Everything you need to know about Subway’s rise and fall, including a franchisee revolt, sale rumors, and more

subway sandwich
A closer look at Subway’s history and its plummeting sales.

  • Subway is the largest chain in the US, having long leapfrogged industry giants such as McDonald’s.
  • But after the death of its cofounder Fred DeLuca in 2015, Subway has taken a turn for the worse.
  • Insider’s on top of the developments, so here’s what you need to know about the ongoing Subway saga.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

After the death of Fred DeLuca, Subway’s cofounder and CEO, in 2015, the sandwich chain went into a tailspin marred by mounting store closures and sinking sales – in stark contrast to the chain’s heyday when it benefited from consumers’ desire for healthier fast-food options.

Insider has reported that former executives and franchisees believed that Subway overexpanded and struggled to stay relevant, in part because of a muddled vision for the future of the company. With no real succession plan put in place for DeLuca, the company floundered under new leadership, including DeLuca’s sister, Suzanne Greco.

Over the past few months, life at Subway has been further marked by chaos and conspiracy, including the increase in franchise startup fees and the downsizing of staff under the leadership of John Chidsey, the former chief executive of Burger King who became the CEO of Subway in November 2019.

Under Chidsey, Subway has laid off upwards of 500 corporate staffers, closed hundreds of stores, and frustrated franchisees who struggled to turn a profit.

Changes have led to feuds with hundreds of franchisees, heated internal debates about the company’s direction, and some consideration of whether a sale should be in the privately held brand’s future.

Insider is on top of all the developments going on at Subway. The following covers everything you need to know about the latest happenings at the chain.

Rumors are swirling that Chidsey is setting Subway up for a sale

Chidsey’s role in spearheading Burger King’s sale to 3G Capital in 2010 has helped fuel industry chatter that Subway is trying to sell itself. Restaurant Brands International and Inspire Brands – the parent companies of Burger King and Arby’s, respectively – are believed to have sniffed around Subway to weigh the pros and cons of a potential acquisition, an industry expert said. But Subway insists that it’s not for sale.

Subway franchisees are furious about changes coming from corporate

Subway is the largest chain by location in America, having leapfrogged industry giants Starbucks and McDonald’s years ago.

DeLuca once hooked entrepreneurs, many of them immigrant families, with historically cheap fast-food franchise startup costs. The reasonable fees allowed franchisees to invest in multiple stores and be put on a fast track toward becoming millionaires.

But after years of declining sales and store closures – and dealing with the devastating effects of a pandemic – franchisees have found themselves at odds with leadership. The chain closed 1,882 stores in the US in 2020. Franchise disclosure documents for 2021 also said Subway has raised the startup investment costs for new franchisees. Also, franchisees whose contracts were up for renewal were presented a new contract that forces them to choose between higher royalty fees or tighter restrictions on how they run their stores.

Insiders say internal battles have been raging for years

Franchisees and employees have been complaining about Subway’s inability to keep up with trends and its footprint expansion cannibalizing sales for years. Many of these problems, insiders said, can be tied back to DeLuca, who led Subway from its founding in 1965 until 2015.

Insider reported that those close to DeLuca knew him to be extraordinarily hands-on and dedicated to Subway. But, they said, he made certain strategic mistakes, such as expanding too aggressively, and refused to believe others could do the job as well as he could. Today, the sandwich empire is owned by two secretive billionaires, who insiders said have been unable to turn the chain around.

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