The Creator of 'The Best Sandwich in America' Shares His Secrets to Success
Business is booming for Tommy DiNic's, a family-run sandwich stand at the Reading Terminal Market in downtown Philadelphia that was established in 1954. Its roast pork, provolone and broccoli rabe sandwich was recently crowned the Best Sandwich in America by Travel Channel Man vs. Food host Adam Richman. Richman toured the country sampling 28 sandwiches, before naming DiNic's creation the winner.
Related: Why Man vs. Food Is Worth Watching
Soon after the show aired, the typical 10 minute wait for one of its signature sandwiches jumped 45-60 minutes, with lines snaking around the counter. Many entrepreneurs would capitalize on the instant fame and start drawing up plans for dozens of new stores nationwide. But, owner Tommy Nicolosi, is happy to grow his business right where he is.
I sat down with Tommy, after an obligatory hour-long wait for one of his award-winning sandwiches, and asked him for his thoughts on entrepreneurship, and the secret to his success.
Q: Has your recent success made you consider opening more stores?
A: My son (Joe) is working 60-70 hours a week and I'm still working 40-50. For me to take on the stress of another store, I'd be afraid that one good store would equal two bad ones, and "bad" or "mediocre" I'm not satisfied with. The only thing I've ever cared about is product quality -- I'm always trying to improve the product, not expand our footprint.
Q: What do you see as the drawbacks to expansion?
A: The only way I'd open another location is if I had someone to run it that had a lot of Tommy DiNic's experience. If he's good, then I can give the sweat and the strain and the stress to him. But for me to do it at this point in time, there would be some loss of quality. As you can see, just the hours that it takes to run one place -- if you split that between two places, I think something would have to give. I don't want to shut that door. I leave it open just a crack, but the circumstances would have to be so right that I feel that it could be on autopilot without me watching it every day.
Q: What's the secret to having the best sandwich in the country?
A: When it comes to my product -- when it comes to the thing that I have my name on -- 'just okay' bothers me. Even though you could classify us as "fast food," we're in at four in the morning cooking the roast and pulled pork for five to seven hours. The brisket is in for seven hours. So as you can see, there's nothing fast about that, except the service. My way of doing business has always been one that's product driven. If you buy it from us, we cooked it. And we cook it from scratch. There's nothing microwavable, nothing deep-fried, nothing that's manufactured or portion controlled or out of a box.
Q: How do you measure success?
A: Revenue is how you keep score. So you can't discount that; you can't leave it out of the equation. Because if you're losing money, you're not going to stay in business long, no matter what the quality of your product is. The business doesn't drive the product; the product drives the business.
Q: What advice can you give to new business owners?
A: We talked about the importance of being product driven. So the next thing is location. You have to choose your location wisely, and if it takes months or a year to find that right location, then that's the one I would look for. Somebody with a good product in the wrong location may never be found and probably won't last long enough to be found.