Jimmy John's drive-thru coming to Manatee Avenue West in Bradenton

cschelle@bradenton.comSeptember 4, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Construction for a new stand-alone Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches shop on Manatee Avenue West will be as freakishly fast as its subs.

The 1,336-square-foot restaurant, which will feature a drive-thru, is expected to open at 5300 Manatee Ave. W. in December, said owner and general manager Tom Vehema. Demolition of the existing Patrick's Salon building has yet to begin.

"It's going to be the prettiest building on Manatee Avenue," Vehema said.

Vehema, a Bradenton resident and Palmetto High School graduate, opened the Jimmy John's at 4338 Cortez Road about two and a half years ago, and immediately started searching for a drive-thru location for the sandwich shop known for pumping out subs in 30 seconds and offering "free smells."

During his preparations for the Cortez Road store, Vehema trained at a drive-thru restaurant near the company's headquarters in Champagne, Ill., which was the first time he learned that Jimmy John's could be built with a drive-thru. He was determined to find a way to bring one to Bradenton after he finished prepping for his Cortez road shop.

"A drive-thru adds a whole different dynamic to this franchise being freaky fast, making 30-second sandwiches,"

Vehema said. "Throwing our sandwiches into the mix, it's a whole different scene."

The new shop will have 19 seats inside, a 16-seat patio, and offer delivery in a three- to five-minute area as well, he said.

Vehema plans to hire more than 30 employees, with about four full-time. He also expects the new location to be open later than 10 p.m., which is when the Cortez Road store closes.

Jimmy John's has undergone a rapid franchise expansion over the past five years throughout the United States. It even has its own sponsored NASCAR race car and driver.

The company's story became fodder for the Mitt Romney presidential campaign when Romney quipped young adults should ask to borrow money from their parents to build a business like Jimmy John Liautaud did when he started his sandwich empire. The sandwiches were also a frequent lunchtime meal on the campaign bus.

Since the first Jimmy John's opened in 1983 in Charleston, Ill., the company has built more than 1,600 restaurants.

Jimmy John's has created a loyal and passionate following, similar to other regional chains such as convenience stores Wawa, Sheetz and grocery store Publix have over the years.

For Vehema, his first introduction to Jimmy John's began in Gainesville when he had a sandwich before a Florida Gators game in 2008. It was love at first bite.

"My buddy's like, you gotta check this place out. We went in, there was loud music, they had about 30 people working, it was game day, a line out the door," said Vehema, who owns the Bradenton location with James Briles. "I pictured this for my hometown, and thought I got to get this for my hometown. I got to find a way to get this in Bradenton."

He found out Sarasota had one on Ringling Boulevard and called up the franchise hotline, despite doubts from his wife about the venture.

"She's like, 'We don't have the money.' And I'm like, 'I can sell this, I can sell this! I got experience,'" he said, laughing. "Two weeks later we were in Champagne. We were in Chicago, and I sold it to her as a trip to Chicago with the Taste of Chicago and see this cool city."

After a four-hour conversation with a Jimmy John's executive, he received pre-approval on financing and launched his Cortez Road location.

The 40-year-old's experience working at area restaurants through the years -- making salads at Pier 22 in high school and most recently being a bar back at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa -- helped Vehema get ready for a busy environment at Jimmy John's.

Vehema has gone nose-first into the shop, where the meats are sliced and the bread is baked each day.

"I order up my sandwich, and I smell my sandwich. I use all my senses. I don't hear it, but I use every sense that I can use to enjoy that sandwich," he said, laughing. "People are like, what do you put in your bread? They're addicted."

The speed is built on offering multiple combinations of limited meat, cheese and veggie options to keep the process simple.

Growing up in Manatee County, Vehema makes sure he continues to be rooted in the community, donating about 200 boxed lunches for the Foundations for Dreams charity golf tournament last weekend, feeding teachers at Lee Middle School and a back-to-school night at Moody Elementary and doing team-building events at charity functions.

He expects the charity and community events at the Manatee location to take place mainly in the shop's delivery area.

"Over there we'll have more opportunities to work with the community," Vehema said.

Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.

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