We soon realized we did not know enough about starting a fast-food restaurant to run one successfully.
Ray Chambers, our sponsor, contacted Governor Kean and he put us in touch with Tom Lynch, the director of the incarcerated youth program in Newark. Tom was a wonderful man and he suggested we meet with a prisoner he knew who had been incarcerated for 13 years and who was serving a life sentence. The prisoner, let's call him Bob, at one point owned six Blimpies franchises and was on his way to being a multi-millionaire before his arrest. In a way, he was the inverse of our kids, instead of starting with nothing and striving for more, he had lost his successful business and ended up trapped in prison, with no options. Our kids were "trapped" on the streets with no options, but were looking for ways to succeed. One afternoon while driving home, he noticed his wife's car in a local hotel parking lot. He pulled into the hotel, got out, and tracked down his wife in one of the rooms. He burst into the room to find his wife with another man. The two men quarreled, and it quickly escalated into a fight. In his rage, Bob killed the man. The victim was related to local law enforcement and after a swift trial, he was sentenced to life in prison.
Mike Bartola, our restaurant manager, and I drove down to meet this man. We quickly realized how valuable Bob's insight could be for launching our franchise.
He was given a day pass to come to Newark to help us get our place up and running. He and Mike worked extremely hard and organized the restaurant training for our top 15 students. Bob supervised the building of the site and was instrumental in beautifying the location, making it inviting. He taught us how to market our business locally and understand cost and income statements of a restaurant business.
We opened in 1989 to immediate success. Local businesses quickly began to order lunch daily. Two shifts of six ran Jersey Mike's, with everyone alternating roles to become familiar with every aspect of the restaurant. It was the first legal job for each young person. Each day there would be a group meeting, and every evening the young entrepreneurs would pass along what they had learned, teaching the other kids at Ogden about the restaurant business. Every Sunday we had a group meeting to go over details about the financials. We used open-book management and broke down cost, expenditure, payouts, etc., in simple terms everyone could understand.
Business boomed and everyone was ecstatic because these young men had a new lease on life. They left the program and found new jobs, and two even started their own food push cart business.
I knew that if I was able to secure national media coverage and share these kids' story I could encourage other educators to adopt my strategy. It became a major goal of mine to get these kids exposure for their success.
Soon we had the New York Times doing a big story, followed by a cover on USA Today. A major accomplishment for me was securing a spot during the 1991 Super Bowl, where a one-minute profile hosted by Leonard Marshall, the legendary New York Giant, highlighted our achievements. It was seen by 90,000,000 people and the concept was on its way.