At Planet Sub, guests are handed a playing card when they order and listen for that card to be called, indicating their food is ready. The sandwich shop’s real calling card, however, is bread made entirely from scratch on the premises.

“Every Planet Sub is also a bakery,” says cofounder and CEO Jeff Klusman. “There is a dough mixer in every location.”

Planet Sub traces its roots to 1979, when Yello Sub opened near the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas.

“It was the quintessential hole-in-the-wall sub shop with eight sandwiches and bread baked from scratch,” Klusman says.

In 1998, Klusman and former college roommate Sean Kelly opened a Yello Sub franchise 20 miles from the original, in Overland Park, Kansas. Because of trademark issues, the shop was named Planet Sub. In 2002, Klusman and Kelly bought the company, which had grown to eight locations, including the original location, which today remains as Yello Sub. In the proceeding several years, Planet Sub grew slowly, mostly in and around Kansas City.

Planet Sub

Cofounder/CEO: Jeff Klusman

HQ: Kansas City, Missouri

Year Started: 1998

Annual Sales: Undisclosed

Total Units: 35

Franchise units: 17

“We had decided to grow corporately and not actively pursue franchising,” Klusman says. “That changed in 2008, when it became more difficult to borrow money. Until 2008, we could just pick up the phone and get a loan, but the recession pointed us more toward franchising.”

That shift toward franchising, along with branding changes initiated last year, Planet Sub positioned for rapid expansion.

“Our development of the concept has finally met the quality of our food in this new branding,” Klusman says. “We upgraded the logo, store design, website, and marketing.”

Despite these changes, Klusman says, Planet Sub will never ditch the idea of in-house bread baking and making as many components as possible from scratch. Under the new branding, which will roll out to all locations this year, the logo includes the words “oven baked original.”

Popular sandwiches include The Planet Sub, made with roast beef, oven-roasted turkey, smoked ham, bacon, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, Dijon, and mayonnaise. There’s also the Green Turkey, which includes turkey, bacon, cream cheese, guacamole, onions, sprouts, tomatoes, and salsa, and The Super Hero, which features salami, pepperoni, spicy capicola, Provolone, red onions, lettuce, banana peppers, oregano, and oil and vinegar.

The bread at Planet Sub is vegan, and the menu includes nine vegetarian subs, including the Meatless Masterpiece made with cream cheese, Pepper Jack, Swiss cheese, mushrooms, green peppers, onions, and black olives. Two of the vegetarian offerings feature tempeh, a patty made from soybeans.

“Our veggie sandwiches are not our most popular, but they are an important part of our brand,” Klusman says. “We are cognizant of health and want to offer something for everyone, no matter what their dietary needs are.” Along with the rebranding, Planet Sub is introducing menuboards that post calorie counts for all items.

An average ticket at Planet Sub is $7.50. In addition to sandwiches, Planet Sub offers three soups, plus salads, tortilla wraps, and romaine lettuce wraps, which are low in carbohydrates and calories.

Another change that’s in the works is the creation of a Planet Sub mobile rewards app. The brand already has an email newsletter marketing program with more than 60,000 subscribers who are rewarded with a free cookie for signing up. About every two weeks they receive an email introducing specials and offering exclusive deals. Subscribers also get a free sub on their birthday.

“The app will be much more in-depth, with discounts specific to what a particular customer eats,” Klusman says. “But we will also continue the email program because we realize not everybody wants to use an app.”

Klusman says Planet Sub will open six more stores by the end of 2014. Long-term goals are to have 60 total stores open in three years and 100 stores in five years.

“We have 45 under development and agreements for 50 more, so we’re ahead of schedule to meet those goals,” he says, adding that Planet Sub is looking for “A+ locations” in Arkansas, Texas, Colorado, and Missouri.

“Downtown is ideal because 25-to-40-year-old business professionals are our [target] demographic,” he says.

Klusman says the type of franchisee Planet Sub looks for is someone who is passionate about success and believes in making things fresh and from scratch.

“It really doesn’t add much to the training time to teach someone how to make things from scratch,” Klusman says. “We look for people who want to make money and are interested in their own success. We can teach you how to be good at making bread, but you have to be passionate about running a business first.”

Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru, Emerging Concepts, Growth, Sandwiches, Story, Planet Sub