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11 Toasty Facts About Quiznos

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"Heating anything brings out the flavors in food products. I don't care what it is," Quiznos' founder once said. And they built a whole fast-casual sandwich franchise on that belief.

1. QUIZNOS WAS FOUNDED ON FINE-DINING EXPERIENCE.

In the 1970s, Chef Jimmy Lambatos served as executive chef at the Colorado Mine Co. steakhouse, where he cooked for the likes of Elvis and the Rolling Stones. He left in 1978 to open Footers, his own Italian restaurant. It was while running Footers that Lambatos developed the signature toasted subs as an homage to the sandwiches he grew up with in New York City and, in 1981, he launched Quiznos.

2. QUIZNOS' LONG-TIME CEO JOINED THE COMPANY AT JUST 22.

Rick Schaden opened a Quiznos franchise in the Denver area in 1987 when he was just 22, along with a little help from his father. Over the next few years, the father-son team acquired several more stores, and in 1991, the pair purchased the entire company from the founders. At just 26, Schaden became CEO of the company—a position he held till 2007.

3. IN 2005, QUIZNOS LAUNCHED A LINE OF GYMS.

The restaurant chain partnered with former pro wrestler and fitness guru Ray Wilson to launch a line of gyms called 123 Fitness, which focused on 30-minute exercise classes. At the time, Schaden said "Second only to serving great sandwiches that people love, franchising is a core competency at Quiznos … Partnering with Ray, who is known as the father of fitness, on a health club concept is a winning idea."

Unfortunately, by 2008, there were twice as many closed 123 Fitness clubs as there were open ones, and many of the franchisees faced bankruptcy.

4. QUIZNOS TOOK ON SUBWAY…

During the late '90s and early 2000s, Quiznos sat comfortably in second place among fast food sandwich joints—but far behind first-place Subway. Quiznos always maintained that their ingredients were of higher quality (to justify the higher price point), and in 2006 they launched their most aggressive advertising scheme against the sub behemoth. The campaign claimed that their Prime Rib Cheesesteak contained twice as much meat as Subway’s Cheesesteaks, and invited consumers to put their claims to the test.

"I feel so strongly that our new Prime Rib Cheesesteak is better in quality and abundance than Subway's that I am spreading the news to consumers and offering them a 100% satisfaction guarantee or they get a free sub from Quiznos,” then-CEO Schaden said at the time.

5. …AND LOST

Quiznos made a valiant effort to catch Subway, topping out at over 5000 locations in 2007. But the recession hit the slightly-more-upscale Quiznos far harder than Subway. While the $5 footlong boosted the latter’s business, Quizno’s sales and market share both dropped by more than 50 percent between 2008 and 2013, landing it behind not just Subway but also Jimmy John’s. Although the chain has recovered from having declared bankruptcy in 2014, there are currently only 1500 stores worldwide.

6. THE CHAIN IS LOOKING FOR NEW LIFE OVERSEAS.

There’s no way to sugar-coat Quiznos' struggles recently, but as the brand bounces back from bankruptcy they’ve got a new business plan in the works: conquer the overseas market. With thousands of domestic Quiznos locations shuttering in the past few years, the sandwich chain announced plans to replace them with new locations in Asia and in the Middle East where there’s high demand (but less competition) for American-style fare. Over the next decade, they plan to open 1500 restaurants in China and 100 more in Taiwan.

7. JIM PARSONS GOT HIS BIG BREAK—SORT OF—IN A QUIZNOS COMMERCIAL.

Long before he was the highest-paid actor on television, Jim Parsons was in need of a gig—and he found one playing a man raised by wolves, in a 2003 Quiznos commercial. It didn’t exactly make him a star. “But, it broke me into the rent stratosphere,” Parsons told CBS in 2012. “It did get some attention. It certainly gave me a conversation piece. Half the battle, and I'm not kidding, in certain casting sessions and everything, are—well, you have something interesting to say. And then if you've suckled at the teat of a Siberian Husky, you have something interesting to say. Maybe not good, but it's interesting."

8. QUIZNOS HAD A PAIR OF SHORT-LIVED, MEME-TASTIC MASCOTS CALLED SPONGEMONKEYS.

They don’t really look like monkeys at all, actually. But that’s what the bizarre, heavily photoshopped, musical marsupials who appeared in a couple of Quiznos commercials in 2004 are called. Quiznos didn’t create the quirky creatures; that honor goes to British web animator Joel Veitch, who posted a video of the pair singing about the moon on his website in 2003. An employee at Quiznos' ad firm saw the video, and thought it had just the right level of attention-grabbing weirdness for a new campaign.

9. QUIZNOS' CEO INADVERTENTLY DISSED THE MCRIB.

Talk about punching up. In 2012, then-brand new CEO Stuart Mathis made headlines when he said McDonald's cult-favorite McRib was "not a great sandwich, in my view." His disparaging remarks were actually taken largely out of context; Mathis meant to praise McDonald’s smart marketing of the sandwich. The full quote includes a desire to emulate the McRib’s success. “McDonald's has done a masterful job with the McRib sandwich. It's not a great sandwich, in my view,” Mathis said. “But they've been very effective in putting it in and taking it out, and it creates buzz. We'll try to take the same approach, for example, with our lobster sandwich, which is very popular."

10. QUIZNO’S TOASTY.TV IS FULL OF VIRAL HITS.

One area in which the company has been super successful lately? Online viral marketing. Last year, Quiznos launched Toasty.TV, a platform for original and curated content. Their slick, high-budget parody videos were an instant hit. Their first video, "House of Thrones" (a Game of Thrones meets House of Cards parody), has over 2 million views, and later videos like "Mad X-Men" and "Startourage" have well over a million. But the videos have driven traffic not just to the brand’s YouTube page—in the first year after Toasty.TV launched, Quiznos' store locator traffic was up 76 percent.

11. BURNING MAN MIGHT SUE QUIZNOS.

A Toasty.TV video that was posted last month took aim at the Burning Man festival—and it looks like the festival might fight back. It’s not the mocking tone of the parody that Burning Man took issue with, it’s Quiznos’ corporate ethos. Burning Man spokesman Jim Graham said in the Reno Gazette-Journal, "We are pretty proactive about protecting our 10 principles, one of which is decommodification. We get quite a number of requests each year from companies wanting to gift participants with their product or to capture imagery or video of their products at the event, and we turn them all down." His actual beef? That Quiznos used the idea of Burning Man to sell subs. But, funny 'cause it's true? That Insta filter was dope.

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A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”

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Ho, No: Christmas Trees Will Be Expensive and Scarce This Year
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The annual tradition of picking out the healthiest, densest, biggest tree that you can tie to your car’s roof and stuff in your living room won’t be quite the same this year. According to The New York Times, Christmas trees will be scarce in some parts of the country and markedly more expensive overall.

The reason? Not Krampus, Belsnickel, or Scrooge, but something even more miserly: the American economy. The current situation has roots in 2008, when families were buying fewer trees due to the recession. Because more trees stayed in the ground, tree farms planted fewer seeds that year. And since firs grow in cycles of 8 to 10 years, we’re now arriving at a point where that diminished supply is beginning to impact the tree industry.

New York Times reporter Tiffany Hsu reports that 2017’s healthier holiday spending habits are set to drive up the price of trees as consumers vie for the choicest cuts on the market. In 2008, trees were just under $40 on average. Now, they’re $75 or more.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get a nice tree at a decent price—just that some farms will run out of prime selections more quickly and you might have to settle for something a little less impressive than in years past. Tree industry experts also caution that the shortages could last through 2025.

[h/t New York Times]

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