Jersey Mike's sub shop bites into new suburban territory

Originally Published at Daily Herald by Kim Mikus

A new authentic submarine sandwich shop is slicing its way into the suburbs.

Jersey Mike's Subs, with more than 400 locations, opened stores in Vernon Hills and Naperville last month with a Gurnee store set to debut May 20.

The concept, described as a "true, authentic East Coast style sub sandwich shop," is taking off strong.

Mark Cross, co-owner of the Naperville location at 2555 W. 75th St., opened April 22 and sold more than 1,000 sandwiches a day over the weekend. "From 11 to 3 on Saturday the line was out the door," said Cross of Sugar Grove. "We're breaking records."

Cross owns the eatery with college buddy Greg Godi. They plan to open another five stores in the Lisle, Aurora area.

When customers hear there is another sandwich in town, they often roll their eyes and wonder if there is a need. But Cross stresses this is different. "This is unlike any other sandwich shop that people from the suburbs have ever experienced," said Cross, 35, who left the banking industry to launch the new venture.

One of the biggest differences that sets Jersey Mike's apart from its competitors is that all the meats are sliced for each sandwich as it's ordered. "We have no pre-cut meats," said Dan Shanahan, area director for Illinois and owner of the Gurnee store at 7105 W. Grand Ave.

"We're a true, authentic Italian-style sandwich shop," said Shanahan, a resident of Wadsworth.

Cold sandwiches are the company's bread and butter, with the original Italian sub as the top seller, he said. Hot sandwiches, wraps and salads are also on the menu.

The original Jersey Mike's opened in 1956 on the New Jersey shore.

In 1974, at age 17, employee Peter Cancro gave up college and a potential football career to buy the restaurant from the original owner. Thirteen years later, he began franchising the concept. Cancro now serves as CEO.

Shanahan was recently approached by the leaders at Jersey Mike's to spearhead the Illinois expansion. Shanahan, with a similar background as the CEO, dropped out of college as a junior to deliver pizzas with hopes of one day owning his own Domino's location. The Libertyville High School graduate built up his business until he owned 27 stores.

Raising three daughters with wife, Dyane, he sold the pizza business and started opening Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins franchises in the area. He then sold those when approached to join the Jersey Mike's team. "This is the coolest company I've ever seen," Shanahan said. He said it's very family oriented and has proved its success.

He's looking to grow to 100 stores in Illinois over the next few years. John Gritaris of Hawthorn Woods owns the Vernon Hills location at 1640 N. Milwaukee Ave.

The restaurants feature a regular 7.5-inch sub sandwich that ranges in price from $6 to $7. The large 15-inch sandwich is about $10 while the mini 5-inch sandwich is $4.50.

Cross from the Naperville store added that the stores operate with an old-school philosophy. "There is bantering at the counter. People are greeted when they come in and kids are given cookies," Cross said.

The franchise owner said he first tried a Jersey Mike's sandwich a couple years ago. "It was the best sandwich I ever ate," he said. "It's authentic. It's quality."

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  • Kim Mikus covers small business and retail. She welcomes comments or (847) 427-4567.