Jimmy John's: 20 Facts About The Popular Sandwich Chain

Jimmy John's is one of the upstart sandwich shops that's putting a hurt on longtime staples like Subway, and it's no wonder. Founded in 1983, it staked its reputation on freshly made food with the best ingredients it could source, made so fast you could be in and out the door before you know it. Its mission statement is all about meat products made in the USA, bread that's baked fresh daily, and sustainable practices. The chain even stresses its dedication to green practices from recycling to sustainable farming, and points out that wherever its stores are, it relies on small businesses, contractors, plumbers, electricians, and sign-makers to make the chain what it is.

Sounds great, right? It all sounds like everything's come together to make Jimmy John's the responsible choice if you want to get a good lunch at a place that's going to do right by those around it. But there's always more to the story, so what is it that you don't know about this freaky fast chain?

Jimmy John's was supposed to be a hot dog stand

As devotees probably know, Jimmy John is a real person. Jimmy John Liautaud got started on the idea at an age when most of us are still trying to figure out what we want to do with life — he laid the groundwork for his restaurant chain when he was only 19. According to Success, he had one person to thank for it all: his father.

Liautaud's father gave him something of an ultimatum: enlist in the U.S. Army or start a business. While he would have preferred to see his son take the military route, he still agreed to give him $25,000 to start a business in exchange for a 48 percent ownership in whatever opened.

Originally, that was supposed to be a hot dog stand. It didn't take long for Liautaud to find out he didn't have the cash for hot dogs, and opened the low-overhead, cold sandwich shop in 1983. He made a profit in year one, bought out his father in year two, and never looked back.

Jimmy John's got in trouble over a non-compete clause

In 2016, Jimmy John's got into some serious trouble over a pretty insane non-compete clause it forced its workers to sign. According to Reuters, all employees were forced to sign a waiver as part of their hiring package, agreeing to not work for any other sandwich shop or deli within 2-3 miles of a Jimmy John's location. Not only was this clause in effect while they worked at Jimmy John's, but for two years following the end of their JJ's employment.

Not surprisingly, Jimmy John's found itself in court over the agreement that multiple states — including Illinois and New York — said served only to lock employees into low-wage jobs and restrict their ability to go elsewhere. New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman didn't pull any punches when he commented on the agreement, saying (via CNBC), "They limit mobility and opportunity for vulnerable workers and bully them into staying with the threat of being sued."

Ultimately, Jimmy John's promised to drop the clause from its hiring paperwork, not enforce any that had been previously signed, and give $100,000 to the development of a program designed to inform people about the truth of non-compete agreements.

Jimmy John's caused several food poisoning outbreaks

In March 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced (via Food Safety News) the food poisoning outbreak that had started in December 2017 was at an end. There were 10 confirmed cases across Wisconsin and Illinois, and eight were linked to sprouts from Jimmy John's. The chain finally removed the offending item from its menu, and while any outbreak is terrible, this one is only half the story.

Food Safety News says that wasn't the first time Jimmy John's customers have gotten sick from eating sprouts on their sandwiches. In May 2014, 19 people came down with a strain of E. coli, with some reporting they'd eaten Jimmy John's sprouts before getting sick. It was E. coli again in 2012, when 85% of the cases were linked to the chain's sprouts. Two 2010 salmonella outbreaks and another in 2009 were, again, linked to Jimmy John's sprouts, and in 2008, University of Colorado students got sick with E. coli, traced back to Jimmy John's, sprouts — and employees who continued to work while sick. That's a lot of food poisoning, and that brings us to some advice: skip the sprouts.

Eventually, sprouts were brought back to some Jimmy John's locations, but were only available on request. 

Jimmy John's has been warned by the FDA

Way back in 1906, the United States passed the Pure Food and Drug Act, which ultimately led to the creation of the FDA. Today, says the Smithsonian, the agency is responsible for guaranteeing the safety of around $1 trillion worth of food, medicine, and other products ... and in 2020, Jimmy John's was on its radar after yet another E. Coli outbreak in 2019.

According to CNN, the FDA issued Jimmy John's a warning letter on February 21, 2020 — and it was serious stuff. It accused the chain of "receiving and offering for sale adulterated fresh produce, specifically clover sprouts and cucumbers."

