How do you spell success?
The sale of Jimmy John’s, the 2,800-store restaurant chain headquartered in Champaign, was bound to happen sooner or later. The handwriting was on the wall in 2016 when founder Jimmy John Liautaud sold a majority share in the company to an Atlanta-based private equity firm.
What appeared inevitable then became official this week when the company announced its sale to Inspire Brands, which already owns Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings and Sonic Drive-In.
Congratulations to Liautaud for his epic achievement.
The news is not necessarily good for Champaign-Urbana because corporate headquarters probably will be moved. The new owners said headquarters will remain where it is “for the time being.”
But the sale is a triumph for Liautaud because he built this subway sandwich leviathan from scratch. Starting with one store in Charleston, he and his team now preside over a kingdom of sandwich shops that demonstrate what one person can achieve through a combination of vision, hard work and ambition in a system of free enterprise.
What Liautaud did, of course, has been done before — but not by many entrepreneurs. Success on this scale is incredibly difficult to achieve, and it’s impressive.
How many travelers from East Central Illinois have visited Chicago; Austin, Texas; Los Angeles; Rochester, N.Y.; or Miami, Fla., and stumbled across a Jimmy John’s?
It’s a striking experience to come from here and see all those stores there.
Jimmy John’s story is well known by now. He described himself as an uninterested student who aspired to be an entrepreneur who presided over hot dogs. But the cost of equipment needed for hot dogs was too expensive, while the equipment needed for sub sandwiches was within his modest budget.
He started small and steadily built over 30-plus years what consumers see today, a thriving business that along with Subway sandwiches has inspired multiple competitors.
Along the way, Liautaud became a generous philanthropist, making major contributions to many worthy causes while digging into his wallet to help needy individuals.
It’s an American success story, one that both awes and inspires.