From his position atop Capriotti's Sandwich Shop, a chain with more than 100 units across 18 states and the District of Columbia, CEO Ashley Morris has a perfect view of the company’s foundation. In 1976, when a fast casual restaurant was about as conceivable as an iPhone, Lois Margolet slow roasted turkeys for 12 hours at a small storefront in Wilmington, Delaware.
“To have that vision back then is just unbelievable and certainly very admirable, and the reason why the brand is where it is today,” Morris says. “It’s here because of the food and the quality of the food. Nobody was doing it back then. She was a true visionary.”
Early in the morning on January 12, Margolet passed away from lung cancer at her Las Vegas home. She was 68.
Margolet was more than just the founder of a popular sandwich chain, which began franchising in 1991 and sold all but two of its units (Wilmington and New Castle) to Morris and his business partner in 2008: She’s was the creator of a menu item that, in the minds of many, has come to represent an entire region. The Bobbie, made with pulled turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and mayonnaise on a freshly baked roll, began simply enough when she tested it as an LTO. “What can we even say about it? Well, it was voted the greatest sandwich in America,” Morris says.
The idea came, like many others for Margolet, from personal experience. It was a recreation of a beloved family dish made by her Aunt Bobbie after Thanksgiving meals.
Margolet was first diagnosed with lung cancer in October. Morris says he shared a mutual partnership with the company’s founder over the years and has remained humbled by her contributions, saying the “company really owns everything to her vision.”
Aside from her forward thinking from an ingredient and menu perspective, Morris says Margolet’s entrepreneurship was also well ahead of her time. Margolet was only 28 when she quit her job at Military Base Management and used a $13,000 bank loan to open the first Capriotti's. She had less than $3,000 in savings to actually run the enterprise.
“If you think about 40 years ago, at a time when women business owners weren’t the norm and they certainty had a harder road than men, she went out in the middle of the sub-eating capital of the country … where there’s a sub shop on every corner, and she decides very quickly that she’s sick of eating processed meat,” Morris says.
Margolet had to work as a waitress in Atlantic City to supplement Capriotti's in its infancy. But 11 years later, she was opening new locations along with her cousin, Diane Rizzo, is New Castle and Newark. The company took off from there.
When Morris assumed the reins, he says they assured Margolet they would grow the brand with the same values that founded it.
“My promise to her was that we would preserve the values and the quality of the food, and the vision she had for the product as we continue to grow,” he says. “Again, this company was founded by her and we’re growing it still under the values and viewpoint of her, and will continue to do so. The quality of the food will never change. Everything that she stood for, we will continue to stand for.”
By Danny Klein