The Tomey family opened their first restaurant and established the Tomey Group in 2003. In the true essence of a family enterprise, Anthony Tomey (CEO), works alongside his brother, Michael (CFO), sister, Christine (CCO), uncle, Tony (CAO), and father, Fawzi. Over the last 20 years, the business has grown to own 45 Jimmy John’s locations throughout the Detroit Metro area, and is soon opening its first Chicken Guy franchise in partnership with Guy Fieri.
“My dad was looking for something new to get his teeth into, just as I’d been drafted by the Detroit Tigers,” begins Anthony, “and at the same time, my uncle Tony was tired of his landscaping business, so we decided to do something together. We deliberated over a number of options until I suggested Jimmy John’s. It’s been a steady favorite since I was at high school; they serve fresh, high-quality sandwiches, and we were in a position to be one of the first to bring the brand to the suburbs. So we did it, and, although I was playing baseball at the time, I still worked throughout the whole off-season doing whatever I could.
“Despite starting off a little slow, by six-to-eight months down the line we doubled, and then tripled our sales. By 2008 we had four stores, and I had to make the decision whether I was going to retire from baseball and return to fully commit myself to the family business. I’m a pretty competitive guy, so I decided that if Tomey Group was going to be my main focus, we needed to step things up. Unfortunately, we had a tough couple of years with the recession, but by 2010, things had stabilized, and over the following eight years we managed to build our portfolio up to 24 stores. Then everything changed, overnight.
“The number one franchisee across Michigan, California and Arizona offered us the opportunity to buy all of his Michigan locations, which we did,” Anthony states. “That purchase took us up to 51 restaurants in less than 24 hours, which was a big move for us, but we were well prepared. We met with the people who worked in his stores and reassured them that things were going to be different under the Tomey Group, and they were going to be better supported. Our team’s long tenure is a true testament to that; our top 15 people have all been with us well over ten years. Although we’re of a decent size now, we are still a family business and our employees are treated as such, like family. We have an open-door policy, and nobody is too senior to roll up their sleeves and help to make sandwiches.”
The pandemic gave the Tomey family a rare opportunity to put this mentality to the ultimate test. Prior to COVID fully hitting Michigan in March 2020, the company employed around 800 people. Unfortunately, as sales started dropping, and the panic and fear began to rise, the group was forced to close all of its locations for six weeks, with only their most senior members remaining on payroll.
“This was until my brother and I opened up one of the stores, to fulfil a large catering order to feed the staff at a couple of local hospitals,” he explains. “We made 50 of these party boxes and published some bits on social media, then boom, everyone started calling us for boxes to feed this company or that police department. Me, my brother, and maybe one or two employees, were clearing $10,000 a week in sales and donations to feed first responders, and we managed to use up a load of stock from the other closed stores.
“We lost over 300 employees during the six weeks of closures, and when we finally reopened, the stores got absolutely destroyed. People were so pent up from staying at home and sit-down restaurants opened after quick servers, due to the restrictions across Michigan. We were doing crazy numbers on limited staff, which ended up lasting almost two
years. We’ve made it back up to 600 employees now, but we still need more people on board. We finished 2019 at around $32 million and closed 2021 at $37 million. Luckily, our operations teams have learnt to do more with less, and our people work incredibly hard. Things we used to do with 12 or 13 staff are now completed by seven or eight. We’re so lucky to have such a loyal workforce.”
The Jimmy John’s restaurants offer a fine-tuned selection of fresh sandwiches that includes both original creations and classic favorites. A real stand-out point for the enterprise, however, is its inhouse delivery service. “Everyone else out there is relying on third-party delivery companies such as UberEATS and DoorDash, which would sometimes be nice, but having our own drivers is a real blessing,” Anthony continues. “It really feeds into our ability to deliver speedy service; we can make $6 or $7 sandwiches in around 30 seconds, which, coupled with the responsiveness of our drivers, enables some of our larger stores to run $5000 to $6000 lunch rushes. We slice our own vegetables and meat every day, and bake fresh batches of our own bread every four hours. Our customers know that when they choose Jimmy John’s, they can be in and out with their freshly produced meal in a matter of minutes.
“My father has always been a numbers guy, and a key part of his role now is to audit what the rest of us do, to track efficiencies. You could have 50 locations, but if 15 of them aren’t making you any money, you may as well only have 35. This is the mentality that he exercises. He’s 77 years old now and he still comes into the office every day, auditing our work. We love it. He’s the one who can sneak around the stores and report back to us what’s really going on, and he’s always told us that ‘once you settle and think you’re all good, that’s when somebody can catch you up, so you always need to be on top of your game.’
“The Tomey Group requires an enormous team effort, and there would be a huge gap left if any of us weren’t here,” he concludes. “Looking ahead, I see us growing exponentially. In five years’ time we’ll have expanded our Chicken Guy venture to at least ten-to-13 locations. We didn’t necessarily need to branch out in this way, but we still did it for everybody in the company. There are a lot of Jimmy John’s opportunities too, but more so to acquire restaurants that are already established. We’re not scared to leave the state either. Nowadays, I’m receiving multiple opportunities every month from prospects who want to share our success and grow with us, in the same way that we support all of the people that have been so loyal to us for so long.”