With 500 Locations, the Founder of Which Wich Shares How Taking a Leap of Faith Helped Him Find Success

Jeff Sinelli opens up about how hustle, risk and luck helped him start his franchise business.

learn more about Jeff Sinelli

By Jeff Sinelli • Nov 15, 2017

Painting by David Dalla Venezia; UNTITLED (NO.494)

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I started my company with a business card.

I had just exited my previous company, Genghis Grill, and was looking for my next big idea. I was eating a lot of sandwiches at the time, so I figured I'd start a sandwich company and call it Which Wich, because I had always liked alliterative names, and I love great sandwiches. So I had some business cards made up with a black-and-yellow logo and took them to the National Restaurant Show to hand out. The next thing you know, reporters started calling me. I thought it was a joke -- I mean, I hadn't even made a sandwich yet! But it wasn't a joke. I wound up on the cover of a major trade magazine. That meant I needed a real company.

Related: 9 Steps to Increase the Value of Your Business

I scrambled for real estate in Dallas, where I'm based. Nobody wanted to lease me anything; they preferred sure things like Subway or Quiznos. Finally, I asked one landlord, "Is there anything I can do to land this deal? I mean, is there any food you like?"

"Well, I really love a good milkshake," he said.

I wasn't intending to do milkshakes, but then and there I told him I would. Sometimes you just have to take that leap. It worked. We did the deal on a handshake and a milkshake. (And today, by the way, our milkshakes sell quite well.)

Related: I Started Saying 'No' to These 6 Things. My Life and My Business Got a Lot Better.

Shortly after we opened that first location, I went to Venice, Italy, with my girlfriend. I was still wondering if I had been crazy to start this company. But then I spotted a painting in a gallery window. It showed a man leaping over a void, and he was wearing black and yellow, just like my company's colors. The artist's name was David Dalla Venezia; Dalla is one letter away from "Dallas," and his name was alliterative, like Genghis Grill and Which Wich.

Maybe it was the timing, or the relationship I was in, but that painting seemed like a sign. I went into the gallery to buy it, but it was astronomically expensive. I left with a $10 print. That was 14 years ago, and it's been hanging next to my office door ever since. Now we have more than 500 Which Wich locations open and in development, and the painting has become a powerful symbol for our whole company. We're surrounded by people -- whether they're partners or vendors or even our customers -- who take leaps of faith every day. We don't take that lightly. It stands at the core of what we do.

Related: 25 Common Characteristics of Successful Entrepreneurs

I'm Facebook friends with that artist now. We chat using the Facebook translator. I hope to meet him someday. I've even bought some of his art. But that $10 print is worth as much as the real thing. More, even. It's priceless.

Jeff Sinelli

CEO and Chief Vibe Officer

Jeff Sinelli is the founder of Which Wich in Dallas that now has locations in 38 states and eight countries. The sandwich chain is known for its customizable sandwiches, creative ordering system and personalized sandwich bag.  

Related Topics

Editor's Pick

Have More Responsibilities at Work, But No Pay Bump? Use This Script to Get the Raise You Deserve.
Black and Asian Founders Face Opposition at All Levels — Here's Why That Has to Change
Business News

The Scam Artist Who Robbed Backstreet Boys and NSYNC Blind. 'Some of the Guys Couldn't Pay Their Car Payment.'

In the 1990s, Lou Pearlman made millions creating the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC. It was all a giant Ponzi scheme.

Thought Leaders

5 Small Daily Habits Self-Made Millionaires Use to Grow Their Wealth

We've all seen what self-made millionaires look like on TV, but it's a lot more subtle than that. Brian Tracy researched what small daily habits these successful entrepreneurs adopted on their journey from rags to riches.

Starting a Business

How To Raise Capital For A New Business Idea

These practical methods and tools are available to entrepreneurs who want to raise money to create their own new businesses.

Business Ideas

55 Small Business Ideas To Start Right Now

To start one of these home-based businesses, you don't need a lot of funding -- just energy, passion and the drive to succeed.

Business News

Mark Cuban's Grocery Store Hack Will Help You Score Cheaper Produce

The billionaire talked about his early days in Dallas when he was strapped for cash.