What is Jersey Mike’s trying to do now?
I’d like you to do a visual exercise in nostalgia: imagine you're in a surf shack deli on the beach in Jersey. There is a big glass case showcasing the meats. There is sand tracked in on the floor, and waves lapping outside as Bruce Springsteen plays a live set where he tells the long version of the story about his dad during The River and everyone cries while eating saltwater taffy. That’s the Jersey Mike’s decor. Except instead of all that, it’s just a few scattered tables and booths, and the only sign of the beach is literally a sign of a beach, and a surfboard on the wall. But you've still got the deli case!
But what are they thinking?!? In order to ascertain their intentions, I begged a fancy creative director at a fancy advertising agency to watch a bunch of Jersey Mike’s commercials and give thoughts: "They're clearly going for the business lunch crowd -- characters are always in their 20s and 30s, lot of office shots, not families. Voiceover talent is same age as the target audience, and the style is terse, and 'clever?' The end card always shows a wrapped up sub snagged by a consumer, which, again, makes me think they don't expect you to eat there. And the tagline 'A Sub Above' is not exactly 'Just Do It' or 'Imported from Detroit,' but I guess it gets across the message that their sub is superior to competitors."
As their advertising and limited decor suggest, Jersey Mike's is trying to own the quick business lunch, office catering, and delivery apps crowd by proving that they're a higher quality choice than Subway at the same speed and similar price point, and not much of a step down from your actual local deli, but with more convenience, speed, and wall-mounted surfboards. Jones confirmed that they were leaning in hard to delivery, mentioning that they had national contracts with all major online delivery companies, and had even integrated UberEats and DoorDash into their proprietary POS system. This is interesting, because sandwich shops inherently attract more of a mix of blue collar and city workers, and college and high school students, so if they feel that's already their base, the push for the white collar crowd seems aspirational.
More than that, Jersey Mike's itself is fascinating, partly because of its bold growth strategy, partly because of its unique environment (Jones told me every franchisee must come to Jersey for a week, then spend time in the field at a “certified training store”), but mostly because, in this heavily saturated time as more and more food entrepreneurs try to branch out into increasingly niche corners of the fast casual market, it seems strangely retro for a throwback sub shop from the Jersey shore to bet it can carve out a large slice of the working American lunch scene. And yes, that was a deli meat pun.