Subway announced Thursday that it’s entered an agreement to sell itself to Roark Capital, a well-known investor in the restaurant space. 

The Wall Street Journal reported that the deal is estimated to be around $9.6 billion. It’s the largest restaurant purchase since Inspire Brands spent $11.3 billion to buy Dunkin’ and Baskin-Robbins.

Roark also owns Inspire Brands (Buffalo Wild Wings, Jimmy John’s, Sonic, Dunkin’, Baskin-Robbins, and Arby’s), Focus Brands (Auntie Anne’s, McAlister’s, Schlotzsky’s, Cinnabon, Moe’s, Jamba, and Carvel), and CKE Restaurants (Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s). 

“This transaction reflects Subway’s long-term growth potential, and the substantial value of our brand and our franchisees around the world,” Subway CEO John Chidsey said in a statement. “Subway has a bright future with Roark, and we are committed to continuing to focus on a win-win-win approach for our franchisees, our guests and our employees.” 

The Journal initially highlighted the brand’s sales plan in January, estimating the chain’s potential value at roughly $10 billion. Several weeks after, Subway verified that they were indeed looking into a sales initiative. By the end of March, Bloomberg indicated that Roark was a potential contender to acquire the fast-food behemoth.

Subway stands as one of the globe’s most extensive restaurant networks, boasting nearly 37,000 outlets worldwide. In the U.S. alone, it leads with approximately 20,000 stores. 

The company has embarked on a long-term turnaround plan, including several rounds of menu revamps. In 2021, it rolled out more than 20 upgrades—11 new and improved ingredients, six new or returning sandwiches, and four revamped signature sandwiches. It followed that up in 2022 with the Subway Series, a lineup of products that can be called out by name and number instead of customers customizing ingredient by ingredient. This past July, the brand introduced its Deli Heroes collection, featuring sandwiches crafted with freshly cut meats. Subway spent more than $80 million to gift meat slicers to U.S. franchisees. 

As a step in the company’s extensive transformation over multiple years, the growth strategy has emphasized moving restaurants to optimal trading locations and partnering with experienced multi-brand franchisees. On the international front, Subway has inked 15 master franchise agreements in the recent two years. These agreements, spanning Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia Pacific, are set to bring forth over 9,000 stores. In just the last year and a half, the chain has introduced upwards of 1,000 new outlets worldwide, with master franchisees driving over 40 percent of these openings.

Subway has remodeled 10,000 of its U.S. restaurants into the “Fresh Forward” design, featuring LED lighting, new floor coverings, containers, tables, colors, and chairs. Also, the chain is making progress toward its goal of increasing North American openings by 35 percent in 2023. 

The chain entered the transaction with a reshuffling in its top ranks. Trevor Haynes, who served as the president of North America, announced his departure from the brand by the end of 2023, ending his 18-year journey with the company. Douglas Fry, the country director for Subway in Canada, will step into Haynes’ shoes starting September 5. However, Haynes will continue to provide guidance as an advisor. In another move, the previous global CMO, Carrie Walsh, has assumed the role of president for Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA). Mike Keoe, EMEA’s earlier head, has transitioned back to the U.S. to become the global chief development officer, a newly created position at Subway. Furthermore, Cristina Wells has been elevated to the role of senior vice president of U.S. marketing.

Subway set multiple financial records in the second quarter. The sandwich chain achieved its highest Northern American AUV for three straight months and reached its best weekly AUV in recorded history. In the first half of 2023, global comps rose 9.8 percent year-over-year. In the first half of 2023, global comps rose 9.8 percent year-over-year—the chain’s 10th straight quarter of positive momentum. For North America, same-store sales jumped 9.3 percent, with the top 75 percent (17,000 restaurants) growing 14.5 percent. The top 50 percent (11,500 restaurants) lifted 19.8 percent.

Subway was founded in 1965 after nuclear physicist Dr. Pete Buck loaned 17-year-old college freshman Fred DeLuca $1,000 to help him open a submarine sandwich shop and pay for school at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. DeLuca passed away from Leukemia in 2015 and Buck died in late 2021. 

J.P. Morgan is serving as financial advisor and Sullivan & Cromwell LLP is serving as legal counsel to Subway. Timing is subject to regulatory approvals and customary closing conditions.  

Fast Food, Story, Subway