John Pawlowski won't return to his favorite tree on his favorite Town of Tonawanda street for his weekly lunch break on Thursday – or for probably the next six weeks.
But it's not because suspicious neighbors scared off America's most famous sub eater. (Yes, we're serious, and more later on how the story of the Town of Tonawanda submarine sandwich standoff has gone viral.)
Instead, Pawlowski ruptured the quadriceps tendons in both of his legs while playing floor hockey earlier this week. He went into surgery Wednesday and said he won't be able to bend either leg for about a month and a half.
That means no trips anytime soon to his favorite deli for his regular sub order, and no stopping to eat the meal on Zimmerman Boulevard for the visits that have made him a minor celebrity.
"I'll be back strong," Pawlowski promised one friend on Facebook who asked about his sub-eating routine.
To recap: For the past 18 months or so, once a week, Pawlowski has ordered the same ham, turkey, lettuce and Swiss sub from the Tailgate Deli in Tonawanda. He then takes his sub and drives around the corner to Zimmerman and parks under the same tree to take a lunch break before heading back to his office in the City of Tonawanda.
Everything went fine until about a month ago when a couple followed Pawlowski, 36, back to his office and confronted him about what he was doing on their street. They weren't convinced that he was just eating a sub. One week later, when Pawlowski returned, two town police officers showed up.
The Buffalo News started writing about this, but Barbara Tucker, the owner of the tree, didn't know anything about Pawlowski's lunch breaks or the brouhaha they had caused until a reporter told her.
Stories about Pawlowski have attracted the attention of Buffalo area readers, but the tale of the sub eater really took off after Kate Nocera, the Washington, D.C., bureau chief for BuzzFeed, tweeted a link to it on Sunday and praised it as a classic example of local news.
I want to tweet out every line of this story it is just so good and pure https://t.co/5DC4ZLe6Cm
— Kate Nocera (@KateNocera) May 21, 2017
The tweet from the well-connected Nocera, whose husband is from Lockport, alerted reporters and news organizations in Washington, New York and across the country, who retweeted the story in turn and brought it to tens of thousands of new readers around the U.S.
People who read and shared the story said they were struck by how it captured life in a small town, by Pawlowski's straightforward desire to find a good place to eat a sub, by the confrontation with the first set of neighbors and by the welcoming response from Tucker.
Greatest local news story ever:
"they remain unconvinced by [his] explanation that he simply is eating a sandwich" https://t.co/Czux4mSOTw
— John Michael McGrath (@jm_mcgrath) May 21, 2017
This really is my favorite story. We should all be Barbara Tucker. https://t.co/Pi7ty0pzaj
— John Branch (@JohnBranchNYT) May 22, 2017
Earlier this week Esquire posted a Q&A with Pawlowski, who alternately enjoyed and was amazed by his newfound fame, until Monday.
He said he was playing floor hockey and was trying to backpedal to keep up with an opponent when he felt a pop in his right leg and then a pop in his left leg. He said he went down in a heap and couldn't get up on his own.
It turns out he has a fully ruptured left quadriceps tendon and a nearly fully ruptured right quad. As Pawlowski prepared for surgery Wednesday, he said his Zimmerman Boulevard lunch spot wasn't his highest priority. But he did say he was avoiding subs at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital to stay "faithful" to Tailgate Deli.
Pawlowski's mother, LuAnn Stevens Londos, thought it was important to let Tucker know that he wouldn't be returning to Zimmerman anytime in the near future. So she drove over to Tucker's house and gave her the news about Pawlowski's injuries.
Tucker got Pawlowski's number and called him to wish him well, a gesture that Pawlowski appreciated. "She seems like the nicest lady," he told The News.
Tucker said she would have worried about Pawlowski, so she was glad to find out what happened.
"When he comes back," Tucker said in an email, "I think there should be a celebration."