One night in 1975, 17-year-old Peter Cancro knocked on his high school football coach’s front door in Ocean County, N.J. Cancro, a senior and the team’s quarterback, was there to ask for a $125,000 loan to buy the sub shop he’d worked at for the past four years. Hours later, Cancro left with the loan, a seven-year payback plan and the intent to purchase Mike’s Subs.
Since then, he’s turned that small sub shop into Jersey Mike’s, a national franchise with 1,400 locations nationwide and more than $1 billion in annual sales. It’s the fastest-growing sandwich chain in the U.S., with more than 18 percent sales growth year over year, according to industry research firm Technomic. (Firehouse Subs, its closest competitor in sales growth, achieved less than 5 percent growth last year.) But there were brutal bumps in the road, including a dance with bankruptcy that changed the way Cancro runs his business.
How did you get your start at the sub shop that would become Jersey Mike’s?
I started working at Mike’s Subs in 1971, when I was 14. My older brother, John, worked there the summer before, and the boss asked him, “What about your brother?” John said, “I know he’ll work hard, but I’m not sure how bright he is.” That’s how I got the job
What made you fall in love with the operation?