In a world full of soggy, un-toasted sub sandwiches with a myriad of toppings and a dearth of flavor, Quiznos stands alone as defender of deliciously warm, toasted subs — or it used to, at least. This fast food chain has made a concerted effort to portray itself as a cut above the rest, and it started doing so before that idea had become a widespread phenomenon that swept the fast food world. If you’ve ever been there versus somewhere like Subway, for example, you’ve probably tasted this commitment to high levels of quality yourself.
But if you’ve been paying attention, you might have noticed that Quiznos isn’t doing too well these days. There’s far fewer of them around, and depending on where you live, you may just find that grabbing a Publix deli sub is a lot easier (and maybe even tastier?).
That doesn’t mean we should give up on Quiznos entirely, though. If you’re lucky enough to live close to one, you’ll find that you’re still able to find your old favorites there. Your next trip there could leave you wondering what this restaurant chain is all about. Read up on the untold truth of Quiznos.
Quiznos was actually created by a chef
If you know much about the fast food business, you probably realize that it’s not run by a gaggle of Michelin-starred chefs. Most people in fast food management come from the entrepreneurial world, which is why there’s often an emphasis on speed and convenience over quality.
But things are different at Quiznos. That’s because the restaurant was actually created by a chef who knew what he was doing in the kitchen. According to Mental Floss, Quiznos founder, Jimmy Lambatos, started off in the fine dining world. He was the executive chef at a restaurant named the Colorado Mine Co. steakhouse where he would feed high-profile guests like the members of the Rolling Stones and Elvis.
When he left the restaurant and opened his own business in 1978, he began experimenting with subs. Just a few years later, in 1981, he founded Quiznos, using his knowledge of the sub sandwiches he had grown up with in his hometown of New York City.
Quiznos fans will be happy to know that Lambatos didn’t stop there, though. He’s still coming out with new ideas. In fact, he just launched a new restaurant in Denver in the midst of a pandemic when the restaurant industry is struggling. So far, it looks like he’s doing pretty well. He told reporters at Denver’s Westworld, "With the coronavirus and my low expectations, we’re actually doing so much more than I thought we would. The neighborhood has embraced us so much."
Its first location was in Denver
These days, Denver is known as a trendy hotspot for young professionals with a taste for craft beer and money to burn, the perfect urban base for outdoor exploration, and, of course, as the epicenter of the recreational marijuana industry. But before every stoner you know had aspirational plans to move there, the city was home to the very first Quiznos.
It popped up in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, and you may be surprised to learn that it’s still there today. It hasn’t stopped serving up its signature subs, so if you’re hungry for a taste of sandwich history, you may want to stop by. In fact, it may just be the perfect spot to check out some of the original recipes that Lambatos included on the first menu. Our suggestion? Opt for the Classic Italian, which boasts four different types of meat, a ton of veggies, and the irresistible red wine vinaigrette to finish it off.
Quiznos restaurants are disappearing
Remember back in the day when there was a Quiznos on every corner? Okay, maybe your dominant memory of the ’90s and ’00s wasn’t standing in line for a toasted sub at your local Quiznos (if not, we feel sorry for you), but rest assured that this chain restaurant was everywhere at the time.
Restaurant Business reports that back in 2007, the chain had a total of 4,700 stores. But fast forward just ten years later, and you see a much different reality for this toasted sub company. In 2017, the business had just 400 stores. So, how did the chain manage to lose a whopping 90 percent of its stores so quickly?
Well, there were a lot of issues that played into the company’s demise. For one, consumers were looking for cheaper options during the recession, and places like Subway, despite their arguably lower quality, were just better when it came to budget food. Add onto that the fact that Quiznos had a wonky business model, bad press, and angry franchisees, and it was a perfect storm to take the company under.
