Leadership

Jersey Mike's Peter Cancro is named RB's 2024 Restaurant Leader of the Year

The CEO was chosen by the editorial staff of Restaurant Business in recognition of the success and give-back culture the Jersey native has made constants for the high-flying chain.
Peter Cancro, Jersey Mike's
Jersey Mike's CEO Peter Cancro is the 2024 Restaurant Leader of the Year. | Photograph courtesy: John O'Boyle.

Peter Cancro, CEO of the Jersey Mike’s Subs chain since buying the original store 49 years ago at age 17, has been named Restaurant Business’ 2024 Restaurant Leader of the Year.

His selection reflects the success the sandwich chain continues to enjoy under his leadership, outpacing much of the industry with a 25% increase in systemwide sales last year, to $3.34 billion, according to Technomic. It has been expanding at a rate of several hundred stores per year, with per-unit sales having simultaneously grown to an average of more than $1.3 million. That intake puts it high in the ranking of sandwich chains by store volumes.

That financial success has turned Jersey Mike’s—still wholly owned by Cancro—into an acquisitions plum valued in the neighborhood of $8 billion.

The Garden State native has also established Jersey Mike’s as an industry leader in giving back to the communities it serves. The chain’s annual monthlong fund-raising drive generated $25 million this year for 200 local charities.

A high point of the March fundraising spree has traditionally been the Day of Giving, when all 2,700 units in the chain opt to donate their entire sales for a day to a cause. The generosity is readily noted by customers; they’ve turned each Day of Giving into the busiest day of its year since Cancro instituted the program.

Home-office colleagues, several of whom have been with Cancro since Store No. 1, say they’ve stayed with the brand because of Cancro and his hands-on leadership style. The 66-year-old has been known to quip that he runs the chain from behind its service counter; to this day, he has no office within Jersey Mike’s headquarters. 

Anyone who suggests the CEO has gone soft from success is challenged to see who’s faster at the station where cold cuts are sliced fresh per order, a signature of the brand. According to anyone associated with Jersey Mike’s, Cancro has yet to be beaten.

His selection as this year’s Restaurant Leader of the Year puts him in a pantheon of restaurant greats. Past winners have included Mark King of Taco Bell, Jose Cil of Burger King parent Restaurant Brands International, Claudia San Pedro of Sonic, Greg Creed of Yum Brands, Brian Niccol of Chipotle, Ron Schaich of Panera Bread, Greg Flynn of the mega-franchise operator Flynn Group, and Danny Meyer of Shake Shack and Union Square Hospitality Group.

The recipient is chosen by the editors of Restaurant Business on the basis of 11 key leadership criteria, ranging from goal-setting acumen to integrity.

The winner is honored during a general session of the Restaurant Leadership Conference, the top-to-top event hosted by RB parent Informa. This year’s conference runs from Sunday to the Wednesday at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Watch the video about Peter Cancro

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