The Story of Blimpie – A History of America’s Greatest Sub Shop
March 7, 2016
When you think of the word blimp, what comes to mind? For three young men in Hoboken, New Jersey, it meant bigger and better, and it felt like a natural inspiration for the name of their sub shop. Ever since the first store opened on April 4, 1964, the name Blimpie has been synonymous with excellent sub sandwiches. Let’s go back in time and see how Blimpie’s history has impacted its image today.
Tony Conza, Peter DeCarlo and Angelo Bandassare borrowed $2,000 to open the first Blimpie restaurant in their Hoboken hometown. The trio got off to a hot start as the local community fell in love with the fresh-sliced sandwiches and they sold the very first franchise to a friend within the first year of business. By the next year, Angelo moved on to the next step in his career, and Tony and Peter expanded the food franchise to New York City by opening a shop on 55th Street in Manhattan. They experienced a few more years of impressive growth operating their own stores and opening brand new franchise locations — an additional eight stores in New York and New Jersey.
By the mid-1970s, Tony was feeling the itch to expand further south while Peter wanted to remain focused on the Northeast so the two decided to split the business. Tony’s decision to expand elsewhere paid dividends as Blimpie expanded to 150 stores nationwide and more than $1 million in revenue by 1983. Moreover, that growth and success allowed Tony to take the company public that year.
In the late 1980s, as many competitors were positioning to take market share from his company, Tony began travelling to visit with franchisees and further establish Blimpie as America’s Sub Shop. Tony met with franchisees, personally, to address their concerns and worked with them to form a franchisee task force that improved internal communications. Additionally, he launched a monthly newsletter and the “101 Small Improvements” list – tools to help franchisees create incremental, actionable goals to update their restaurants and improve operations. These exhaustive efforts proved effective as Blimpie reached more than $120 million in annual revenues by 1990.
In the decade to follow, much of the company’s growth was fueled by the area developer program. Through this program, Blimpie sold entire regions to a developer, who would then subfranchise their rights to individual operators. Conza was a firm believer in the area developer program because it provided franchisees with access to an area developer who had real local knowledge while operating as an extension of the franchisor – a supreme competitive advantage from which each Blimpie franchisee continues to benefit today.
The 1990’s brought other powerful changes that continue to give the Blimpie brand a boost in today’s world. In 1991, the first annual franchisee convention was held – starting a tradition of annual and quarterly meetings between the franchisor and local representatives that are vital to the company’s success. Additionally, in 1993, the Blimpie started to build out stores in non-traditional locations like gas stations, convenience stores, college food courts, stadiums, hospitals and airports. This non-traditional build out model has become vital to Blimpie’s franchise development efforts as these locations are cheaper to launch and generate guaranteed in-store traffic.
Today, Blimpie is owned by Kahala Brands, a leading franchisor of 18 unique restaurant concepts with more than 3000 locations in 34 countries. While Tony is no longer leading the brand, his presence and leadership are still felt throughout the hundreds of stores in the Blimpie system. Kahala’s executive team shares Tony’s passion for operational efficiency and franchisee empowerment; working hard each and every day to support the growth and development of America’s Sub Shop.
If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur looking for a brand with staying power, the only thriving sub franchise that’s been associated with the best, fresh-sliced subs on the market for more than 50 years, Blimpie is the right choice for you. Learn more about the franchise opportunity.
And for more information about the company’s history, check out our company story.