The letter linked those products to five recent outbreaks of food poisoning back to 2012. All in all, that's seven years' worth of outbreaks in 17 states, and it could have been worse had the FDA looked back even further. The FDA's letter condemned the decision to rectify the problem by only destroying the sprouts in the Iowa restaurants and performing a "one-time cleaning and sanitation" at those same restaurants. It was absolutely nowhere near good enough to convince the FDA that it was serving safe food. 

It was also criticized for serving different varieties of sprouts than the ones it had promised the FDA it would stick to back in 2012. JJ's had 15 days to address the violations, or face consequences "including seizure and/or injunction."

In response, the chain removed all sprouts from all locations.

The Jimmy John's founder has been protested and boycotted for his politics

Politics and business rarely mix well, and in 2010 a group of protestors staked out an Arizona Jimmy John's to draw attention to founder Jimmy John Liautaud's support for the controversial Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio. (If you haven't heard of him, Snopes says that while many accusations against him aren't true, he did decline to investigate sex crimes against children, and referred to his 7-acre, outdoor jail as a "concentration camp".)

Even the owner of the franchise targeted by the protest hurried to distance himself from Liautaud's politics, says Tucson News Now. It came on the heels of a court case over whether or not the names of major Republican Party donors should be kept secret. According to the Phoenix New Times, it was only after court ordered transparency that Jimmy John Liautaud's name cropped up as one of the biggest donors to Arpaio's "Sheriff's Command Association." Do some digging into exactly what that is, and you'll find that no one's really sure. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes it as "a shadowy entity," while another person involved described them as, "Just a bunch of individuals who are concerned about what's going on in Maricopa County." It's no wonder franchisees tried to distance themselves.

Unions brought Jimmy John's big problems

In 2010, Jimmy John's employees in Minneapolis voted on whether or not to unionize with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Those who voted in favor of unionizing had some pretty damning things to say about their employer. One worker told MPR News, "I'm voting 'yes' because conditions at Jimmy John's are pretty terrible right now." They went on to cite things like a lack of sick days, needing to find their own replacements if they do get sick, years spent making no more than minimum wage, and no health insurance as some of the biggest problems.

The president of that group of stores, Mike Mulligan, actively discouraged unionization, and it went even further. According to the Huffington Post, the six leaders of the unionization movement were fired for going public with the fight and the conditions. They filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board, and the law absolutely weighed in on their side. Unfortunately, thanks to all the legal red tape, the case dragged on for years before the employees were anywhere near being reinstated. It took so long it was something of a hollow victory (many of the ex-employees had relocated or moved on in their careers) ... but it was a victory nonetheless.

Big game hunting caused Jimmy John's more problems

Some things are just naturally polarizing, and one of those things is trophy hunting. There's a relatively few people who do it and a lot of people who hate it, so it's not surprising there was a huge backlash against Jimmy John Liautaud when photos of him posing with the animals he'd killed showed up on the internet — photos we're not going to show you here.

The pictures showed him hugging a dead leopard, sitting on a dead elephant, and leaning on a dead rhino. They've been making the rounds on the internet for years, but Business Insider says that when they resurfaced around the same time as the controversy surrounding Cecil the lion's death, people got even angrier. The word "alleged" was used a lot, but safari records confirm that someone named "Jimmy John Liautaud" has gone out hunting zebra, elephant, rhino, lynx, leopard, kudu, and other big African animals.

While they also stress there's nothing illegal that's been tied to the photos or the activities behind them, it's worth a reminder that something doesn't have to be illegal to be shameful and distasteful — especially when it's the court of social media calling the shots.

Jimmy John's freaky fast delivery caused a lawsuit

Jimmy John's "freaky fast delivery" service was at the heart of two terrible accidents. In 2011, motorcyclist Ty Cirillo was hit by a Jimmy John's driver on his way to a delivery. Then 19 years old, Cirillo suffered such severe injuries he was expected to be wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life, CBS Las Vegas reported. 

Then, in 2013, a 79-year-old West Virginia man was hit and killed by a Jimmy John's driver who eyewitnesses described as going "very fast." The West Virginia Record says the police report specified the driver was looking not in front of him but at the clock when he hit J. Robert McClain, leading to a lawsuit that claimed the high-pressure delivery option led to reckless driving and accidents.

