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After Mass Restaurant Closures, America's Biggest Sandwich Chain Is Growing Again

Subway has major plans to open new restaurants across North America this year.
FACT CHECKED BY Meaghan Cameron

Subway may be America's largest sandwich chain, but it shrank rapidly in 2021 as franchisees shuttered about 1,000 restaurants. These mass closures shaved down its total American unit count by about 5% as the company struggled to recover sales after the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the sandwich chain is now gunning for a major turnaround. Subway is growing again, and consumers can expect to see more restaurants pop up across North America in 2023, the company announced this week.

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Subway expects to increase new restaurant openings across the continent by around 35% in 2023 compared to 2022. The exact number of North America openings in 2022 was not immediately clear, but the company said that it opened nearly 750 new locations globally throughout the year. In the first quarter of 2023, Subway has already opened 145 new restaurants, according to the announcement.

The company, which is exploring a possible sale, also just took a major step forward in an ongoing overhaul of its franchises. In this week's announcement, Subway said it inked five new agreements with multi-unit owners. These agreements have already allowed those owners to acquire and consolidate more than 230 existing Subway restaurants this year. Since May 2022, the company has been working to bring in larger and more experienced multi-unit owners to replace the single-unit, mom-and-pop operators that it has traditionally relied on.

"A key element of Subway's multi-year transformation journey is attracting multi-unit owners with the vision, resources, operating expertise and passion for the Subway brand," Trevor Haynes, president of Subway North America, said in a statement. "All five multi-unit agreements are an excellent representation of the brand's smart growth strategy coming to life and demonstrate the confidence operators have in our brand and future."

Subway's 2023 growth plans also include an ambitious goal to modernize its image. The company plans to remodel 3,600 locations across North America this year, which would increase the number of restaurants in the "current Subway image" to 10,000 by this summer.

Enhancing the menu is another key tenet of Subway's image improvement mission. The company rolled out a major menu refresh in 2021 that included slicing meats "deli-thin" and introducing new breads and sauces. Some franchisees and critics have cast doubt on the success of this revamp, but Subway asserted that menu upgrades led to a positive uptick in sales. Subway saw even more success in 2022 when followed up the menu revamp by introducing Subway Series, a lineup of 12 sandwiches designed to be ordered as-is rather than customized.

Whether Subway will ultimately be able to grow enough to make up for all the units it lost remains to be seen. But in the near term, Subway customers can count on seeing more sandwich shops, thousands of refreshed restaurants, and new, larger operators.

Zoe Strozewski
Zoe Strozewski is a News Writer for Eat This, Not That! A Chicago native who now lives in New Jersey, she graduated from Kean University in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Read more about Zoe
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