He also continued to star in commercials, including one with his youth football coach that Cancro says he shot from the hip.
Jersey Mike’s culture is as old as Cancro’s tenure. He turned 18 a few months after acquiring Mike’s Subs (its original name) and hosted a local Special Olympics event for kids from a neighboring town. That will come full circle in 2022 when the national event rolls into Orlando, Florida. Cancro will be on the mic to introduce the Games on national TV.
“Right away, we got involved in local high schools and churches and kid’s programs and just never stopped. Been doing it ever since,” he says.
Cancro whole-heartedly believes this plays a role in Jersey Mike’s ability to resonate in markets as it scales. “We open up in these little, out-of-the way towns and it’s a cult-like following, and we just start blowing up,” he says. “You put a little road sign on and they’re hitting big volume right away.”
It was 30 years ago when somebody first told Cancro to work on his brand. And it’s gotten to the point where success is feeding itself, he says. Operators understand the charitable angle and commitment to quality. Guests expect it.
However, Jersey Mike’s recent surge and why it’s ready to sustain high-level growth, didn’t materialize entirely on good vibes. The company spent close to $185 million on IT and infrastructure—an effort Cancro says was about going all-out and not stopping. Just Jersey Mike’s app was a $20 million-plus investment. That fortuitously finished in the summer of 2019 and positioned the brand for many of its pandemic pivots, like takeout at the door and curbside pickup.
“Starbucks and Domino’s like to call themselves IT companies,” Cancro says. “But so are we.”
Jersey Mike’s stores have all been on the same point of sale since 2004. Yet arguably the most notable feat of late was Jersey Mike’s retrofit. It finished 1,700 locations within a year and a half. Brand-new floors, seating, counter tops, tiles, and the whole front of each restaurant area.
In early 2020, the company pledged to foot the bill, at $75,000 store: A cool $150 million back into the business.
Jersey Mike’s had last retrofitted units in a 2009–2011 stretch. While the brand paid for the majority of that push as well, the bill totaled only $15 million.
Leading up to the recent effort, Cancro conducted a 25-city tour and met an average of 250 people per stop. Owners, managers, assistant managers, and even crew members showed up. First, he informed people of the $75,000 price tag and why it was important to spend money to make money. Then he spoke about changes—the tables, chairs, backline tile, wall graphics, and how Jersey Mike’s was going to emerge a more contemporary, yet recognizable version of itself. He saved the kicker—the fact the company was paying for it—for last.
Cancro says operators popped up and cheered. They hugged. The best part, he adds, was every city, for one reason or the other, didn’t tell the next. So Cancro kept stunning crowds.
If Jersey Mike’s attempts a retrofit again down the line, it’s likely going to include far more stops.
Today, there are a “few” franchisees with more than 50 locations. Some are in the 30s and 40s. But the vast majority have about 15–20. And roughly 83 percent of the chain’s growth currently is coming from within a base of 550 operators, where the average franchisee runs four stores.
That plus Jersey Mike’s rising AUVs is why the pipeline has stuffed beyond 1,000 locations, Cancro says.