There’s no shortage of places to get a perfectly acceptable sandwich. You can always head to your neighborhood convenience store for a chicken salad sandwich, pull together a simple recipe of your own at home, or rely on one of the many chain sub restaurants across the country. If you tend to do the latter, forget the Subways, Jimmy John’s, and even the Quiznos of the world, because a new chain is about to become top dog in the sub sandwich wars, and deservedly so. It’s time for Jersey Mike’s to shine.
QSR Magazine reports that Jersey Mike’s is the number-one fastest growing chain in America: From 2020 to 2021, 246 stores were added across the country, bringing the total number of locations to 2,100, and the chain brought in more than $2.2 billion in sales, a huge jump up from the $1.5 billion in 2020 sales. Jersey Mike’s star is on the rise, and while it still has a way to go before catching up with Subway’s 37,000 locations, its exponential growth proves how far it has come from its humble beginnings to earn a spot among the country’s top sandwich brands.
Jersey Mike’s started as a single shop called Mike’s Subs back in 1956. According to Jersey Mike’s own recollection of its history, there was in fact a Mike who ran it, though little else is known about the chain’s namesake. That first shop opened in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, right on the Jersey Shore, and became well-known for being one of few places where you could get what at the time was a relatively rare item: the submarine sandwich.
In 1971, 14-year-old Peter Cancro (Jersey Mike’s current CEO) started working behind the counter at Mike’s Subs, and by the time he was 17, he bought the shop. While Cancro opened a few more local shops under the Mike’s Subs name, it wasn’t until 1987 that he rebranded the company as Jersey Mike’s and started franchising across the country.
Mashed reports that the recession of the early 1990s led to layoffs and near bankruptcy just as the chain was about to take off. This slowed progress off the jump, causing the company to lose the momentum that brands like Subway and Jimmy John’s were building around the same time. Oddly enough, the pandemic is when Jersey Mike’s really pulled ahead of the pack. According to trade publication Restaurant Business, only three of the top 10 sandwich chains saw a growth in sales in 2020: Firehouse Subs and Arby’s saw minimal growth, at 0.9% and 8.5%, respectively. Jersey Mike’s sales grew 19.6%, and sales have only continued to rise since.
Behind all these impressive numbers is a devoted fandom and the fact that Jersey Mike’s just makes a darn good classic sub. Yes, the menu has kept up with innovations in the sandwich sector, offering a number of hot and cold signature subs (like The Cancro Special with provolone, roast beef, and pepperoni) that can be customized any which way with veggies and sauces. But what makes the sandwiches stand out is a crisp freshness, highlighted by ordering a sandwich “Mike’s Way,” which comes with onions, lettuce, tomatoes, red wine vinegar, olive oil blend, oregano, and salt.
This love for the brand has not only been cosigned by myself and my colleague Angela L. Pagán, but by heavy hitters like J. Lo—in the music video for her 2018 song “Dinero” with Cardi B and DJ Khaled, Jennifer Lopez is elegantly draped at the bottom of a staircase in her finest crystals and fur eating a clearly marked Jersey Mike’s meal. Most recently, Jersey Mike’s won the top spot in podcast Doughboys’ Tournament of Chompions: Hero’s Journey: Sub-Optimal, a bracket-style showdown to determine which sub sandwich chain is best. (Jersey Mike’s beat out both Arby’s and Capriotti’s in the final round.)
According to Entrepreneur, Jersey Mike’s also continues to be one of the more appealing fast food jobs out there. Assistant managers, for example, get a percentage of the store’s profits, and the chain encourages customers to tip, adding to the rate of hourly workers. As of 2021, 85% of the company’s franchise growth came from within, as employees who had already been with the company stepped out on their own.
If you haven’t already gotten on board with Jersey Mike’s, now’s the time to try it out. And if you haven’t yet tried it because there’s not a location near you, don’t worry. Based on the growth of this chain it’s only a matter of time before you too can order a sub Mike’s Way.