The good, the bad and the ugly about Jimmy John’s

Jimmy John Liautaud is walking away from the “freaky fast” submarine sandwich chain he founded in Charleston at the age of 19. Jimmy John’s was sold yesterday to Inspire Brands — the Atlanta-based parent company of Arby’s, Sonic Drive-In and Buffalo Wild Wings — for an undisclosed amount. JJ’s headquarters will remain in Champaign, at least for now. Here’s a pocket history of the company and its owner.

Liautaud (R) with entrepreneurship students in the Northern Illinois University College of Business in 2010 (NIU Business/CC BY-NC 2.0)
1983

Founded near the Eastern Illinois University campus

1994

Has 10 stores, sells first franchise

2000

Suspends franchise program

“I started selling to anyone. As long as they had a check and a pulse, I took their money. But by 2000, I realized that our 15 corporate stores were kicking ass, and our 100 franchises were losing money. I didn’t understand it at all.”

– Liautaud on how his exuberant attitude toward franchising got the company in trouble

2002

Relaunches revamped franchising program

2007

Opens 500th store in Seattle

2007

Sells 33% stake to Boston private-equity firm Weston Presidio

A Jimmy John’s store in Utah (Nate Grigg/CC BY-NC 2.0)
2010

Opens 1,000th store in Beaverton, Oregon

2011

Threatens to move HQ out of state after corporate tax increase

2015

Faces calls for boycott over Liautaud’s big game hunting

2016

Sells majority stake to Atlanta-based private equity firm Roark Capital

2016

Ranked No. 1 in Entrepreneur Magazine’s Franchise 500 list

2019

Reaches 2,800 locations in 43 states, most of them franchises

Jimmy John’s delivery car (Mr. Blue MauMau/CC BY-NC 2.0)
$25,000

How much Liautaud borrowed from his father to launch the business

$100,000

Paid in 2016 to settle Illinois allegations of imposing illegal noncompete agreements

$125,000

Donated to support the Champaign Parks Foundation’s Youth Scholarship Program

Like you don’t know what this is (Staci Baird/CC BY-NC 2.0)
$1 million

Donated to support the Stephens Family YMCA and Larkin’s Place play space in Champaign

$780 million

2010 sales

$2.1 billion

2018 sales

“I couldn’t be prouder of the company we’ve built, and I can’t wait to see what Jimmy John’s is able to accomplish under Inspire’s leadership.”

– Liautaud commenting on the sale in a press release