DANVILLE — Jimmy John’s has more than 2,700 locations around the country, and now, a food truck.
Franchise owner Patrick Wampler, whose Subwars LLC has stores in Canton, Danville, Mahomet, Rantoul, Taylorville and Tuscola, has been testing the food truck at places like the new Rantoul Family Sports Complex and Danville Area Community College for about a month.
“We’ve got the first Jimmy John’s food truck in the country,” general manager Chris Lehmann said. “It’s been up and running for about a month now, and yeah, it’s pretty sweet.”
The food truck itself aims to be similar to the in-store experience; the sandwich menu and toppings and prices are the same for now, and they aim to be just as quick.
“The store preps all the veggies, the bread, etc., and then we just transport it to where we’re going,” Lehmann said.
The truck doesn’t have an oven, but it does have the sandwich “make line,” a bread rack and a sink. About four employees can fit inside, Lehmann said.
For now, Wampler said the food truck is just a test.
“With any test or product, anything could happen, and it couldn’t go far,” Wampler said. “If we make it successful, and it continues to work like it has early on, I think the goal would be for other operators and other people to get them.”
The food truck has been in the works for about a year, Lehmann said.
“Everybody’s looking at ways to reduce the cost of what we call ‘the box,’” Wampler said, referring to a brick-and-mortar store. “Finding the ability to lower your costs of the initial investment, and then being mobile, is a huge thing.”
Wampler said he’d noticed the food trucks in bigger cities, at festivals and other places and thought it might be something Jimmy John’s could do.
“It was something that just kind of got kicked around,” he said. “A food truck got brought up. I happened to be there. One thing led to another,” and Subwars eventually got the green light.
He said he worked with Jimmy John’s HQ on the design and build of the truck.
“It’s been a good fit. I can go over to the office (on Fox Drive in Champaign) and have meetings, and they can see it,” Wampler said. “It was a combination of me being in the right place and right time and me being young and just stupid enough to take on a brand-new project.”
Wampler said the food truck could be a good fit for places like factories or football games.
“We have really good markets for it,” Wampler said. “We’re in these small towns where there’s a lot of events where we can build good relationships with the community. We can take the truck out to the football games. We can take the truck to the factories.”
While Wampler said the food truck has been popular, “it’s a learning curve.”
When opening a brick-and-mortar store, Jimmy John’s has a detailed list of tasks, Wampler said. “With this, there hasn’t been that.”
He’s had to contend with different rules and permits in different counties, and it’s not as clear how to define whether the truck is successful at a certain location.
“Just because you take it somewhere and it might make some sales, it doesn’t automatically mean it’s working,” Wampler said. “Maybe we’re taking sales that would’ve gone to the store anyway, and we’re just burning gas and using extra employees.”
They also have to be careful about where they go, making sure the truck stays within Subwars’ franchise territory.
“Our group doesn’t own any stores in Champaign. As much as we would love to pull up in front of Memorial Stadium on game day, that would take sales from the group here in town,” Wampler said.
And they have to be mindful about which events to go to. For example, they might not go to a Friday night high school football game if the school sells its own concessions.
“We don’t want to step on people’s toes,” he said.
Wampler also believes the truck could be used to test out new markets in towns where there isn’t yet a Jimmy John’s store.
“It’s going to be used for several different things,” he said. “This is a test, and so we’re learning, too, but we really hope to see people out there.”