Jersey Mike's searching pizza market for franchisees

| by S.A. Whitehead
Jersey Mike's searching pizza market for franchisees

Sometimes a brand's best potential franchisee "pickings" are already operating entirely different buy operationally similar types of restaurants. That, at least, has been the case for leaders of the sub shop brand, Jersey Mike's. It has found that prospecting is pretty good among those with QSR experience, but it might be even better among pizza operators. 

Granted, many times, pizza and sub offerings land on the same brand's menu, but Jersey Mike's has found that the two restaurant sectors share a lot of the same operational qualities and seem to attract similar types of franchisees. 

Take Jersey Mike's Franchisee Bob Middleton, for example. For the past 30 years, he has worked with larger pizza franchises, including Little Caesars since 1998. Middleton got turned on to the sub shop brand through his pizza franchisee friends, who had success also operating Jersey Mike's units. Middleton said his experience with the brand has also been exceptionally well-matched to his pizza operational experience. 

"In addition to both having relatively easy operations to execute, they also share similarities between the cost to build and unit economics, which I understand and like," Middleton said in an interview with Pizza Marketplace.

But just because they are operationally similar does not mean he has ever seriously considered connecting the two types of restaurant ventures in any way. He thinks that would be damaging to all the brands involved. 

"I keep all of my brands separate so that their respective cultures stay intact," he said. "I believe it's important not to mix people between brands and operate them as totally separate companies." 

Jersey Mike's President Hoyt Jones said the brand has found great success adapting pizza franchisees to the Jersey Mike's "way." In fact, they had a presence at one pizza restaurateur event this year already as part of their efforts to tap into that sector's franchisee pipeline. 

"In addition to both having relatively easy operations to execute, they also share similarities between the cost to build and unit economics, which I understand and like."       -Jersey Mike's Franchisee Bob Middleton

Today, nearly one-fifth of  Jersey Mike's operators have experience managing or owning a pizza-related brand. Add that to the fact that 40 percent of the company's area directors have the same experience, and you can see why the brand is investing time and money into forming more of those types of relationships. 

"We have been fortunate to have successful transitions from numerous pizza company operators, both local and franchise-driven," Jones said, explaining that many business owners seek diversity on one hand in their holdings but similar cultures on the other.

Likewise, Jones said Jersey Mike's gravitates toward "hands-on operators, who love the hospitality business."

That's evident when you ask a franchisee of both restaurant types what he or she likes most about operating a sub business or a pizza brand. As Middleton put it, it's the same two qualities, "Simplicity and unit economics. ... If you have found success in the pizza business, most likely you will find success in the sub business as well. There are more similarities than differences."

But Jones said the brand has never seriously considered adding pizza to its menu in any way. As he puts it, "We like being focused on making the best submarine sandwich in the world."

And on that note, the brand seems to know what its doing considering that, last year, it opened more than 170 restaurants nationwide and achieved a 6 percent system-wide same-store sales increase. This year, Jones said he anticipates opening another 200 stores in the U.S. And you better believe they are checking out all the pizza operators in those new neighborhoods as well. 

Topics: Franchising & Growth

S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of and after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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