Morgantown attorney Allan Karlin specified the legalities of what was at work here, saying (via the West Virginia Record) that if a company puts rules and regulations in place that lead to employees' dangerous behaviors, then yes, that company is absolutely responsible for their actions. In 2015, BizJournal reported the chain was starting to back away from the idea of super-fast delivery.

Jimmy John's went above and beyond to help a dying man

No one should ever underestimate the meaning a simple act of kindness can have for someone going through the worst time of their life. In 2012, one Jimmy John's store owner, Kristin Duke, went above and beyond to give a bit of comfort to a Missouri man in his last days.

According to the St. Joseph News-Press, Jeannie Marmaud knew her husband, John, was dying of cancer when he asked her for a sandwich. Specifically, he wanted a Jimmy John's lettuce, tuna, and onion sandwich. Unfortunately, the Marmauds lived outside the store's normal delivery area, and there was no way for her to drive there, so she called and asked for a favor.

Not only did employees deliver his sandwich, but they refused to let Marmaud pay for it. It ended up being the last real meal her husband was able to eat, and it's proof that a little kindness goes a long way.

There are some Jimmy John's ordering secrets

It's not really a secret menu if everyone knows about it, but there are some items that can only get if you know how to ask for them. That includes sandwiches like the Gargantuan, which is basically a pile of cured and smoked meats — salami, roast beef, capicola, and smoked ham — on a sandwich. Want extra meat with your meat? Ask for the Noah's Ark, and you'll get a double helping of everything.

There's also the Slim BLT, says Secret Menus, and that's a slim sub with 6 pieces of bacon ... and without the lettuce and tomato that gets in the way of pure bacon bliss.

There's another little menu hack you need know about, too. Since Jimmy John's is all about speed and efficiency, they sacrifice some variety for that. That means mustard-lovers are limited to Dijon ... sort of. Most locations still have regular yellow mustard in packets; you just have to ask for it. Now you know!

There are some shockingly unhealthy items at Jimmy John's

If you're looking for a quick and healthy lunch, a carefully chosen sandwich from Jimmy John's might seem like just the thing. But some of its subs are shockingly unhealthy — even ones that sound like they would be good for you.

Let's take the #6, The Veggie. It's got tomato, cucumber, lettuce, sprouts, avocado, mayo, and some cheese, so it sounds pretty healthy, right? So healthy, in fact, that you might feel confident in ordering the largest size. Peek at the nutritional information, though, and you'll find the giant one will set you back 1,380 calories, 78 grams of fat, and 2,470 milligrams of sodium. (For reference, the American Heart Association recommends limiting your sodium intake to no more than 1,500 milligrams per day.) 

There are plenty of healthy options at Jimmy John's, thanks to its lettuce-wrapped Unwich options. But buyer be warned, not everything that seems healthy actually is, and this is just one more fast food chain where it really pays to read the fine print.

Jimmy John has only minimal involvement now

Jimmy John Liautaud's name might be on the company, but in 2016, he sold most of it to Roark Capital — the same firm that bought Arby's, Buffalo Wild Wings, Jamba Juice, Seattle's Best, Sonic, and Auntie Anne's. And in 2019, he sold the rest of his stakes for an undisclosed amount to Inspire Brands, which is majority-owned by Roark affiliates. 

In 2016, Jimmy John's was valued at an impressive $3 billion. Forbes says Liautaud held onto 35% of the company, a role as chairman, and was put in charge of "food and culture." 

It's not the first time Liautaud sold a chunk of the company. In 2007, he sold 28% to Weston Presidio as a way of diversifying, saying, "I knew that if I could make $2 million a year, no matter what happened to Jimmy John's, I could live my entire life." Fast forward to 2014, when Weston Presidio wanted out, and Liautaud invited Roark Capital to step up. It worked out for him: "I knew I needed a big brother."

And now, it's that big brother who's doing most of the heavy lifting. Liautaud spends much of his time tooling around in one of his 50-odd cars (which include a LaFerrari Aperta worth around $2.2 million and a $300,000 McLaren). He loves them: "When there's a super-rare car, I always try to buy two." Otherwise, you might find him on his 200-foot yacht, cruising the world's oceans.