It’s got some serious competition
When it comes to a dish that’s as simple to make as a sandwich, it might surprise you that so many restaurants rely on a business model that, at its core, simply involves arranging meat and cheese on a slice of bread. But consumers love subs, and apparently, they love subs that they don’t have to make themselves even more. Quiznos isn’t the only brand out there serving up loaves of bread packed with all the toppings you could possibly want.
Perhaps the most ubiquitous of Quiznos’ competitors is Subway. You may be surprised to learn that Subway is the world’s biggest restaurant chain: Statista reported that Subway had 41,600 stores in 2019. This number might be down from recent years, but it’s still a massive figure that Quiznos just can’t compete with when it comes to sheer numbers.
And it’s not just Subway. Think of college-town favorite Jimmy Johns, which, like Quiznos, offers sandwiches that are just a little bit higher-end. Or what about Publix, which has a deli offering some of the most widely loved sandwiches packed with Boar’s Head cold cuts? When there are so many other options around, it makes it difficult for Quiznos to stand out in any meaningful way.
The company launched a chain of gyms … but it was a bust
Everyone knows about Subway’s attempt to associate itself with health through its now-unfortunate relationship with former spokesperson and weight-loss icon Jared Fogle. But not as many people know that Quiznos also has a history in the health business. In 2005, the restaurant chain attempted to open a chain of gyms as well. The chain was called 123 Fitness, and its focus was on 30-minute workout classes. Fitness guru Ray Wilson came along for the ride, partnering with the chain to create its new (and short-lived) fitness empire.
It’s probably not too surprising now, considering the fact that you’ve likely never seen a 123 Fitness, that the workout chain wasn’t the most successful idea Quiznos has ever had. Just three years later, in 2008, the Franchise Times reported that there were twice as many closed locations as there were open ones — clearly not a good sign. Many franchisees were forced to claim bankruptcy, and overall, the idea was a complete flop.
Actor Jim Parsons got his start in a Quiznos commercial
Any Big Bang Theory fans out there? If you love Jim Parsons, you may just have Quiznos to thank for his eventual widespread success. In the acting world, actors are generally looking for their "big break" — the one appearance of performance that will suddenly catapult them to success. For some, it’s getting cast in a blockbuster movie as a child. For others, like Parsons, it’s appearing in a Quiznos commercial back in 2003.
When asked if the Quiznos was really the thing that catapulted him into the acting sphere, Parsons admitted it probably wasn’t, but he had this to say: "It broke me into the rent stratosphere. It did get some attention. It certainly gave me a conversation piece." He added, "Half the battle, and I’m not kidding, in certain casting sessions and everything, are — well, you have something interesting to say."
If you’re still a huge Sheldon fan, you might want to grab a Quiznos sub you can enjoy the next time you watch your old favorite reruns.
You can get Quiznos catering
You already know you can grab Quiznos pretty much any time you want. Whether you want to pick some up yourself or you’d prefer to get your favorite sandwich delivered right to your door via Postmates or GrubHub, it’s not hard to get your grub on with a Honey Bacon Club on any ordinary night of the week.
But sometimes, it’s not an ordinary night, and you have a special event coming up. Maybe it’s a lunchtime meeting with your whole company. Maybe it’s a baby shower with a very hungry mom-to-be. Whatever that event may be, you have to feed your guests, and maybe the best way to get the job done is with catering from Quiznos.
Your local Quiznos can deliver sub trays that give everyone a bite of the best subs on the menu. Don’t forget about the salad bowls or boxed lunches, either. Just be warned: If you do get Quiznos to cater, you may be in charge of the food event planning from here on out.
The chain had a pretty strange ad
If you were alive and consciously watching TV in the late ’90s and early ’00s, you probably remember some pretty strange stuff. Especially strange commercials. Remember when there wasn’t an option to pay to remove them? Quiznos got in on the marketing game in a weirder fashion than most. In 2004, the company rolled out an ad you probably forgot about but will remember right away when you see it again.
