Local Sub Mogul Jon Smith Takes His Company to the Next Level Via Franchises

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Robert Perconti, a retired investment adviser, has never owned a restaurant and knows only that he likes good food, as any good New Yorker, he says.

What’s he doing jumping in to buy the first franchises for one of West Palm Beach’s favorite sub shops?

“I was looking for a way to occupy my time. I retired young, and looking for investment opportunities,” he said.

“The opportunity presented itself with Jon Smith. I’m the first franchise owner of Jon Smith Subs.”

Mr. Perconti bought the Wellington franchise after a great deal of research. First, into the company selling the franchises, United Franchise Group.

“It’s also based in West Palm Beach,” he said. “They never really wanted to be in any type of food franchising. But their employees eat there, and they were familiar with Jon Smith. So when the opportunity presented itself, they took it.”

That told him the sub shop will likely do well. “They have thousands of brands and sell all over the world,” he said.

The similarities between UFG and his company prompted Jon Smith to look into them.

“They’re a 30-year-old company like us, and on the corporate end, similar to a mom-and-pop. They’ve had some of the same employees for 10, 15, and 20 years,” Mr. Smith said. “The sons, nephews, and cousins work for them.”

With thousands of brands, Jon Smith Subs will be their first food enterprise, he said.

“We’re really excited. The fit, I thought, was just perfect.”

The deal to sign with the franchise broker was nine months in the making.

His decision to sell the brand to others came after careful thought, Mr. Smith said.

“We’re just too good of a business not to grow. We’re really a full restaurant that sells subs. We prepare almost everything from scratch. We’re unique in that way. It’s just bread, meat and cheese until we make it different,” he said.

Franchisees will be held to a formula for the subs and buy from Sysco Foods. “When franchisees buy products, they’ll use the exact same code. There will be no ability for franchisees to change any product.”

They can tweak a menu, but it still has to follow Jon Smith’s product standards.

That, too, is what attracted Mr. Perconti to the product: the standards that never vary.

To test what he was buying, Mr. Perconti went into the Wellington Jon Smith Subs and ordered the whole menu, to see what he’d keep or remove from the menu.

“I told them to bring me one of everything. There are 40 things on the menu. There wasn’t anything I didn’t like. I walked out of there so full.

But, “I already had my favorite,” he said. It is the Steak Bomb, the biggest seller in the store.

“It’s marinated steak, sliced, with peppers, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, and Provolone cheese. Oh, and bacon. And mayonnaise.” Except for the cheese and mayo, the ingredients are grilled together on a flat-top grill, and put on the bread baked by the store’s commissary. It’s served hot.

“It’s by far the No. 1 seller,” he said. “People come in and order a 6-inch, and then are sorry they didn’t get the 12-inch. It’s so good.”

He did ask why they didn’t include maybe another ounce of meat or other foods, but was told it’s too stuffed to get anything else inside it. “It’s too full!” he said.

Mr. Perconti owned the Wellington store less than 30 days before buying another in nearby Royal Palm Beach.

“I’m currently looking at other locations on the Treasure Coast. I have looked at sites in Port St. Lucie, Jensen Beach, Stuart. My goal is to really build them out and have them everywhere.

“I think it’s a fabulous product. There’s no freezer in any of the restaurants — it’s all fresh food, made to order. It’s Jon Smith’s commitment to his product.”

He says it’s unique in the business. “Nobody else out there does what we do. There’s no processed foods. Consumers are getting smart about their food. They know when they go into a fast-food chain they’re getting garbage. Nothing is fresh — it’s pre-made, precut and processed food.”

Besides a good product, he said, it’s all about the numbers. “I’m a Wall Street guy. I know how to do the numbers, and this stood out.”

Mr. Smith said a franchise costs $29,500, plus any build-out necessary. “That depends on each location,” he said.

There’s a solid reputation to bank on, Mr. Perconti said. Jon Smith Subs has been around for 32 years in the West Palm Beach area. “You can’t go anywhere without hearing about Jon Smith,” he said.

The franchises are now being sold around the country; with investors in Chicago, Miami and the Carolinas looking into them, Mr. Perconti said.

But locally, “I’ll keep buying them up until they cover the area,” he said. “I want to lock them in on this coast.”

As for Mr. Smith, he’s not throwing out any predictions on how the shops will do elsewhere, foreign or domestic sites.

“A Nobel Prize winner, Niles Bjorn, had a great quote: ‘It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.’ What I know is it takes several years to become an overnight success.

“Bottom line: I love my employees. All I care about is the food. So we’ll see.”

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