5 Once-Popular Sandwich Chains That Are Disappearing
Americans love sandwiches, especially for lunch. And, while, of course, a sandwich is easy to make at home, when lunch rolls around people often turn to a deli or national sandwich chain to get a quick bite. In 2022, Subway, Panera Bread, and Arby's dominated sales for sandwich chains in the U.S., serving billions of dollars worth of sandwiches. But these three weren't always at the top of the pack. Other chains used to dominate the sandwich world, but they ended up being pushed out or disappearing altogether.
When someone orders a relatively expensive sandwich and it ends up being mediocre or not worth the price, chances are they're going to tell someone about it or, worse, spread the word on social media. That word of mouth, coupled with unfortunate economic downturn and industry shortages, can lead to lackluster sales and eventually closing restaurants.
Here are some of the once-largest sandwich chains in America that started out with major success but have recently been unable to meet customers' expectations across the board.
Au Bon Pain
Au Bon Pain used to be the fresh new sandwich shop and bakery duo on the block. The chain grew heavily throughout the 1970s, with tons of East Coast locations in New York City and Hackensack, N.J. But a change in ownership in the early 1990s gave rise to Au Bon Pain's greatest competitor.
Since Au Bon Pain was seemingly successful, partners Louis Kane and Rob Shaich decided to acquire the Saint Louis Bread Company and implemented a similar business model, Baking Business reported. The new business was one all know and love today—Panera Bread. Fast forward to 2017 and Panera's sales were booming while Au Bon Pain locations began vastly disappearing or being converted to Panera stores.
While in 2021, Au Bon Pain did see its sales grow by 17% compared to 2020, the chain is still not out of the woods. It was still down by a whopping 43% compared to its pre-pandemic business. The bakery café operates a modest 123 locations in the United States today, which is only half of the 200+ stores it used to have a decade ago.
Taylor Gourmet made a name for itself in the Washington, D.C. area with high-quality hoagies at competitive prices and saw a great deal of success in the 2010s. However, the chain shocked its fans when it shuttered all 19 of its locations in 2018, seemingly overnight. It then went on to file for bankruptcy as one of its major investors pulled out of the business.
And while its owner blamed growing competition and a rapid attempt at expansion for the downfall, there were rumors that the chain's customers soured on the business due to the owner's political affiliations.
Believe it or not, there was a time as recently as 15 years ago when Quiznos was among the largest chains in the entire world. American shopping malls more often than not housed Quiznos locations, but the chain seems to have lost its customer base the same way those major malls did.
As of 2007, Quiznos had 4,700 locations operating worldwide. Today, it operates fewer than 200. So, while not officially dead yet, Quiznos certainly seems to be on a downward spiral.
What happened? In short, the chain seems to have had a bad business model, which left franchisee owners with too little gain. According to reports, the company chased a rapid expansion at the expense of its franchisees while forcing them to buy food and paper products costing above the industry average. Many owners soon became frustrated with the low profits and poor treatment and left.
There was also a buyout that left the company with hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, and it happened right before the Great Recession of 2008. Of course, the rise of Subway, now the largest sandwich chain in the world, didn't help. The perfect storm of debt, dwindling profits, and a very large, new competitor, sadly, left Quiznos in the dust.
Before the glitz and glamor of the sandwich world, before Charles Barkley and Simone Biles were touting Subway on national airwaves, there was Blimpie, one of the first chains to focus on the sub sandwich and see great success. It opened its first location in Hoboken, N.J. in 1964.
Before Quiznos was squeezed out by Subway, Blimpie was squeezed out by Quiznos. The sandwich business is clearly not for the faint of heart. Despite growing to over 1,000 locations worldwide by the beginning of the millennium, competitors like Subway, Quiznos, and Jimmy Johns began to push Blimpie out of the picture. As of today, the chain operates a mere 156 locations across the country.
This once-promising Dallas-based sandwich shop opened in 2003 to massive success. It was known for its unique ordering system where the customer writes what they want on the paper bag that will eventually hold their sandwich.
Sadly, however, Which Wich has seen a massive decrease in locations and popularity. In 2017, the brand operated over 500 locations, and today that number has been slashed in half.
The pandemic is often cited as the main reason for the faltering of the chain and it has never recovered. According to one franchise owner, decreases in foot traffic and labor shortages were the final nail in the coffin for his locations.
A version of this story was originally published on September 28, 2022. It has been updated to include new information.