The Untold Truth Of Jimmy John's

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, they staked their reputation on freshly made food with the best ingredients they can source, made so fast you could be in and out the door before you know it. Their mission statement is all about meat products made in the USA, bread that's baked fresh daily, and sustainable practices. They even stress their dedication to green practices from recycling to sustainable farming, and point out that wherever their stores are, they rely on small businesses, contractors, plumbers, electricians, and sign-makers to make them who they are.

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 them. 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 US 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 they forced their 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 themselves 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 their 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 finally 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 their 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 percent 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, they're responsible for guaranteeing the safety of around $1 trillion worth of food, medicine, and other products... and in 2020, Jimmy John's was on their 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 their decision to rectify the problem with only destroying the sprouts in their 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 they were serving safe food. 

They were also criticized for serving different varieties of sprouts than the ones they had promised the FDA they 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 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 that 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 farther. 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, CBS Las Vegas reported Cirillo suffered such severe injuries he was expected to be wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life. 

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 their 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 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 their normal delivery area and there was no way for her to drive there, so she called and asked for a favor.

Not only did they deliver his sandwich, but they refused to let her pay for it. It ended up being the last real meal he 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 their 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 their nutritional information, though, and you'll find the giant one will set you back 1380 calories, 78 grams of fat, and has 2470 mg of sodium. (For reference, the American Heart Association recommends limiting your sodium intake to no more than 1500 mg per day.) 

There are plenty of healthy options at Jimmy John's, thanks to their 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... among others. And in 2019, he sold them the rest of his stakes for an undisclosed amount. 

In 2016, they put a value on the company at an impressive $3 billion. Forbes says Liautaud held onto 35 percent of the company, a role as chairman, and was put in charge of "food and culture." At the end of the day, though, it's Roark making all the decisions now. 

It's not the first time Liautaud sold a chunk of the company. In 2007, he sold 28 percent 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 still acts as a taste tester, but 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 their delivery service an advantage

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

Jimmy John's got popular because they offered delivery, and when they opened, it made them 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 they have 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 percent 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 their 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 their share of accusations. 

In 2014, two former employees took them 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 they've 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.