Franchising | May 2017 | By Alex Dixon

Immigrant-Turned Franchisee Lives Dream at Jersey Mike’s

Originally from Nicaragua, this Jersey Mike’s franchisee spun a part-time job in high school into a rewarding career.
After immigrating to the U.S., a part-time job led Alvaro Garcia to a rewarding career in foodservice. Jersey Mike’s Subs / © Ann Johansson
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When Alvaro Garcia came to the U.S. from Nicaragua more than two decades ago, he envisioned going to college while working part-time as a Domino’s delivery driver.

That part-time job, though, turned into a full-time career, and after climbing the ranks at Domino’s, Garcia became a franchisee for Jersey Mike’s Subs and opened his first store in 2011; he now manages 45 locations across California and Hawaii. In 2016, Jersey Mike’s presented Garcia with its President’s Award at its annual conference, which also celebrated the brand’s 60th anniversary and drew more than 1,000 franchisees, managers, and employees.

Garcia explains how immigrating from another country instilled in him the drive to constantly work harder as he’s moved up the ranks and set new goals.

1. Adjust to the learning curve

I got here when I was 16 years old. I came to the U.S. and went directly to high school for a year and a half. Then I got an offer for a position at Domino’s my senior year of high school when I turned 18. I worked as a driver for about six months, then moved up to assistant manager, manager, and district manager. I worked for Domino’s for about three-and-a-half years.

My idea was to go to college and keep a part-time job with Domino’s, but that didn’t happen. I got busy and made a career out of it. I became a Jersey Mike’s franchisee and an owner, and it was a learning curve; learning the business, how to run stores and make money, and doing seminars and stuff like that.

I had a goal to have 15 combined stores, and now I’ve got close to 50 stores, with plans to develop the whole Hawaiian Islands. It’s amazing. I’d like to get to 300 units in the next five years.

The challenge I’ve faced most is recruiting people and money—trying to get investors and banks to lend me the money. In the beginning, I had such a hard time because I was putting in my own money and my capital. Not so much right now, because everybody’s throwing me money left and right. I remember my first loan with the Small Business Association. It took me six months to get that loan approved.

2. Make it a group effort

The Jersey Mike’s President’s Award was unexpected. It was nice to be recognized. Sometimes you do a lot of work, and you start realizing it by people talking about it. It was great. Without my people, without my staff, without my business partner, we wouldn’t have gotten it done. It’s teamwork.

When it comes down to managing locations, the challenges are having key people. Part of the pain of growing is when you’re opening 10–15 stores a year, you have to train people to get them ready. When you train, you train within the store. You want to bring your staff from your store and not hire people from the outside. For instance, I had a manager say, “I want to be a manager here. What does it take?” And I didn’t have a store ready, but the guy wanted to be a store manager. So I said, “OK, I’ll put you in training, which is 360 hours,” and we put him in the store and we taught him all the stuff: P&Ls, how to run inventory, how to run a business. Even though we may not always have a store for them, we train our people within.

We have a great environment. We make employees feel warm and that they are part of our company. This company is a future; it’s not just a part-time job that they can be here and not worry about it. We all get along. It’s all about work and not about who is the best. We’re a team, and it’s a team effort here.

As a company, we provide a 401(k) to all employees, something that a lot of franchises don’t provide. Taking care of your people is the key. If we don’t take care of them, they’re just going to walk away and your business is going to take a hit.

3. Welcome hard workers

Coming from Nicaragua, I’ve learned that people take things for granted here. They think just because you were born here, everything is going to be given to you. For me, it was nice coming from another country, realizing that all you have to do is work hard and be honest and dedicated, and that’s all you need to succeed—as long as you make the right decisions, of course. For me, it was a learning curve, but it was nice to be born in another country and notice the opportunity you get that your country doesn’t provide. In a country like the U.S., the doors are open for you. All you have to do is go to work.

I would love for immigrants from other countries to come here if they want to work in the U.S. They have my support, because that’s how I came here. But I don’t support people who want to come here and take advantage of the system. If you want to come here and work, I’m with you; I’ll offer you an opportunity. That’s the same opportunity I had. I support those who want to come and succeed, and that’s what we should work toward. That’s one thing this country needs: people who want to come and work.

Read more on immigrants finding success in quick service