Originally Published at Long Beach Business Journal by Tiffany L. Rider - Assistant Editor
While bringing an East Coast brand to California a decade ago was a challenge at first, Jersey Mike’s Subs owners Dan Burrell and Alvaro Garcia are proud of their investment in the brand and the 80 stores in operation across the state today.
Mike’s Subs was an independent business in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, established in 1956. Burrell, a New Jersey native, grew up going to Mike’s Subs on Friday nights with his parents and seven brothers and sisters for “sub night.” The menu and customer experience left a lasting impression with him, leading to Burrell eventually bringing the brand to the West Coast in 2003. His first store was in Camarillo.
“After some early struggles, because nobody knew who we were, we opened our second store in Ventura eight months later,” Burrell said of he and partner Angel Velazquez. “We started selling a few franchises. After the end of the first year we had two or three stores open.” Slowly it grew to opening 20 stores a year. Burrell said they opened their 80th store on November 6.
“The good thing about our company is we recruit operators,” Burrell said, noting that owner Alvaro Garcia is one of those operators at heart. Garcia started in the restaurant industry in 1993 as a driver for Domino’s Pizza. Within a year, he became a supervisor and district manager.
After working for Domino’s Pizza for three and a half years, Garcia decided to start his own construction company. He came back to invest in stores shortly thereafter, but no stores were available until, in 1997, representatives of Domino’s Pizza approached him to invest. He ended up buying seven stores in one shot. “From that time, I just basically grew the business,” Garcia said. “It went from a $10,000-a-week average to a $20,000-a-week average.”
Two years ago, Garcia visited a Jersey Mike’s Subs in Monrovia and was impressed by the customer service, the product, the image of the store and the store’s involvement in the community. “I wasn’t planning on franchising it because I was only involved with Domino’s,” he said. Garcia ended up investing in 60 stores, 14 of which have opened in the past two and a half years.
Garcia continues to operate his construction business, building franchise locations for Domino’s Pizza, Starbucks and others. “I’ve been in the restaurant business from both sides,” Garcia noted. He sold all of his Domino’s Pizza locations in June to focus on his investment in Jersey Mike’s Subs.
Garcia and his business partners – John Thomas, Victor Fiss and Joe Sanchez – said they expect the rest of his stores to open in the next five years, which will employ more than 600 people. Two of his stores are in Long Beach – one at 1831 Ximeno Ave. and the other at 3821 Lakewood Blvd., Suite 101, in Douglas Park.
The Douglas Park location is his second busiest store of the 14 open, Garcia said. The Ximeno Avenue store brought in just under $1 million in revenue in its first year, and Garcia expects the Douglas Park store to earn about $1.5 million the first year. “$2.5 million for two stores – that’s not bad,” Garcia said. He plans to open two more in Long Beach as well.
“I’m enjoying it,” Garcia said. “It’s a different brand than Domino’s. It’s completely opposite. One is a delivery company, the other you get to see the customers and have that face-to-face experience.”
That’s what Jersey Mike’s Subs is all about, Burrell said. “No one cares more than the franchisee,” he said. “For our customers, when they come into a Jersey Mike’s and they connect with the owner, that’s what we’re about. We’re nothing more than a neighborhood sub shop. That’s all we want to be. We want to get to know them and their families.”
As owners, Burrell and Garcia agreed that it is important to lead by example. “When I walk into my store, I don’t mind sweeping,” Garcia said. “I don’t mind cleaning tables. I don’t mind getting in the back and getting dirty. If my store is busy, I’ll get on it. I just don’t mind. . . .We treat everybody with respect here. We give them all the tools they need. It’s important to show your people that you are there to support them. That’s the key to any business.”
Dan Burrell, left, area manager and store director for Jersey Mike’s Subs, and Alvaro Garcia, owner of 60 franchise locations open and in development, team up on preparing a freshly made sub sandwich at the Garcia’s shop at Douglas Park in Long Beach. Two of Garcia’s Jersey Mike’s Subs stores are in Long Beach, with two more for the city in development.Photo by the Business Journal’s Thomas McConville