Jimmy John's is trying to keep its delivery service an advantage

Forbes says that around the time Roark took over Jimmy John's, the insane growth the chain had seen for years was starting to decline. One of the reasons, it said, was that it was just no longer as special as it had once been. 

Jimmy John's got popular because it offered delivery, and when it opened, it made it unique. Thanks to the rise in popularity of services like Uber Eats, other chains are starting to take away a piece of that pie. What's a chain to do? Try to make it clear that it has better delivery. 

That's why a recent marketing campaign has stressed the fact that when customers order from Jimmy John's, it's Jimmy John's who's going to deliver. And it's possible that still might be a selling point — surveys (via The TakeOut) estimate that 35% of people who place orders through third-party delivery services aren't happy with the outcome. 

But in order to make sure customers are getting the freshest subs possible in the fastest time, AdAge says Jimmy John's isn't going to be delivering any farther than five minutes from its stores.

Jimmy John's has been accused of wage theft

Wage theft in the restaurant industry is a huge problem, and Jimmy John's has gotten more than its share of accusations. 

In 2014, two former employees took the chain to court for what they described as "systematic wage theft." The workers claimed they were regularly given tasks to complete, forced to stay until they were finished, and were regularly clocked out before they were done, reports the Huffington Post. According to Chicago Business, the class action lawsuit saw a monumental ruling in 2017, when the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that they were able to sue both corporate and franchisees for the wage theft. At the heart of the problem, they say, were managers who were given bonuses based on meeting payroll costs too low to be reasonable, leading to a regular practice of forcing off-the-clock labor. 

That's not the only time it has been sued, either. In 2014, Top Class Actions reported on a lawsuit where delivery drivers sued, claiming they weren't compensated for using their own vehicles. They were responsible for paying all maintenance and insurance costs with no reimbursement from the company, the suit said. And even worse, they paid by the delivery, not by the mileage. 

Then, in 2019, there was another lawsuit given the go-ahead. Top Class Actions reported assistant managers were filing a lawsuit because they had been being forced to work overtime, performing the same duties as other employees, while being classified as "exempt" from overtime wages.

Jimmy John keeps handing out free subs to promote the shop

When Jimmy John Liautaud first started his sandwich shop, it wasn't in the greatest location, so people weren't visiting as much as he had hoped. However, he knew that once people got a taste of his subs, they'd be more likely to come in to make an order. So, he went around to local businesses and to places where university students hung out to hand out free subs.

All these years later, Liautaud hasn't abandoned his tradition of giving away sandwiches to attract new customers. If he could afford to give away sandwiches while struggling to get his first customers, he certainly can afford to give away sandwiches now to get more customers in the door more often. If you're hungry right now, you can go down to your nearest location and ask to join the Freaky Fast Rewards program. Then, after you make your first order, your second order will include a free sandwich. Thereafter, the more you eat at Jimmy John's, the closer you will get to earning rewards for other food and drinks, including sandwiches.

Jimmy John's has some high-profile fans

NFL quarterback Drew Brees likes Jimmy John's so much that he owns a few stores. However, his love for the chain goes back further than his NFL career. When he was playing ball for Purdue, Brees said he ordered the No. 9 (the Italian Night Club) from the menu several times a week because it was his jersey number in college. When he started playing for the New Orleans Saints, there were no Jimmy John's restaurants anywhere nearby. To satisfy his cravings, he ended up bringing the chain to New Orleans as a store owner, where he has since expanded to about 20 locations.

Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney loves Jimmy John's sandwiches and served them regularly to members of the press who followed him around the country. The story of the founding of Jimmy John's became a regular soapbox issue for capitalism and small government during Romney's campaign speeches in 2012. In one Pennsylvania speech, Romney said, "I happen to believe that Jim Liautaud, Jimmy John, built that business with the help of people around him, his friends, the people who worked there in that enterprise. I do not give government credit for having built that. I give free people credit for having built that business." Of course, it didn't hurt that Liautaud's dad was able to give him $20,000 in startup funds for the restaurant chain, which isn't necessarily something to which everyone has access (via NPR).

