The Top 10 Sandwich Franchises of 2012

From Philly cheese steaks to stuffed pitas, meet the companies devouring the competition.
The Top 10 Sandwich Franchises of 2012
Image credit: Subway

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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.

Subway

Subway
Number of franchises: 34,134
Franchising since: 1974
Startup costs: $84,300 - $258,300
2011 Franchise 500 rank: No. 9
2010 Franchise 500 rank: No.1

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 for 17 of the past 23 years. It also ranked No. 3 on Entrepreneur's Fastest-Growing Franchise list in 2011.

 

Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches

Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches

Number of franchises: 1,020
Franchising since: 1993
Startup costs: $325,500 - $555,000
2011 Franchise 500 rank: No. 38
2010 Franchise 500 rank: No. 61

Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches launched in 1983 in Charleston, Ill. Founder James J. Liautaud, age 19 at the time, started the business with a refrigerator, an oven and a meat slicer, among some other used equipment. The first Jimmy John's gave customers a choice of four types of sandwiches, plus 25-cent soft drinks. Now, the chain offers fresh-baked bread and a variety of sandwiches made to order in less than a minute. 

Charley's Grilled Subs

Charley's Grilled Subs
Number of franchises: 379
Franchising since: 1991
Startup costs: $103,000 - $432,800
2011 Franchise 500 rank: No. 112
2010 Franchise 500 rank: No. 116

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.

Firehouse Subs

Firehouse Subs
Number of franchises: 360
Franchising since: 1995
Startup costs: $187,500 - $412,700
2011 Franchise 500 rank: No. 113
2010 Franchise 500 rank: No. 113

Firehouse Subs is one hot franchise. Founded in 1994 by former firefighter 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.

Pita Pit Inc.

Pita Pit Inc.
Number of franchises: 295
Franchising since: 1997
Startup costs: $192,600 - $318,600
2011 Franchise 500 rank: No. 124
2010 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 kids' pitas to breakfast pitas and salads and soups.

Arby's

Arby's
Number of franchises: 2,529
Franchising since: 1965
Startup costs: $365,000 - $2,400,000
2011 Franchise 500 rank: No. 132
2010 Franchise 500 rank: Not ranked

When the first Arby's restaurant opened in Boardman, Ohio, in 1964, 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, kids' meals and, recently, breakfast. For example, the franchise recently introduced its Outside-In Cinnamon Bites (bite-sized pastries with cinnamon and cream cheese filling) for a limited time. Despite the varied menu, Arby's has lost ground in Entrepreneur's Franchise 500 rankings, dropping to No. 132 in 2011 from No. 18 in 2009.

Penn Station East Coast Subs

Penn Station East Coast Subs
Number of franchises: 213
Franchising since: 1987
Startup costs: $255,900 - $451,700
2011 Franchise 500 rank: No. 141
2010 Franchise 500 rank: No. 183

Penn Station East Coast Subs prides itself on being unlike most quick-service restaurants, due in part to its fresh ingredients and display cooking setup, 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. Penn Station recently announced a management shakeup at its corporate office in Milford, Ohio, naming new directors of sales and operations with the aim of bringing in new ideas.

Extreme Pita

Extreme Pita
Number of franchises: 224
Franchising since: 1998
Startup costs: $156,500 - $371,960
2011 Franchise 500 rank: No. 176
2010 Franchise 500 rank: No. 234

Extreme Pita is the brainchild of two brothers with a dream: to create an innovative, made-to-order product loaded with nutrition, variety and zest. The result? A franchise offering convenience, speed and plenty of flavor, all thanks to the power of the pita. Offering diverse menu items such as pita wrap sandwiches (paired with a choice of 21 dressings), flat-baked pita pizzas, smoothies and salads, it's fair to say Extreme Pita has made the founders' dream become reality.

Togo's Franchisor LLC

Togo's Franchisor LLC
Number of franchises: 238
Franchising since: 1977
Startup costs: $256,700 - $417,300
2011 Franchise 500 rank: No. 177
2010 Franchise 500 rank: No. 457

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. The menu recently expanded to include four new toasted sandwiches, including The Clubhouse, Chili Cheese 'N' Beef, Pepper Jack Pastrami and Uncle Tony's Italian.

Which Wich Superior Sandwiches

Which Wich Superior Sandwiches
Number of franchises: 110
Franchising since: 2004
Startup costs: $185,900 - $423,300
2011 Franchise 500 rank: No. 188
2010 Franchise 500 rank: No. 263

Searching for a sandwich shop with edge? Look no further than Which Wich Superior Sandwiches. Founder Jeff Sinelli created Which Wich with a simple goal: To create a fresh, innovative concept featuring superior sandwiches served in an edgy, attractive environment. The ordering concept is also unique: Guests use red Sharpies to mark up pre-printed menus on sandwich bags, which are returned to them with their custom sandwich inside. With more than 50 varieties of customizable "wiches," Which Wich offers a money-back guarantee if customers aren't satisfied.
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