Peter Cancro: Jersey Mike’s is ‘always for sale’

The sub shop CEO, in accepting the 2024 Restaurant Leader of the Year award, said he just hasn’t received the right offer yet for the fast-growing chain.
Peter Cancro, Jersey Mike's
Peter Cancro, center, receives the 2024 Restaurant Leader of the Year Award. | Photo courtesy: W. Scott Mitchell Photography.

Jersey Mike’s Subs is “always for sale,” CEO Peter Cancro told Restaurant Leadership Conference attendees Monday, while accepting Restaurant Business’ 2024 Restaurant Leader of the Year award.

It’s just that nobody has stepped up with the right offer.

“I thought it would’ve been maybe 15, not eight,” Cancro said, referencing the reported $8 billion valuation the sandwich chain was in talks to fetch from investment giant Blackstone.

Talk of sale aside, Cancro, in conversation with RB Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Maze, seemed squarely focused on growing the concept he has been connected to for nearly half a century—and, perhaps, adding another brand to the fold.

“We’re looking at other concepts,” Cancro said. “And, if we get the right brands, we pick up the phones and we’ll have hundreds in development on a national level. We have the construction, we have the real estate … We have infrastructure all around the country of dynamic young people that, quite frankly, will make it happen.”

RB’s editors selected Cancro to receive the honor because of his extended track record of success with Jersey Mike’s. The 2,700-unit chain grew its systemwide sales by 25%, to $3.34 billion, in 2023, according to Technomic. Average unit volumes have blossomed to more than $1.3 million.

Jersey Mike’s sees opportunity to open up to 7,500 stores in the U.S., with more planned internationally, he said.  

And the chain has become known for giving back as much as its financial success. This year, Jersey Mike’s March fundraising drive generated $25 million for 200 local charities.

“The whole giving culture, that’s the greatest joy I think we all have as a company,” he said.

But with good deeds come great rewards.

Cancro paid $175 million a couple of years ago to remodel all Jersey Mike’s locations, a financial burden almost always borne by franchisees.

“Everybody thought I was crazy,” he said.

Paying for the remodels, though, allowed the process to be completed swiftly, and the refreshed stores began achieving unit volumes that were about $500,000 higher than their predecessors.

Jersey Mike’s thought it might take seven or eight years to recoup its investment; the chain made its money back on the remodels in two or three years.

As the sub chain has built its brand, it has also built an in-house tech operation that just might have legs outside of Jersey Mike’s.

“We started our IT company,” Cancro said, adding that the tech offering is more efficient, better and more affordable than third-party options. “Domino’s and Starbucks say they’re IT companies but so do we. We have about 80 to 100 people in the office, a separate entity.”

When asked whether that technology arm works with companies besides Jersey Mike’s, Cancro replied: “Not yet, but we will.”

Restaurant Leadership Conference, presented by Restaurant Business and its parent company Informa, runs through Wednesday in Scottsdale, Arizona. 

Past winners of the Restaurant Leader of the Year honor 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 Shaich of Panera Bread, Greg Flynn of the mega-franchise operator Flynn Group, and Danny Meyer of Shake Shack and Union Square Hospitality Group.

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