Subway co-founder Fred DeLuca, who cultivated his startup sandwich shop into the world's largest fast-food chain, died Sept. 14 at 67. DeLuca, who started Subway as a teenager, was diagnosed two years ago with leukemia, Subway said, and was phasing back on his leadership role at the company.
Subway said DeLuca was in regular contact with his management team, but on a reduced basis as he received treatment. Then earlier this summer, Subway said DeLuca's younger sister, Suzanne Greco, would take over as president and oversee day-to-day operations. DeLuca remained CEO.
His passing came just weeks after the 50th anniversary of the chain, which is known for its “Footlong” sandwiches and what it says are more than 44,000 locations around the world.
The submarine sandwich company traces its roots to 1965, when DeLuca opened a sandwich shop at the age of 17 to help pay for college. The idea came from family friend, Peter Buck, who co-founded the shop with DeLuca and provided $1,000 to start the business.
“I knew nothing about making sandwiches, nor the food industry,” DeLuca later wrote in a book.
DeLuca and Buck opened their first store in Bridgeport, Conn., under the name “Pete's Super Submarines,” with subs selling for 69 cents and less. The name was changed to the snappier “Subway” in 1968, and the pair decided to fuel growth by franchising, or letting others open Subway stores, in exchange for fees.
By 1988, privately held Subway, based in Milford, Conn., had 2,000 locations and two years later, it reached the 5,000-store mark. And by 1994, it had more than 8,000 locations.
This year, Forbes magazine pegged DeLuca's net worth at $3.5 billion, making him the 259th-richest individual in the U.S. DeLuca once said the sub shop idea wasn't intended to support him forever. After he graduated from high school, DeLuca had planned on becoming a doctor, so started the sub shop with Buck to support his college education. He gradually parlayed the experience into building Subway, the world’s largest chain of fast-food franchises.
Subway recently has been facing other challenges in addition to DeLuca's health. The company this summer stated that it ended its relationship with longtime pitchman Jared Fogle, who agreed to plead guilty to allegations he paid for sex acts with minors and received child pornography.
In addition, some feel Subway has overextended itself with its more than 27,000 U.S. locations. Last year, average sales at established U.S. locations fell 3 percent, according to Technomic.
The company did not immediately say yesterday if a successor had been named as CEO.