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How the hell do 2 meatball sandwiches cost $7.84?

Gary Busey ordering two meatball sandwiches in "Point Break"

Of the many iconic scenes in Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 masterpiece “Point Break,” only one involves a still unsolved mystery: How did the sandwich shop where Johnny Utah bought Angelo Pappas’ two meatball subs charge so little for food?

The mystery begins thus: While on a stakeout around 10:30 a.m., Angelo tells Utah there’s a sandwich shop around the corner that makes the best meatball sandwich he’s ever tasted. He sends Utah on an errand to buy him two meatball sandwiches, which brings the iconic line, “Utah, get me two!” as he holds up two fingers.

Utah runs along to buy the sandwiches. It wasn’t until my 25th rewatch that I noticed the puzzling circumstance that comes next; not that Utah can’t hear a speeding Lincoln full of bank robbers pull up behind him, but that he orders three sandwiches and two lemonades for $7.84 total — the movie’s biggest heist yet.

Per Angelo’s request, Utah orders two meatball sandwiches. He adds a tuna on wheat, ostensibly for himself, and two lemonades. The lady working the stand tells Utah his order comes to $7.84. That seems shockingly low, even by 1991 standards.

Bringing in a ‘Point Break’ expert

I texted my friend Andy Kryza about this, as Andy is an unofficial “Point Break” historian.

A text conversation about Point Break's meatball sandwich price

This conversation continued for a while, and we attempted to estimate the prices. Andy lives in LA, and he said a sandwich like that would cost $15 minimum in downtown LA in 2024. In addition, he said he was “flabbergasted with how quickly their sandwiches are served during the bank robbery. Those meatball sandwiches probably made actual road kill look appetizing.”

He then added, “I feel like I should make it my new mission to pinpoint where exactly that food stand is. It’s safe to assume that there’s at least some sort of food truck or stand there now, since those are everywhere here. Although the seafood shack where Tyler works is the only actual culinary landmark associated with it now that Patrick’s Roadhouse is officially closed.”

From there, Andy pinpointed the bank, and two doors down, Potato Chips Deli. These days, Potato Chips charges $15.50 for a meatball sandwich, and $14.50 for a tuna sandwich — either one more than twice the price Utah pays for the entire meal in the scene.

Of course, Utah pays with 1991 dollars, and inflation had 30 years to do its thing. I went to the Minneapolis Fed inflation calculator, which suggests that $7.84 in 1991 dollars equals $17.54 in 2023 dollars. Granted, inflation has hit food prices hard since COVID-19, but there’s almost no way you could buy three sandwiches and two drinks for $17.54 anywhere, let alone Los Angeles — you’d pay nearly $45 for three sandwiches at Potato Chips today, and that sounds like a decent deal.

Point Break meatball sandwich order price estimates

Still, I wanted clarity and attempted to approximate individual item prices. Assuming there is no buy one, get one special, the meatball sandwich is likely more expensive than the tuna sandwich. The two lemonades are likely the cheapest component. Let’s also assume tax of between 7% and 10% — California passed a new sales tax on snacks in 1991, and Los Angeles had its own city sales taxes, too. This is a thought exercise, and not a forensic reading, so I’m not going to find the exact taxes on sandwiches in LA in 1991.

My best guess:

ItemEstimated PriceNo. of itemsTotal
Meatball sandwich$2.252$4.50
Tuna on wheat$1.751$1.75
Lemonade$0.502$1.00
Estimated tax7.5%$0.59
$7.84

Converted into 2023 dollars, Utah’s order would look like this:

ItemEstimated PriceNo. of itemsTotal
Meatball sandwich$5.032$10.06
Tuna on wheat$3.921$3.92
Lemonade$1.122$2.24
Estimated tax7.5%$1.14
$16.36

That mostly lines up with the inflation-calculated total, albeit slightly lower. Restaurants also like to put prices in either round denominations ($1), in exact currency amounts ($2.75) or ending in 99 for psychological reasons, so these numbers look decent for approximations. I’d probably round the meatball down to $5 and the tuna up to $4, with the drinks up to $1.25. That gets us to $16.50, and after 7.5% tax, that gets us to $17.74.

Here’s the issue: Where the hell can you buy a sandwich for $5 in LA, let alone $4, in 2024? The drink prices are believable, but those sandwich prices are like what you’d pay for one taco these days.

Honestly, the real thieves in “Point Break” aren’t The Ex-Presidents — it’s the guys buying lunch in downtown LA at 10:30 a.m.

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