Why Jimmy John's doesn't toast bread

Warm sandwich lovers beware: You'll never get a hot sandwich from Jimmy John's. Sure, Jimmy John's can toast your sandwich, but it won't toast your bread. In a 2015 Twitter post, Jimmy John's sarcastically told the world, "When someone asks me if I can toast their sandwich, I raise my cup & say, 'To your sandwich!'" So, if you're looking for a toasted sub, you're going to have to find elsewhere, like Quizno's.

Why won't Jimmy John's toast your bread? Well, it all comes down to how quickly the chain can get the sandwich into your hands. Former employee Josef Provido said via Quora that it's all about "the commitment to making a freaky fast sandwich." Making the sandwich and wrapping it "has to be done in 30 seconds or less! If we toast the bread, the timing will get disrupted," he said. Jimmy John's does everything it can to simplify its menu and processes to get your sandwich to you as quickly as possible. If you look at the menu, you'll notice that there are only seven meat choices and only one type of cheese. If you look at the countertop setup, you won't see any kitchen machinery like grills or steamers either. The only process that should stand between you and your food is assembling your sandwich and ringing up your order. Thus, the restaurant maximizes the number of happy customers it can serve, especially during a busy lunch rush.

Jimmy John's may be scrapping its dining room

Two interesting side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were that restaurants started having more carry-out and delivery orders and fewer people were eating their food in the dining room. As a result, many restaurant chains have been experimenting with the idea of having a drive-through-only restaurant. When the company realized 52% of its orders were no longer dining room orders in 2021 (per QSR Magazine), Jimmy John's decided to jump on the no-dining-room bandwagon. The chain opened its first drive-through-only location in 2022 in Bartow, Florida, (a Lakeland suburb).

One of the two lanes is for window orders, while the other is a pickup lane with lockers for pre-ordered food. However, with the chain offering a 30-minute order guarantee, you might as well order at the window if the line isn't too long and your order isn't too long or complex.

The new design takes up far less space, allowing future franchise owners to potentially place their restaurants on cheaper, smaller plots of land that are 0.7 of an acre or less. Jimmy John's is also using its new flat design as a canvas for advertising its brand, much like a traditional billboard would.

An employee once left a nasty-gram on a former NFL star's order

A bit of teasing among friends is acceptable. However, when you get a note on your lunch order from a random Jimmy John's employee reminding you of one of your more embarrassing moments as an NFL player, that's something else entirely.

In 2008, when Dan Orlovsky was the quarterback for the Detroit Lions, he ran out of bounds at the back of the end zone while trying to pass the ball with Minnesota Vikings' Jared Allen in hot pursuit. The mistake ended up earning the Lions a safety. Apparently, it's not a play that Orlovsky has ever lived down. Fifteen years later, in 2023, while Orlovsky is working as an ESPN analyst, he gets a Jimmy John's sub with a note scrawled in black marker across the wrapper, saying, "Watch out for the back of the end zone." Orlovsky was a fairly good sport about the note, letting out a small chuckle before calling out "I like Subway better" (via YouTube). If he didn't like Subway better before, he probably does now — at least until those employees start dredging up his past regrets.

A Jimmy John's delivery driver once tried delivering sandwiches newspaper style

Because Jimmy John's is dedicated to making and delivering its sandwiches freaky fast, it uses its own employees for deliveries. So, while it partners with DoorDash, it utilizes the option that allows its restaurant to deliver its own food. One January night in 2023, a customer expecting a sandwich from Jimmy John's heard a strange noise at the door. It turns out that the sound was not from someone knocking on the door but from the delivery driver throwing the wrapped sandwich like a delivery driver might do with the morning newspaper. The Ring doorbell camera caught a video of the driver throwing the sandwich at the door from a spot halfway down the driveway before quickly beating a retreat.

Amazingly enough, the sandwich was still in good condition, although the bread was a little smashed. The customer complained to Jimmy John's about the delivery method. While the store offered her a refund, she said she really just wanted to report the driver's inappropriate actions. WNDU News reported that Jimmy John's ended up terminating the driver. And while the customer says it will be a while before she orders anything again from Jimmy John's, she will be back. Those sandwiches are hard to resist.