Jersey Mike's Subs

Having taken the US by storm, Jersey Mike’s is preparing to take its sensational subs to Canada 

Jersey Mike’s Subs (Jersey Mike’s) is an American submarine (sub) sandwich chain with over 2700 stores and franchises across the US. Founded in 1956 in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, the business was originally known as Mike’s Subs, and the story behind its subsequent impressive expansion is one of dedication and making a difference.  

In 1956, the original founder identified a gap in the market for a relatively new product in America – the submarine sandwich. In 1971, Peter Cancro, who would become the future owner, started working at Mike’s Subs at the age of 14. In 1975, the business took a turn when Peter overheard the owner discussing a potential sale of the business. At the age of 17, before he could legally slice a sub, Peter approached his former youth football coach (and banker) for a loan of $125,000 and successfully purchased the business.  

“The loan, which would be equivalent to around $1 million today, exemplifies the significance of somebody believing in Peter,” begins Michael Manzo, COO of Jersey Mike’s. “I started working for Peter in the late 1970s along with my brothers, as Peter was passionate about hiring families to work in his store. He taught us how to interact with customers and spent the next decade building on the almost cult-like following Mike’s Subs had come to enjoy.” 

With more people requesting a store where they lived, Peter embarked upon franchising in 1987, then changing the company’s name to Jersey Mike’s Subs to reflect the history of where the business was born. “I came out of the US Marines in 1986 and began working for Peter again shortly before the franchising operation,” Michael reflects. “The journey that followed had lots of ups and downs, as Peter was responsible for supporting franchisees and ensuring they had everything required to be healthy and profitable before opening the next location.” 

Despite challenges along the way, Jersey Mike’s succeeded as a high-quality, customer centric franchise operation. Today, Peter remains CEO and Founder, but he can often be found behind the counter demonstrating his passion for both the product and the customer. In Michael’s view, the chain’s success is down to its commitment to quality; bread is baked fresh each day, ingredients are from premium brands, and customers watch their subs being made right in front of their eyes. 

“That’s right,” Michael confirms. “Our concept means everything is freshly made, sliced, or grilled right before the customer, as every sub is made to order. We’re more of an old-style corner deli, using quality meats and fresh ingredients, freshly baking our bread every day, as well as our cookies. With almost 3000 stores open, we invest in training to ensure all stores can pull off ‘made in front of you’ service, and we have become a training company. 

“Each store manager goes through more than 500 hours of training, as the foundation of this business was always operationally driven. It may sound simple, but the complexity of making a sandwich is multiplied when a customer is standing three feet away from you; the sandwich must correctly reflect the order, but you also must ensure it is visually appealing and most importantly, tasty!” 

With this in mind, our conversation turns to the menu. “We have two bestsellers – the #7, turkey sub with provolone cheese, or the #13, the Italian sub – I genuinely couldn’t put one of these before the other in terms of popularity,” he ponders. “Our cheese steaks are a close second, whether it’s the chipotle chicken, bacon ranch, big kahuna, California chicken, or portabella mushrooms grilled fresh with American cheese and served hot. 

“The question we get asked most about our menu is why our numbers aren’t in order. They once were in order, but some of the options weren’t selling enough to warrant a space on our permanent menu board and were retired. 

“We don’t have a #4 on our menu, for instance, but we actually do still have a #4, which is provolone cheese, prosciutto, and capicola. All our retired subs are stored in our inventory; we still make them on request, but they’re not advertised on our permanent menu. 

“Similarly, we have ‘secret menu’ items,” he adds. “There’s the 99, for instance, a big kahuna cheese steak with chipotle mayo. This sub was designed by the Dallas Cowboys football team, and it’s essentially a combination of ingredients from two subs, the 56 and the 43. There’s a history and uniqueness there, and while we promote it or have it on our register, the 99 is something our customers love.” 

