Jimmy John’s founder: ‘No way’ sub shop would’ve been successful in today’s economy

“No way,” he said. “No way I could’ve started Jimmy John’s in this climate. $ 52,000 wage for a manager and $ 15 an hour. It was a great idea, right? But who’s got all the money now? Jeff Bezos.”

While attending Turning Point USA’s AmericaFest, Liautaud mentioned how many of the nation’s small businesses have closed down, not to mention the crippling impact of inflation on the price of goods. 

Liautaud, who launched Jimmy John’s fresh out of high school with a love for food and a loan from his father, addressed the pressure for young Americans to attend colleges and universities. He urged those who wish to pursue a career without a college degree to find a company they admire and “start anywhere.”

SUBS AND SUCCESS: HOW JIMMY JOHN’S FOUNDER PURSUED HAPPINESS IN THE ART OF SANDWICH MAKING

“Start anywhere in that company and even start at the bottom,” he said. “And you will get noticed. If you work really hard, and you come earlier than most, and stay later than most, and you volunteer the most, and you do the most – what’s going to happen is the real leaders in the organization … they’re going to notice you doing that stuff, and you’re going to get pulled right along, and you’re going to get pulled right to where you want to go.”

As an entrepreneur who built a billion-dollar company, Liautaud emphasized the importance of entrepreneurship to the foundation of the United States.

“That’s how America was built,” he said. “I didn’t invent the sandwich, right? I started with one sub shop and ended up with the second-largest sandwich chain in the world… And then also all of my mom-and-pop owners, they’re all entrepreneurs as well.”

“Entrepreneurship… it’s doing things all around America that nobody’s aware of, whether it’s a lawn mowing business or a snowplow business or a Kool-Aid stand or whatever the heck it is. It’s happening all around the country… America is entrepreneurship, and the world is dependent on entrepreneurship because entrepreneurship is all the innovation.”

The founder also encouraged the younger generation to take all things into consideration before passing judgment, especially in business, as Liautaud shared his experience with others passing judgment about his ownership of a “little sub shop.”

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“Happiness is really hard work, and my advice to young people or to really anybody, don’t judge it until you’ve been there,” he said. “I had a $ 3 billion company with 140,000 employees, right? So it’s not just a little sub shop… So before you judge it, go see it.”

Liautaud’s leap of faith has transformed from his first small shop built inside a two-car garage where he used his mother’s oven mitts and serrated knife to serve sandwiches for $ 2.10 apiece and Dixie cups of Coca-Cola for 25 cents – Jimmy John’s now has more than 2,700 locations nationwide. 

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