Jimmy John’s dilutes definition of “gourmet” with mediocrity

Today with all the social media outlets and review sites, I find it hard to believe that mediocrity continues to prevail in the culinary landscape.  I have a great deal of travel, dining and cooking experience, so if anyone knows the meaning of “gourmet,” it’s me! I can tell you that unequivocally Jimmy John’s (JJ’s), the “gourmet” sandwich chain sweeping the nation, is the antithesis of gourmet!  I get so irritated when I get suckered into a dining experience with marketing terms like “gourmet,” and then learn that it’s anything but!

Years ago I used to patronage an excellent small chain of sandwich shops whose name escapes me–for some reason I mistook Jimmy John’s for this other sandwich maker.  A disappointing lapse on my part.

I should have taken being nearly run down (no exaggeration) by a Jimmy John’s delivery driver as an omen of things to come. My visit to JJ’s was shared by a long time friend and one of his colleagues, one of whom had been to JJ’s before–however his taste buds are not as discerning as mine.  As we entered, I thought the décor and atmosphere appeasing enough, but noticed that there were few customers, which was surprising to me given the time of day. Not so surprising after consuming my meal.  As I perused the menu and noticed no “Boar’s Head” signs, I knew that JJ’s was not the same place I had initially thought it was.  I also suspected that a place not using one of the best cold cuts (Boar’s Head) could hardly be considered “gourmet.”

After ordering our sandwiches and filling our soft drinks, we easily found a vacant table and sat down. Our order was promptly ready, so my buddy went up to grab our lunch.  I wanted to add some sweetener to my iced tea, but there was none to be found on the tables or near the vending area.  I asked someone who was cleaning tables and he told me I needed to ask someone at the counter.  “Really,” I thought.  I walked up to the countered and asked for some Splenda (I know, it’s kind of a chick thing, but I’m trying to watch my figure) and the gal gave me several packets of the pink crap and said, “this is all we have.”

Back at the table I unwrap my sandwich and starred in disbelieve and disappointment at how “un-gourmet” my sandwich looked.  It was typical cheap white sub-style bread, with shredded iceberg lettuce you’d find at a cheap taco stand, a few slices of highly processed turkey, two thinly sliced tomato’s and a just a smidge of deli mustard that I could hardly taste.  That was my JJ’s “gourmet” sandwich.

My buddy’s colleague looked over at me, apparently sensing my dissatisfaction and said, “some gourmet sandwich, huh?” The cynicism was apparent as he too was displeased by my suggestion to try JJ’s.

While we were eating our sandwiches I was looking for a napkin…these too were not supplied with the meal, nor available at the table.  I had asked a gentleman bussing a table next to us where the napkins were, fully expecting that he’d get some for us since they were clearly forgotten by the staff.  “At the counter he said.”  Yet another trip to the counter in order obtain what you’d think as a self-evident utensil.

I will give JJ’s props where they are due…they have some very good potato chips. However, chips alone are not enough to make me want to go back.

Before publishing this post, I did call JJ’s in an attempt to ask them what specifically they do to constitute using the term “gourmet” in their banner. The receptionist told me that unless I had a name, she could not transfer me to anyone.  I told her I was with the media, but she insisted that without a name there was nothing she could do.

I used to work for a leading gourmet ice cream brand with franchises all over the country…I’m pretty familiar with the franchise model, and as I said before, with all things truly “gourmet.”  It really, really surprises me that people would be lining up to invest in a company that clearly offers consumers a product that contradicts their marketing and position statement.

Jimmy John’s now has over 1000 locations, I’m sure many of you have been there…I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Please leave your comments below and let me know what you think of my assessment.  Please “like” and link if felt this post was helpful.

Mike Shubic

Mike Shubic is a seasoned road trip travel video blogger, traversing the byways of the world looking for those hidden gems of the road. From unique destinations, unexpected discoveries, creative cuisine, intriguing inns to exciting attractions…the road is his page. The experiences are his ink. And every 300 miles, a new chapter begins. Whether you live vicariously or by example, Mike will do the exploring so you can have an adventure.

17 Comments

  1. You caught me, as it states on the top of my menu: ok, my subs really aren’t gourmet and we’re not french either. my subs just taste a little better, that’s all! I wanted to call it Jimmy John’s Tasty Sandwiches, but my mom told me to stick with Gourmet. She thinks whatever i do is gourmet, but I don’t think either of us knows what it means. So let’s stick with tasty! JJ

    1. JJ…I like the response, however it contradicts the position statement. From a marketer’s perspective who used to work for a leading “gourmet” ice cream brand, I can tell you that I fear for the future of JJ’s.

