How a N.J. sub shop became the U.S.'s fastest growing restaurant chain

Originally Published at by Brian Donohue

Today is National Sandwich Day, an annual celebration of the beloved food item named after the Earl of Sandwich. But it also turns out that the Jersey-style submarine sandwich is having a moment.

Quietly, in almost under the radar fashion, Manasquan-based Jersey Mike's Subshas become the fastest-growing restaurant chain in the nation for the past three years.

In the process, Jersey Mike's has taken the quintessential New Jersey sub shop experience and made it a nationwide hoagie habit.

The guy at the slicer cutting fresh meat. The oil and vinegar. The banter from behind the counter. 

Even Californians — with 200 stores in the Golden State alone — are ordering by number and chowing down on their #13's (that's the classic Italian with ham, prosciuttini, salami and pepperoni) and their #2's (provolone, ham and cappacuolo). 

N.J.'s best sub/hoagie shop: vote for your favorite

"We've taken that taste profile across the country and it resonates everywhere,'' Jersey Mike's president Hoyt Jones tells me, seating at a table inside the Jersey Mike's location in Red Bank. 

The company has doubled in size over the past three years, with 1,200 stores operating and another 500 in development. The chain added 197 new stores last year alone. 

Jersey Mike's started like any one of the thousands of mom and pop sub shops on any main street in New Jersey.

Opening as Mike's Subs in Point Pleasant in 1956, the shop owner made a fateful hire in the summer of 1971 when he hired a local 14-year-old kid named Peter Cancro. 

Cancro was not your typical teenage sandwich slinger. He soaked up the business like a soft roll meeting red wine vinegar.

Two years later, with a loan secured with help from his football coach, he bought the place and soon opened two more locations.  By 1987, Cancro had changed the name to "Jersey Mike's" and began selling franchises.

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