Jimmy John’s Sandwiches, which has grown to more than 2,800 shops since its founding in Charleston, Ill., 36 years ago, is getting sold to the owner of Arby’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Sonic Drive-In and Rusty Taco.
Financial terms of the deal with Atlanta-based Inspire Brands, announced early Wednesday, were not disclosed.
Jimmy John’s and Arby’s have operations in the Corridor.
After the transaction closes, Jimmy John Liautaud will step down as chairman to the eponymous Champaign, Ill.-based chain and become an adviser to the brand.
James North, Jimmy John’s president, will serve as president of the Jimmy John’s brand at Inspire Brands.
In 1983, Liautaud borrowed $25,000 from his father to open his first sandwich shop in Charleston after getting out of high school. He enrolled in Eastern Illinois University but dropped out before finishing the first semester so he could focus on growing the business.
In its first year, the store rang up $155,000 in sales and netted a $40,000 profit. Liautaud bought out his father’s 48 percent stake in the business by the third year.
The company started franchising in 1993 and grew quickly.
Its growth, though, has not been without controversy. Nor has its founder.
In 2016, the company agreed to a $100,000 settlement with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office over what the state called “highly restrictive noncompete agreements” that restricted its hourly employees for working at another sub shop while they worked at Jimmy John’s and for two years afterward.
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Raw sprouts served on its sandwiches were linked to a multistate outbreak of salmonella in early 2018, and the chain pulled them from the menu.
Animal welfare activists called for boycotts of the chain after photos surfaced of Liautaud posing with elephants, rhinos and other endangered animals he shot. In an interview with the Tribune in 2015, he said, “I don’t hunt big African game anymore.”
At the time, he also told the Tribune he sought to double the 2,300 locations within the next five years.
The deal with Inspire is expected to close next month. Inspire said it will become the fourth-largest restaurant company in the United States, with more than 11,200 restaurants in 16 countries and more than $14 billion in annual system sales.