Everything’s local for Jersey Mike’s ‘zee
How did you get into the Jersey Mike’s system?
I grew up in New Jersey, about two miles from the original Jersey Mike’s, so to me it was always a local hometown brand and I had no idea they were franchised. After starting my career at a financial firm, my wife and I were thinking about leaving New Jersey. I always joked that if all else failed I would open a Jersey Mike’s. In central Pennsylvania, it’s Olive Garden and Papa John’s, so I always said you could never find a good sub or pizza. I had high school friends at corporate, so we got to talking, and it looked like a pretty good opportunity.
And you went fast after that, didn’t you?
We doubled up in the first year, so we decided to solidify our back yard. It quickly became an issue of someone else would do it if we didn’t. So we signed on.
How did you manage that growth so early?
I started an operating partner program a couple years ago when we got to store number three. It was in Lewisburg, which was over an hour away. One of my veteran guys had interest in owning a store but didn’t have the capital. So through their sweat equity, they can earn an interest in the company over a five-year period. Handing that torch off was the biggest thing to keep that momentum going. We gave them all the tools and they run it, talk to every customer, wipe every table and respond to all the charities. That’s integral. I can’t have a relationship with 10 different towns at the same time. I tried, but it doesn’t really work that well.
That’s good for those partners. Has it helped retain talent in general?
Our biggest challenge is getting the entry-level folks in the door and showing them they can escalate very quickly. A lot of my higher-ups started as hourly people who we convinced that hey, this could be a career opportunity but you gotta start by sorting tomatoes.
Did it help get experienced folks, too?
Certainly. I have multiple store GMs or partners that were at Outback Steakhouse or other places, and were at a dead end. Some took a pay cut to come to us and in eight to 10 months they’re operating their own location in a high volume store and making two or three times as much. We talk about that a lot even down to our 14-year-old sandwich makers.
Staff writer Nicholas Upton asks what makes multi-unit operators tick—and presents their slightly edited answers in this column in each issue. To suggest a subject, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
When something goes wrong, how do you keep a strong community connection intact?
One big thing for us is that personal connection. If we have their phone number, I’ll call them on the phone on a Saturday afternoon and it changes fast. They’ll say, ‘Oh it wasn’t that bad,’ even after it sounds like a disaster. Everyone is a tough guy behind the computer, but if you respond to them they lighten up and we see them back next week. If you hadn’t done anything they probably wouldn’t come back.
What’s your best advice for someone looking to grow to multiple locations like you?
You’ve got to get out and just do it. If you stand around and think about it too long and all the things that could go wrong you’ll never get off the bench and someone will blow by you. But I think the biggest thing is being 100 percent operationally focused. The minute you take your foot off the accelerator it starts going sideways.