A line snakes out the door at the Jimmy John's in west downtown Dearborn on Thursday for customer appreciation day. (Photo Credit Jessica Carreras on Patch)
A line snakes out the door at the Jimmy John’s in west downtown Dearborn on Thursday for customer appreciation day. (Photo Credit Jessica Carreras on Patch)

BY ALEXANDRA WEE, Staff Columnist

The next time you’re feeling famished, head to the home of the “world’s greatest gourmet sandwiches” for your solution: a Chuck Norris. Or try a Pam Anderson sorority style with legs, if you’re in a hurry.

And while you may be clueless about your order, (the J.J Gargantuan with everything on it or the #12 Beach Club, no mayo, no sprouts, to go), any well-versed JJ Freaker at one of 1200 locations in over 40 states—a near 100 shops in Michigan alone—would have your club wrapped up in no more than a snap.

Be it the cool-kid lingo and slogans (“Your mom wants you to eat at Jimmy Johns!”), the free “Vote Jimmy” buttons and bumper stickers, or single-sandwich delivery any day of the week, Jimmy Johns has be keeping starving, broke college kids happy for years (and we’re super grateful.)

So, JJ subs are your fifth food group, but how well do you really know Jimmy’s? I recently sat down with Tony Purdy, general manager of the Dearborn Jimmy Johns on Michigan Ave., for the story behind your favorite freaky fast franchise.

How long have you worked at JJs?
I’ve been here for about five years. I’ve worked at Subway for five years before too.

So you really know the sandwich business! What’s a typical day for you at JJs?
Haha, yeah. Well, I get here around 7 a. m. and leave at 5 p. m. The store doesn’t open until 10 a. m. but I come in early so we can do food prep. Everything here is fresh every day. We slice the vegetables, meat, and bake the bread fresh every morning. That’s why it’s so good.

What’s your favorite thing about working at JJs?
It’s definitely more personalized. When I worked at Subway it was always, ‘Hi, welcome to Subway. Hi, welcome to Subway,’ but here, he [motions to cashier] can say ‘Hey, how’s it going’ and I could say ‘What’s happenin’.’ I love working here though, the people are great. I’ve been to other JJ stores and some just don’t measure up in service. There are two other Jimmy Johns in Dearborn but I’d definitely say we’re the best!

You guys don’t have a loyalty program do you?
We do actually, it’s a punch card. Buy 10 sandwiches and get the 11th free.

Oh, sweet! I’ll have to grab one of those. So Jimmy John’s seems to be really into its social media campaign. On top of Facebook and Twitter, I saw you guys have a Pinterest page and a blog (freakyfast.com). Do you or other store managers help manage any of that?
Haha, yeah, I personally don’t run any of it but I follow it. The guys at our headquarters in Champaign, Illinois are the ones managing the social media stuff.

Gotcha. So how did Jimmy John’s get started?
JJ’s started in an alley by the University of Illinois with something called “sampling.” Jimmy had a small sandwich place at first and at the end of the day, instead of throwing everything out he’d hand out leftover sandwiches to kids on campus for free. Whoever liked the sandwich would come in the next days to buy them. Jimmy John’s was built for college kids.

Do you still do sampling today?
Yeah, definitely. We’re actually the only ones who do it. Brett Miller is the man. He’s our sampler. What we have is something called a sample grid which is a list of all the businesses within our area. Brett goes out with a fresh batch every day and hits about three businesses a day, handing out sandwiches. Once we get to the end of the list, we just start over from the top. People will call in because of the sampling to order sandwiches too.

Have you ever met Jimmy?
I have not, but I’ve see him before at GM training. He spends most of his time at headquarters but he does work at some stores. I heard he visited a store once and after hearing that they threw out extra lettuce, he searched through the trash to see how much they had wasted—he got serious with their GM.

Oh man, haha. So how does Jimmy’s deliver so fast?
Each JJs location is only in charge of delivery within a one mile radius. We have nine drivers on staff but five on duty during mornings which are the busiest times. When someone calls to order, it’s entered in as they’re ordering so someone can start making the sandwich. By the time the call is over, someone has the sandwich and is heading to the car.

Do you get a lot of regulars? And what would you recommend to someone who’s walking into JJs for the first time?
About 80% of our customers are day-to-day ones so we know their names and their orders. But someone who’s never been to Jimmy Johns? Well, the menu can look overwhelming so I’d simplify it: clubs versus subs. The clubs have more meat. There are two choices of bread but our French roll is definitely the more popular choice.

You guys do have some addicting bread. Lastly, I have to ask, what’s your favorite sandwich?
My favorite? Hmm. I’d say the #9. I find that girls like the #12 because it has avocado and turkey in it, it’s healthier and stuff. Guys like the #9 more, there’s more meat.

I could totally go for a number six, no grass, dij, and whacked right about now. And a Jimmy’s chocolate cookie of course.

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