Jersey Mike's Sees Opportunity for 10,000 Restaurants

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NEW YORK (TheStreet) - Jersey Mike's Subs is a growing sandwich chain that's becoming a formidable player in the fast casual space. Yet it's competing against Subway, the sandwich industry's big behemoth, as well as recently public Potbelly for consumers' wallets.

Founder and CEO Peter Cancro started working at Jersey Mike's original store (then called Mike's Subs) in Point Pleasant, N.J. at the age of 14. With a little help from a high school football coach (who happened to be a banker), he ended up buying that store at age 17.

Cancro started franchising the company in 1987, and began to branch out across the U.S., but at a measured pace. The company is now ramping up its expansion efforts, particularly in its home turf of New York and New Jersey as well as Northern California, Philadelphia, Boston, Atlanta and other markets. Today there are 730 stores (with close to 1,400 when adding in those in development).

Jersey Mike's is looking to open 200 stores this year, but Cancro sees wide opportunity for the concept. He thinks Jersey Mike's could eventually become a 5,000 domestic store chain, and potentially another 5,000 internationally.

But an eventual IPO isn't on the table.

"We probably would have gone public years ago, but now the size and strength [of] our expansion is mostly franchised," Cancro said. "We see ourselves staying private and continuing to grow that way."

Jersey Mike's pays workers roughly $8 an hour, above the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. It pays more for specialized or higher-ranking jobs. Weighing in on the current minimum wage debate, Cancro says raising the minimum wage too high could box out young workers, many of which are looking for their first jobs as employers seek older, more experienced workers for higher pay.

When asked whether a $10.10 initiative would stem hiring at Jersey Mike's, Cancro answered: "We have to see really what happens, what's the outcome of everything being talked about. No one is quite exactly sure just yet, but I think we will be okay and just have to wait and see."

--Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.