Food has always been a family matter in Jimmy John Liautaud’s life. Not only because today, according to Forbes, the assets of the native of Arlington Heights, Illinois, amount to about 1.7 billion dollars thanks to a sandwich chain founded at the end of unlikely events and without certain prospects. The food also affected the mother, of Lithuanian descent, very closely when she had to fight against real hunger while trying to survive in a refugee camp after the German invasion of Lithuania and also her father, a veteran of the Korean War. and then an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur who a couple of times has come close to failing his business, thus forcing his family to get by and move forward in uncertainty.
A general condition of uncertainty that also characterized Jimmy’s adolescence, whose high school results were anything but brilliant. Between an undiagnosed dyslexia, as Forbes continues, and an elegant high school in which the other boys came from very different backgrounds, as reported by the New York Times. The first beers and cigarettes, some stunts, the study relegated to the last of thoughts and the feeling of being out of place. Even the teaching staff is convinced that this is the case, of being in front of an irrecoverable boy, destined to be abandoned to himself and who knows what else. So much so that we get to vote for Jimmy’s expulsion from the institute. It would all be over, if it weren’t for the fact that a rather unexpected character gets in the way. The principal, James Lyons, senses that behind Jimmy’s over-the-top attitudes there is only a deep insecurity dictated by a particular family situation. “If he goes away, I’ll go too” and so the situation is fixed, with Jimmy taking his diploma even if as the penultimate student of his class in terms of grading.
In the meantime, his father found a certain stability on an entrepreneurial level with a plastic molding company, as Forbes reconstructs. Perhaps sensing his son’s academic difficulties, perhaps to try to give him the opportunity to do something good, he decides to make a sort of father-son bet with him: 25 thousand dollars to Jimmy to start his own personal business, but if within a year things are not going well comes the obligation to join the army. The first idea is related to hot dogs, but the excessive costs make us fall back towards sandwiches. The day after Jimmy’s nineteenth birthday, in 1983, the first store was born, opened among a group of bars near Eastern Illinois University. The choice of location is not accidental because university students’ dormitories are the first target identified for those sandwiches. Unlike what many did at the time, Jimmy makes deliveries and does it personally, with a surcharge of 25 cents for each sandwich. She learns a little from the experience of her father, which was there despite the fluctuating results, and partly from a self-taught neo-entrepreneur, the minimum basics on how to keep a business going.
Jimmy John Liautaud (Image Source: www.jimmyjohns.com)
The first year of life of the sandwich shop tells of 154 thousand dollars collected according to Forbes. The second store arrives near the University of Western Illinois in 1986 and the expansion then continues in Champaign, also in Illinois. In 1994, the Jimmy John stores increased to 10 with $ 1 million a year in gross profits compared to approximately $ 4 million in revenue. However, the expansion of the number of activities throughout the United States has not led to an expansion of the menu which has always remained rather limited and simple in its proposals. One way on the one hand to stand out from the competition, on the other to contain costs. A recipe that however proved to be a winner for the story of Jimmy and his sandwich chain. In fact, the success does not stop: as the official website of Jimmy recalls, in 2007 the opening of the 500th location was celebrated. In 2010 the 1000th location was opened, then in 2014 it was the turn of the 2000 branch, while today the total number is around 2800 stores. Jimmy never came up with a business plan, nor did he expect the company to grow to the extent that this happened.
In 2016, Jimmy sold a majority stake in his company to Roark Capital, an American private equity firm that overall valued the chain at around $ 3 billion, retaining 35% and remaining as president and single largest individual shareholder.