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Top 10 Sandwich Franchises Opportunities For 2012 From Philly cheese steaks to stuffed pitas, meet the companies devouring the competition.

By Tracy Stapp Herold

Sandwiches are big business. The top 10 sandwich franchises from Entrepreneur's Franchise 500 ranking, all rest comfortably in the top 200. The franchises that made the cut are serving healthier meal options at a prices today's consumer can stomach ($5 Footlong sound familiar?). As the quick-service industry continues to move toward convenience, variety and nutrition, sandwich franchises (both big and small) are stepping up to the plate.

Learn the recipe to success from these top sandwich franchises.

1. Subway

Number of franchises: 34,906
Franchising since: 1974
Startup costs: $84,800 - $258,800
2012 Franchise 500 rank: No. 2
2011 Franchise 500 rank: No. 9

Subway is still leading the way in the sandwich industry. The submarine sandwich whiz unseated McDonald's to become the fast-food chain with the most outlets worldwide. In 2010, Subway introduced a line of breakfast sandwiches, which boosted per-unit averages. Subway plans to add drive-through service and more big-box retail locations. The system had been Entrepreneur's No. 1 ranked franchise 17 times. It's also ranked No. 2 on Entrepreneur's Fastest-Growing Franchises list in 2012.

2. Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwich Shops

Number of franchises: 1,202
Franchising since: 1993
Startup costs: $305,500 - $485,500
2012 Franchise 500 rank: No. 22
2011 Franchise 500 rank: No. 38

At the age of 19, James J. Liautaud opened the first Jimmy John's in Charleston, Illinois, with just one refrigerator, one freezer, one oven and one meat slicer. His original four-sandwich menu has since expanded to include 24 varieties of subs, clubs and wraps. Jimmy John's franchisees bake bread at each store every day, and every sandwich is made fresh to order.

3. Arby's Restaurant Group

Number of franchises: 2,483
Franchising since: 1965
Startup costs: $357,500 - $2,400,000
2012 Franchise 500 rank: No. 52
2011 Franchise 500 rank: No. 132

When the first Arby's restaurant opened in Boardman, Ohio, the menu was simple, consisting of roast-beef sandwiches, potato chips and iced tea. Over the years, the franchise has diversified by adding market- fresh sandwiches, wraps, salads, curly fries, milkshakes, kid's meals and breakfast. It rose from No. 132 in Entrepreneur's 2011 Franchise 500 ranking to No. 52 this year.

4. Jersey Mike's Subs

Number of franchises: 462
Franchising since: 1987
Startup costs: $161,600 - $418,400
2012 Franchise 500 rank: No. 81
2011 Franchise 500 rank: Not ranked

The first Jersey Mike's Subs (originally just Mike's Subs) opened on the Jersey Shore in 1956. Peter Cancro started working in the store at the age of 14, and bought it from the owner when he was 17, with help from his high school football coach, who was also a banker. Cancro began franchising Jersey Mike's in 1987 and remains the company's CEO today. In 2012, Jersey Mike's ranked No. 48 on Entrepreneur's Fastest-Growing Franchises list.

5. Charley's Grilled Subs

Number of franchises: 404
Franchising since: 1991
Startup costs: $103,000 - $445,300
2012 Franchise 500 rank: No. 93
2011 Franchise 500 rank: No. 112

Entrepreneur Charley Shin hit the jackpot when, at the age of 22, he brought the Philly cheesesteak to his first Charley's Grilled Subs restaurant, on campus at Ohio State University. Now, his American classics (from cheesesteaks to gourmet cheddar fries and lemonade) are available around the globe. To get an inside perspective, check out its company blog, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr accounts, and YouTube channel.

6. Firehouse Subs

Number of franchises: 388
Franchising since: 1995
Startup costs: $200,300 - $385,700
2012 Franchise 500 rank: No. 96
2011 Franchise 500 rank: No. 113

Call Firehouse Subs one hot franchise. Founded in 1994 by former firefighting brothers, Chris and Robin Sorensen, this fast-casual restaurant chain serves up large portions of hand-sliced, steamed meats at value pricing. Firehouse Subs also has heart, as evidenced by their Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation supporting local communities. Its goal: To provide fire departments, law enforcement and emergency medical services with the tools, technology and training they need.

7. Blimpie Subs and Salads

Number of franchises: 847
Franchising since: 1970
Startup costs: $142,900 - $401,300
2012 Franchise 500 rank: No. 108
2011 Franchise 500 rank: No. 221

With the help of two friends and $2,500 in borrowed start-up capital, Anthony Conza opened the first Blimpie Subs & Salads location in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 1964. From that first store, Blimpie grew into an international chain with restaurants in malls, shopping centers, convenience stores, colleges, sports arenas, hospitals and sports arenas. Each location serves a variety of hot and cold subs, wraps, salads and soups.

8. Pita Pit

Number of franchises: 302
Franchising since: 1997
Startup costs: $192,600 - $318,600
2012 Franchise 500 rank: No. 132
2011 Franchise 500 rank: No. 160

Consumers are becoming more health conscious and aware of nutrition information and calorie counts, which can make Pita Pit an attractive fast-food alternative. This franchise offers Lebanese-style pitas filled with leaner meats, cheeses, fresh veggies and creative toppings and sauces, from a spicy vinaigrette Secret Sauce to Ancho Chipotle. Pita Pit's on-the-go, healthier meal options range from kid's pitas to breakfast pitas and salads and soups.

9. Penn Station East Coast Subs

Number of franchises: 224
Franchising since: 1987
Startup costs: $291,300 - $465,600
2012 Franchise 500 rank: No. 148
2011 Franchise 500 rank: No. 141

Penn Station East Coast Sub prides itself on being unlike most quick-service restaurants, due in part to its fresh ingredients and display cooking set-up, which allows every sandwich to be made in full customer view. The menu began with only four sandwiches, including the grilled cheesesteak. That classic sub remains in good company with other grilled submarine sandwiches, including a create-your-own option.

10. Togo's Franchisor

Number of franchises: 239
Franchising since: 1977
Startup costs: $257,800 - $419,800
2012 Franchise 500 rank: No. 151
2011 Franchise 500 rank: No. 177

Just like Charley's Grilled Subs, Togo's got its start on a college campus, when student Mike Cobler bought a small sandwich shack in San Jose, Calif. He made his sandwiches big, made-to-order and packed with fresh ingredients--just the way he likes them. Forty years later, Togo's prides itself on made-to-order specialty sandwiches, soups and salads.

Tracy Stapp Herold

Entrepreneur Staff

Tracy Stapp Herold is the special projects editor at Entrepreneur magazine. She works on franchise and business opportunity stories and listings, including the annual Franchise 500.

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