  2. Working in brand marketing for a living, I fear the same thing. As a fellow “foodie” I take the word “gourmet” a little more seriously than most fast food franchise companies. I have found Firehouse subs to have a great marketing model. They under promise without enticing tag-lines like gourmet and certainly over deliver. I had the same experience at Jimmy John’s as you, and decided if I want mediocrity, I’ll go to Subway. Gourmet is not just about food, but about the experience. They should offer better training than slapping a sandwich together and telling you to go back to the counter twice for things that should have been offered with the meal. And JJ, if neither you nor your mother knows what “gourmet” means as you stated, maybe you should steer away from using this word which deceives you and any customer being mislead. JJ’s tasty subs works better. And I respect you greatly for reaching out to your customers. Change the name to Tasty and you’ll take away Subway customers….at least this one.

    1. Hey Robb! Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment. I love to hear other people’s perspective, especially those with as much brand experience as you. I also enjoy it when people agree with me. 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by. Cheers!

  3. So I suppose you feel the same way about my Gourmet Popcorn???
    Mike, Gourmet is a marketing word. You don’t hold the patent on its meaning. Many people seem to feel just fine about Jimmy Johns since they have 1000 stores open. Don’t you think the free market should decide the fate of such a business? There is a snack cake called “Tastycake” If you don’t happen to find their products “Tasty”, will you demand they change their name because you felt “duped”? What about “Burger King”? If you don’t think their burger is the King of Burgers, will you be as upset as you are now? After livng all these years, do you really decide to try a restaurant out because they have the word “gourmet” in their name? It’s marketing Mike, and it must work, because the got you into the front door.

    Oh, BTW, you’ll be happy to know that I just purchased some of your popcorn last night! 🙂

    1. Dear Orville: if you’re really from Orville Redenbacher…clearly you don’t have a background or education in marketing! Nor do you appear to know that “words” have meanings…as described by Webster. Your comparisons are like apples and oranges…take for example the word “gourmet” and “the kind of burgers,” big difference. BTW, you cannot “patent” a word, but rather trademark a phrase, i.e. “king of burgers.” To answer your question…ABSOLUTELY I’ll use the signage words “gourmet sandwiches” as a deciding factor as to whether I’ll try an establishment or not. You are right, those words got me in the door, but the marketing did not succeed, it actually failed. You see, marketing is not a short lived practice, bur rather a support for the sales cycle. In other words, they duped me into trying their establishment, but failed to live up to their position statement…therefore I’ll never be back. I agree with you on one thing…the “market” should in fact decide whether Jimmy John’s succeeds or fails! And guess what…I’m part of the market! I’ve elaborated my opinion based on facts, not feelings to empower future prospective customers to Jimmy John’s. JJ’s is just another “me too” sub shop in a sea of options, i.e. Subway, Blimpies, etc. If I were a betting man, I’d place my money on failure, not success of this franchise. #JusySayin’

  4. No, Virginia, there is no gourmet fast food restaurant. If anyone tells you otherwise, they just fell off the back of the Cisco truck. Fast food joints are designed for the family that has less than an hour to get one kid to soccer and another to Scouts on time. Those families are interested in getting full tummies in record time at a reasonable cost when they have no other option. Often for a same or similar dollar, the Mon N Pop joints can provide real food although probably not quite as fast. Slow food is foodie food.

  5. We opt for the independent restaurants 99 times out of 100. As with any ‘category’ of restaurant style, not all is created equal with the independents either. We have never considered ourselves to be seekers of gourmet restaurants. We just like really good food. After traveling 49 states and 9 provinces by motorcycle, we have discovered the easiest way to find the best food in any town. If a local joint’s parking lot is filled with pick-up trucks, motorcycles, school buses and police cars, the food will be good.

  6. Just a little side note. I noticed a twist of irony on this page. The Google adsense ad at the top is for Jimmy Johns. To be expected for sure as this page is about Jimmy Johns, but to have an ad for them? Well, surely you can see the humor here!

  7. I work for JJ…well not anymore as of Oct 27. You can see why. If you’d like to know more about how they actually treat their employees/managers and the reason behind why your service was so deplorable, I’d love to shed some light on the matter. Just not where JJ secret service can see me. They are everywhere you know. Just ask any JJ management trainee. 🙂

  8. I was just wondering myself why JJ’s subs are “gourmet”. I searched google, and this is the only rant I found. Guess you guys were wrong about the place, you are the only one complaining about it.

    Guess it’s just false advertising and based on JJ’s response they get away with it with humor.

    1. Hey Ramsey…I am surprised there are not more people complaining, but it might have something to do with their lawyers. I was threatened to take it down shortly after I published it. Maybe others were not willing to stand up and removed their negative content. Anyhow, thanks for stopping by. Hope you will check out the rest of the site. Cheers, Mike

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