The commercial featured rodent-like creatures (inexplicably called spongemonkeys?), with wild eyes and mouths, singing and playing guitar, purporting the benefits of eating at Quiznos. Was this hellscape of an ad an indicator we were already in the late stages of the fever dream of American capitalistic success, still high off the vapors of the ’90s economic boom and convinced we could bring nightmarish creations like this into the world with no consequences? Maybe.
But we’re certainly not the only ones who have sensed that this commercial is likely a work of evil. One Twitter user said, "millennials don’t own homes because this quiznos commercial put a hex on us as children." Tens of thousands of dollars in student debt with no clear career path to speak of? Re-downloading Tinder for the fourth time (this month) because you got left on read again? Spending half your rent on a cramped studio apartment and using your closet as a pantry? At least you know who to blame now.
The company is spreading overseas
A sub sandwich may seem like the most American thing in the world, but it won’t surprise most people to find that the humble sub may have had Italian ancestry. But these days, the world is so interconnected that it’s impossible to keep one thing in place for long — especially when it comes to food. This means that all over the world, consumers have grown to love the taste of subs. Quiznos knew it would have to expand if it wanted to keep up with the international demand.
After the company’s collapse in the U.S., Quiznos made a concentrated effort to extend its bounds. In 2014, the company organized a campaign for global expansion and now, the chain can be found all over the world, including in countries like the United Arab Emirates. In fact. QSR Magazine reportedly included the company on its Global 30 list, which highlights companies focused on international expansion. We love to see different cultures and countries connecting, especially when it’s over a steaming-hot toasted sub fresh from the oven.
The former Quiznos CEO dissed the McRib
Look, if we’re all being honest, we know that Quiznos is a cut above the rest. It was making higher-quality fast food when the rest of us were super-sizing our Big Mac combo meals. You were right, Quiznos. We admit it. We love Chipotle and Tropical Smoothie Cafe now, but you were first. But that doesn’t mean that we appreciate it when anyone from anywhere disses the heaven-sent fast food delight that is the McDonald’s McRib.
Former Quiznos CEO Stuart Mathis did just that, and many saw it as him completely overstepping his bounds. He told Nation’s Restaurant News (via HuffPost), "It’s not a great sandwich, in my view."
Sure, we’re all entitled to our opinions, but that doesn’t make just anyone’s opinion right. Considering the McRib’s intense fan following, which even includes a McRib locator website for the most die-hard of fans, we’d have to say that Mathis just doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Long live the McRib, and may it coexist in peace with our favorite Quiznos subs.
The company was responsible for a poorly functioning promo
Plenty of fast food restaurants out there have discovered that promos do work when it comes to getting customers in the door. Once customers try the food and enjoy it, it’s more likely they’ll come back in the future. So it’s not surprising that Quiznos tried to employ a promo of its own. On the surface, it sounded like a great idea: An online giveaway promised a free small signature sub or everyday value sub.
However, many customers found that the coupons weren’t being honored when they visited their local Quiznos locations. The franchisees got the heat at first before they pointed out the real issue. Quiznos had offered all these free subs to its customers, but it was the franchisees who were footing the bill for them. Whoops. Not quite fair, right?
Considering that, at the time, corporate made about a hundred million dollars a year selling food to its franchisees, this didn’t go over well with the company as a whole.
Franchisees have had some serious trouble with corporate
Becoming a franchise owner for any fast food or fast casual restaurant makes a lot of sense if you want to make good money without completely having to build a business from the ground up. This is surely the appeal that many Quiznos franchisees discovered when they signed on the dotted line and found themselves the owners of the brand-new Quiznos in town.
But unfortunately, these business owners weren’t always too pleased with corporate. Apparently, high food costs made it hard for the individual locations to make good money, and franchisees were not happy. This issue was exacerbated by the fact that Quiznos’ couldn’t buy food from other suppliers. Restaurant Business implies that this issue is part of what led to the company’s overall collapse.
Hopefully, stories like what happened to Quiznos will encourage other large corporations to treat their franchisees and employees better and more humanely in the future.