Continuing on the topic, Michael explains how the business has pivoted to provide quality options for all customers regardless of their dietary needs. “Around five years ago, we rolled out gluten free bread and implemented a specific process for preparing such sandwiches,” he explains. “To add to our vegetarian options, we partnered with 17 farmers during the pandemic to ensure a fresh supply of portabella mushrooms. We’ve made these available in three subs – #64 our vegetarian grilled portabella and Swiss, #66 portabella cheese steak, and #65 portabella chicken cheese steak. These options have sold record numbers so far, with our network of stores selling over 100,000 servings last week alone [at time of writing].” 

The company’s longstanding passion for its customers also extends to the communities in which it operates. “Our philosophy remains ‘Give to Give’ unconditionally to the communities that support us. Peter has always given back to local communities from the very beginning,” Michael reflects. “Inspired by two entrepreneurs in his hometown, he donated to local football teams, fire departments, food banks, and school programs, so giving is in our DNA. 

“All of our franchisees share these values. Around 13 years ago one of our franchisees in Dallas, TX came up with the idea to donate 100 percent of his sales on the last Wednesday of March to a charitable organization. That’s when our ‘Day of Giving’ was born, and to this day, we’ve donated almost $90 million to local charities. Each franchisee gives to where their heart is drawn.” 

Turning to current operations, Michael is excited to share how Jersey Mike’s is planning to make its subs an international affair. “We’re so excited to announce our expansion into Canada,” Michael exclaims. “After several visits over the last six months, we’ve signed a deal with Redberry Restaurants (Redberry), which already operates successful outlets like Taco Bell and Burger King throughout Canada. It’s an added bonus that both of our company cultures align so wonderfully as well. 

“The development agreement covers the opening of 300 stores across the country by 2034, which will be a mixture of Redberry owned-and-operated and supported franchisee locations. We have other international inquiries incoming, but we’re currently focused on taking a major step into the international realm with Redberry in Canada.” 

Aside from international growth, Jersey Mike’s remains committed to the quality of its food and service, as well as giving back to communities. “We focus on what we do to make sure we’re the best at it, providing fast, clean, and efficient service that leaves the customer pleased and wanting to return,” Michael iterates. “We’re constantly innovating to create new ingredient combinations and we’re currently working on three new subs. 

“We have also invested around $15 million in IT solutions and technology before the pandemic to ensure our ordering systems are accessible and user-friendly. We were one of the first companies to fully integrate with Uber Eats and DoorDash. For example, we recently launched a mobile app to enable customers to order on the go, customize their sub, and receive real-time order updates, as well as access our brand-new rewards program, MyMike’s. 

“Our 12-month plan is to open another 300 stores while staying attentive to unit profitability. I try not to look too far ahead and instead remain focused on today’s business. But if we consider our growth pre-pandemic, we opened 1200 stores over a four-to-five-year period; such aggressive growth was part of the plan, and we doubled the size of the business by strategically opening stores in the right places with the right people.” 

The best part of being in this business is knowing the vast number of lives and stories it has influenced. “Jersey Mike’s has created thousands of careers and seen people develop not only professionally, but also in their personal lives. As a constant reminder, we have a conference room in our home office dedicated to the many employees who started working with us part-time at the age of 15, 16, or 17 and are now franchise owners. There are around 100 portraits in there and each Friday, we highlight one of them in our internal weekly newsletter. 

“We recently supported our Manager of the Year for 2023, Madison Burroughs, to fulfil her dream of becoming a first-time franchisee. After working for Jersey Mike’s for over a decade, Madison has risen through the ranks becoming a general manager and has now opened her own store in partnership with her fellow franchisee, Mark Michalak. Madison’s story is one of many and is testament to the longstanding careers available to those who work hard at Jersey Mike’s. 

“Even more rewarding is that the brand is now generational,” Michael concludes. “Some of our franchisees have become family businesses, with children or even grandchildren of the owners now involved – and those are the heartwarming stories I’m proud to be a part of.” From our conversation, it’s clear to see that Peter’s enthusiasm and dedication to Jersey Mike’s has filtered down to his employees, including Michael, who is set to confidently lead the business into a new era of international expansion.