Subway, Quiznos, Togo's & Blimpie Pave The Way For Growth In The Sandwich Franchise Industry

The sandwich has come a long way since its invention in 1762 by the Fourth Earl of Sandwich - or so the story goes. That's when the Earl is credited with being the first person to slap a couple of slices of bread around his meat (or order his servants to).

Today, his direct descendant, the 11th Earl of Sandwich, is cashing in on his legendary ancestor's name, turning it into a franchise opportunity across the pond. While the large majority franchises begin by opening a successful home-grown site and spreading regionally, the Earl of Sandwich is hoping to take the U.S. by storm. Gaining a foothold in the most American of places - Orlando's downtown Disneyworld - the brand has sold the area development rights to Texas, and has plans to march on Washington, D.C., as well as add other East Coast cities its North American outposts. The British are coming back - and bearing sandwiches!

Americans love their sandwiches - and have adopted the old Earl's invention with gusto. You've got your subs, clubs, grinders, heroes, gyros, wraps, melts, grilled, oven-stuffed, over-stuffed, bagel, and more. Sandwiches are also identified by region: Philly cheese steak, New York Deli, California wrap, Southwestern chicken, Texas barbecue... the list goes on.

While new names and concepts continue to spring up, many veterans are still around. Blimpie, recognized by most as the first sub shop, began in New Jersey in 1964. In 2005, Blimpie International began an effort to “reinvigorate” and reposition its 1,600 shops and rebuild the Blimpie brand. In addition to a new design and menu, Blimpie is actively looking to expand nationally.

Subway, founded just one year later, originated in Bridgeport, Conn. as Pete's Super Submarine, and began franchising in 1974. In 2005, as the sandwich chain marked turned 40, Subway had nearly 24,000 shops in about 80 countries. Entrepreneur magazine ranked Subway its top franchise opportunity for 2006.

Another sandwich shop veteran poised for growth, Togo's Eatery, started in San Jose, Calif. in 1971. Togo's has begun to expand beyond its California base and open shops in New York, Chicago, and Boston. Togo's, with more than 400 units in 2005, is part of Dunkin' Brands, which also includes Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins. In late 2005, Dunkin' Brands was purchased by a consortium of large private equity firms for $2.43 billion, hopefully putting Togo's, Dunkin' Donuts, and Baskin-Robbins on a rapid expansion path.

Hot or cold, sandwiches remain a sizzling franchise opportunity: Quiznos Sub ranked second in Entrepreneur's survey for 2006, and continues to rank among the nation's fastest-growing franchises. Quiznos, which began in Denver in 1981, started franchising six years later. Quiznos reached 3,000 units in 2004 and surpassed 4,000 in 2005, in 15 countries. Both Subway and Quiznos franchises cost about the same to buy into: $70,000 to about $250,000.

Even the bread and café brands are getting into the sandwich business as well, as the concept of what exactly a sandwich is continues to expand: Panera Bread or Camille's Sidewalk Café, for example.

Wraps also are entering the sandwich market as Americans continue their struggle to balance good taste and good health. Traditional sub shops are offering wraps, while concepts like Great Wraps and The Extreme Pita hope to fill the health-conscious niche. Soups, salads, and smoothies are also part of the mix as sandwich shop and related concepts continue the 250-year-old search for the perfect sandwich. Dagwood anyone?

Published: December 20th, 2005

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