Major U.S. sandwich chain coming to Canada, first location to open in GTA


Published January 17, 2024 at 8:58 am

Canadian sandwich lovers will soon have a new spot to stop.

U.S. sandwich chain Jimmy John’s is set to cross the border for the first time with an expansion that will start with a location in the Greater Toronto Area opening in mid-2024.

Its exact whereabouts have yet to be announced, but more locations will follow throughout Canada, said Michael Haley, president and managing director of international for Jimmy John’s parent company Inspire Brands.

“We won’t publicly announce the number, but…we’re approaching 3,000 in the U.S. and we have amazing runway to grow, so you could easily do that and more in Canada over a long period of time,” he said.

Inspire Brands, which is also behind Arby’s, Baskin-Robbins, Buffalo Wild Wings, Dunkin’ and Sonic, will use Canadian franchisor Foodtastic Inc. to launch Jimmy John’s in Canada.

Foodtastic has more than 1,100 restaurants across brands including Milestones, Freshii and Quesada.

Jimmy John’s is best known in the U.S. for its customizable submarine-style sandwiches made on French or sliced wheat bread. Diners can also opt for wraps or an unwich, a sandwich which uses lettuce in lieu of a bun.

Asked about what the Canadian menu will look like, Haley said, “You want to be able to go to a Jimmy John’s in Canada and feel like you’re at a Jimmy John’s.”

“But we also want to ensure that we make those changes that are needed to resonate with the Canadian consumer.”

Jimmy John’s research revealed more than 60 per cent of Canadian consumers prefer a hot sandwich, so the chain will offer the option to have a sandwich toasted.

“There’s just little tweaks, sometimes even the name of the sandwich can be adjusted to resonate and just have a better translation,” Haley said.

One of the biggest challenges for Jimmy John’s, which also announced an international franchise agreement for Latin America on Wednesday, will be building brand awareness.

Though the company’s history dates back to 1983, it’s never gone beyond the U.S. until now.

The company was started when Jimmy John Liataud finished high school and his father gave him an ultimatum: start a business or head off to the military. Liataud considered a hotdog business, but due to equipment costs landed on sandwiches.

Roughly a decade after the first Jimmy John’s opened in Charleston, Ill., Liataud turned to the franchisee model to expand the business.

Roark Capital Group bought a majority stake in the company in September 2016, but by 2019, it was sold to Inspire Brands. Liataud sold his remaining stake in Jimmy John’s in 2019.

These days, the brand has several competitors. In Canada, its closest rivals will likely be Subway, also a U.S. chain, Toronto-born Mr. Sub, which is run by the Thai Express- and Manchu Wok-owning MTY Group, and Firehouse Subs and Tim Hortons, which share a parent company with Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen and Burger King.

Coffee giant Starbucks and U.K. cafe brand Pret A Manger, which has been expanding in Canada through A&W, are also players in Canada’s fast food sandwich market, though both focus on more artisanal ingredients.

Inspire Brands will closely watch the expansion. Some of its other companies, including burger and fries giant Sonic, are not yet in Canada.

“We do see that many or most of our brands can and could resonate in Canada,” Haley said.

“Stay tuned on Sonic. I think that will be our sixth brand to come outside the U.S. and we’re not too far off working through today what the international adaptation of the brand could look like.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2024.

Companies in this story: (TSX:QSR, TSX:MTY)

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press