado Sandwich and the Rueben.

Naked Business

With a diverse array of clientele, about half of the shop’s business comes from catering. Its daily flow includes a quick jump from quantity food prep to the lunch rush where speed takes center stage.

In the wake of long-term goals, she’s currently focused on doing the daily work and building on the creative practice.

“Cooking is such a great, egalitarian thing,” Amy says. “We all have to eat. I can go into a frat kid’s house and make something with whatever he has. You don’t need fancy equipment or ingredients, and everyone has to eat.”

Header Image: Amy McCall, owner and creative vision behind Naked Lunch. Image: Tatyana Sharpton.