The Secret to Jersey Mike's Increasing Popularity? Danny DeVito and the Special Olympics Are Only Half of It. The sandwich chain is staying true to its roots, and focused on real people, and that's helped it stay a top 10 franchise for five years in a row.

By Britta Lokting

entrepreneur daily

This story appears in the January 2023 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Andrew Gioulis | Jersey Mike’s Sub

See where Jersey Mike's ranks when our 45th Annual Franchise 500 list is released on January 16, 2024.

Started Franchising: 1987 | Total Units: 2,253 | Cost to Open: $194K-$954.6K

Peter Cancro, the founder and CEO of Jersey Mike's Subs, thought that his company might open 230 new franchise units in 2021. But by the end, they had opened 252 — the most stores ever. Now Jersey Mike's is planning to open 350 stores in 2023, and a majority are being opened by existing franchise owners. This sustained growth has landed Jersey Mike's in the Top 10 for five consecutive years, steadily moving upwards from No. 9 in 2019 to No. 3 this year. It's also the brand's 12th consecutive year in the Franchise 500 and 18th year overall.

Related: Considering franchise ownership? Get started now and take this quiz to find your personalized list of franchises that match your lifestyle, interests and budget.

Jersey Mike's was already in a good position when the pandemic came. "We were tailor-made for delivery, third-party pickup," says Cancro. "And from the beginning, Jersey Mike's has been mostly takeout." This business model helped drive tremendous growth. Through COVID, sales increased by almost 40% and the average unit volume went from $850,000 to $1.2 million.

This past year, the company also did things differently. For its annual philanthropic "Month of Giving," where every cooperative usually chooses its own charity to raise money for throughout the month, Jersey Mike's focused on one single charity instead: the Special Olympics. On its "Day of Giving" at the end of the month, every franchise pledged 100% of the day's sales to support the nonprofit's 2022 Games, held in Orlando, Florida. Jersey Mike's pledged $20 million to be the national sponsor.

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Despite Jersey Mike's roots in metropolitan regions, some of the most successful stores have been ones that recently opened in more rural areas, like in Vermont and Arkansas. "When we open up in East Rochester, New York, people come out of the woodwork and say, 'Oh my gosh, we've been waiting for four years,'" says Cancro. This is in part thanks to the company's philanthropic reach, which resonates with customers across the country, and the company's emphasis on nationwide marketing.

Related: Continued Expansion and Fair Wages Help Jersey Mike's Stay a Cut Above the Competition

Jersey Mike's also brought on Danny DeVito to do commercials last year, the first time the company has used a celebrity endorsement. DeVito grew up in Asbury Park, New Jersey, not far from the original sub sandwich location down the shore. At first, Cancro wasn't sure what to think. But then he visited the set and saw the hard work going into a commercial that focused on what makes Jersey Mike's special. "We love what he's doing with us," says Cancro of DeVito, "focusing on the fresh sliced, fresh grilled message."

Britta Lokting is a journalist based in New York. Her features have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post Magazine, MIT Technology Review, and elsewhere.

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