Originally Published at Culpeper Times by Alice Felts
As I was leaving the new Jersey Mike's, my mouth was literally watering at the thought of taking a bite into the two subs tempting me from my car's passenger seat. Although it was a hard choice, I chose the popular # 13, the original Italian sub and the famous Philly (# 17).
At Jersey Mike's, customers order by the number of the selection. Owners Pat White and his wife Kathy of 22 years and manager of the Culpeper store, have decided that their favorite is the club...or #8, but they recommend that no matter what you order, try it Mike's Way. Employees enjoy making sandwiches Mike's Way, which is a shortcut name for the inclusion of onions, lettuce, tomatoes, red wine vinegar and olive oil, seasoned with a variety of spices.
In Culpeper, however, more cheese steaks are sold here than any other store in the country. Owner Pat White, said # 17 was the best kept secret, but it won't be secret for long because of its popularity.
The Travel Channel's favorite is the #13, the original Italian, and concluded that it was the number one sub in the nation.
Because of these recommendations, one can see why I had a hard time making up my mind and I can officially attest to the deliciousness of both my selections.
White and his wife have also taken a big bite, business-wise. They are very happy to have the opportunity to open Jersey Mike's in Culpeper. Already having franchises in Fairfax, Chantilly, Manassas, the couple will soon open a new sub shop in Gainesville at Stonewall Shops Square (Wegman's shopping center). And Pat is considering another opening after that.
The Whites also have rights from the Jersey Mike's corporation to pursue openings at Tyson's Corner, Reston, Herndon, McLean, and Vienna as possibilities for the future. "It takes a lot to make it happen."
But White seems the most excited about the Culpeper opening. A native of Culpeper, he likes coming home where he can see family and friends. He spent all of his time the first week just talking and visiting with old friends--"some I haven't seen for 20 years." When he talks about what he likes best about the opening, he added, "Just coming home is worth it."
White started his restaurant career as a Dominoes' pizza driver at the age of 17 and advanced throughout during a 26-year tenure with the corporation. He was approached by a network of friends and colleagues to get in on the beginning of the Jersey Mike's franchise movement into Virginia. Jersey Mike's founder, Peter Cancro, started out in the food business as a teenager, much like White.
Cancro bought a sub shop named Mike's in 1956, changed the name and the offerings at his first store in Point Pleasant on the Jersey Shore, thus the name was branded. That location is now a training center for new franchisees. And Jersey Mikes now has 1,300 stores open or under development nationwide.
"The training is fantastic," said White noting that he and his wife underwent eight weeks of training. And to add to the success of its franchisees, the corporation requires them to have prior restaurant experience. White said, "Restaurant experience makes all the difference in the world. It's 24/7. I don't care when you open up, it is still 24/7."
What helps, also, is the support that Jersey Mike's gives store owners, according to White. For example, he said, "When I go to build a store, I use approved contractors. And I get support for marketing; I don't have to hire anyone to do my marketing."
When White first told his father about his new business venture as a sub shop owner, his dad said, "What's the big deal?"
White responded, "I'll show you."
And he enjoys showing the difference. Customers start at the meat and cheese display case, which contains sirloin steak and roast beef, which has been cooked at the restaurant to a perfect medium rare. White pointed out, "There is nothing worse than overcooked meat."
White explained, "There is nothing pre-packaged. [The meat and cheese] are sliced as you order. This is the only restaurant you will find where the food looks like the [ad] picture when it's done."
After the customer chooses what type of sandwich, a person stationed at the slicer cuts the meat and cheese, per order. White calls this person "the quarterback," who is in control of the order. Freshly sliced tomatoes, lettuce and onions are options, along with the size of the morning's baked bread.
Sandwich orders can come with chips, a homemade cookie, and a drink. Pat takes special pride in his offering of sweet tea. Pat said that the tea is a special order from Dallas, Texas and brewed on site. He smiled, pointing out the two large containers of the fresh and very popular beverage, "One [container] is not enough."
Having great tasting sweet tea seems to demonstrate White's business philosophy, "We train our employees to provide their customers two things: product and experience." He said, "the customer should be treated as an individual, not a number."
Giving back to the community
One way Jersey Mike's does this is with its community support through fund-raising. White arranged a fun competition between Culpeper County High School and Eastern View High School. With a two dollar donation, students, family and friends got a free regular-sized sub. Eastern View barely squeaked by with a win. Jersey Mike's gave a $500 donation to winner Eastern View and $250 to runner-up Culpeper High, making the total funding-raising efforts for each high school $2600 and $2300, respectively.
"We love to give back," said White, and his efforts have already paid off. In the restaurant's first five days, employees made 3,000 giant subs (equivalent to 6,000 regular subs). And in the first two weeks of its opening, the Culpeper restaurant was the number one Jersey Mike's nationwide, outselling the sub shops at the Las Vegas International Airport, Penn State University, Wall Street (NY) and the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Pointing to the newly released statistics, White said, " I had no idea this was going to happen. Culpeper has been very good to us."
So, the next time you are hungry for a great sandwich, go to Jersey Mike's and pick a number...any number. You can't go wrong with whatever you choose, but you will go home very satisfied.
Jersey Mike's Subs
765 Nalles Mills Road
Monday – Sunday: 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Planning more Jersey Mikes in the future, their Culpeper location tops the list. Pictured outside their franchise are Carey Coffey, Pat (owner) and daughter Kendra White.Photo by Ian Chini