Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwich Shops, known for its fresh ingredients, quick service and delivery, is coming to downtown Cedar Rapids.
Marc Motzer, who along with T.J. Graber, owns Jimmy John’s locations in Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls and Waterloo, confirmed that a lease has been signed for space on the first floor of the Iowa Building, 411 Third St. SE.
Motzer said he hopes to open the newest Jimmy John’s, which will offer expanded dine-in seating as well as delivery service, about April 1.
“Typically, our other stores are about 1,500 square feet,” Motzer said. “This store will have about 2,200 square feet.
“Seating is becoming an issue at our other stores during the lunch hour when we’re so busy. We have seating for 36 people and there are people who come in wanting a table for four people.
“That’s turned away some people because they don’t have a place to sit down and eat their lunch. We’ve tried to eliminate that problem with the downtown location, which will seat somewhere between 55 and 60.”
Motzer said the newest Jimmy John’s will employ three full-time managers and about 50 part-time employees. He said the lunch hour will probably require 20 employees to handle the sales volume and delivery.
“We will probably be open Monday through Friday as well as Saturday when there is a farmer’s market,” Motzer said. “We will open at 10:30 a.m. and likely stay open until 9 or 10 p.m.”
Motzer said all of the new construction activity occuring in the downtown area convinced he and Graber that there is an opportunity for a well-known restaurant chain known for its quick service and delivery.
“The price was right for that spot, the size was right, and it is very visible for walk-in traffic as well as being centrally located for delivery to all areas of downtown Cedar Rapids,” Motzer said. “We debated for about a year whether the time was right.
“We became convinced that we needed to act now to get our foot in the door before the new federal courthouse, public library, events center and Paramount Theatre are completed and open to the public.”
Motzer said Jimmy John’s, which has more than 1,300 corporate and franchised locations in 41 states, charges a small delivery fee for each order. He said the number of people already working downtown who would likely take advantage of delivery also was a factor in the decision to open a store.
“We also plan to offer catering for businesses in the downtown area,” Motzer said. “I used to live in downtown Cedar Rapids and I’m familiar with what we really needed to serve the people who live and work there.”
Motzer said the new Jimmy John’s is not expected to reduce traffic at either existing location — 4701 First Ave SE and 2315 Edgewood Rd. SW.
“That doesn’t happen very often because it takes about a half hour to drive to either store from the downtown area,” he said. “By the time you drive back to work, your lunch hour is over.”
Motzer said he expects to begin hiring for the downtown Jimmy John’s store fairly soon to have employees ready for opening day.
“The nice thing about having the two existing stores is that we will be able to send our new employees there for training,” he said. “That should make it fairly seemless as they transition to the new store.
“When customers arrive on opening day, they will find employees who already have experience working for Jimmy John’s.”
While he and Graber want to get the newest store up and operating, Motzer said additional Jimmy John’s are possible if the right location at the right price comes along.
“Right now, we believe in taking a slow approach,” he said. “In the future, I can see some opportunities in Marion, near Blairs Ferry and Edgewood roads, as well as near Kirkwood Community College.”
Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwich Shops, based in Champaign, Ill., was founded in 1983 by 19-year-old Jimmy John Liautaud in Charleston, Ill., the home of Eastern Illinois University.
With $25,000 borrowed from his father, Liautaud bought used equipment including a refrigerator, freezer, oven and a meat slicer. His soft drinks were 25 cents with no ice because he could not afford to buy an ice maker.
To raise awareness of his first sandwich shop, Liautaud went directly to potential customers by personally passing out hundreds of sandwich samples on the streets, in college bars, Laundromats and dormitories. The second Jimmy John’s sandwich shop opened in 1985 in Macomb, Ill., home of Western Illinois University, and a third location followed in 1987 in Champaign, where the main campus of the University of Illinois is located.
As additional Jimmy John’s stores were opened primarily in college towns, the chain developed somewhat of a cult following among students.
Motzer and Graber met and became best friends while they were students at Iowa State University in Ames. They became business partners after they graduated and opened their first Jimmy John’s locations.
“T.J. is the silent partner,” Motzer said. “I basically oversee the five stores to make sure everything is going as it should be.
“I also have a district manager who also has responsibility the five stores. If someone has a catering issue or someone doesn’t show up for work, he can go anywhere at any time.”
Tiffany Earl of Skogman Commercial Realty, who handled the leasing arrangements, said the Iowa Building will be filled with the arrival of Jimmy John’s.
“This is really important for that area because we’re seeing other parts of downtown being redeveloped in the area of TrueNorth and the new federal courthouse,” Earl said. “Jimmy John’s and another eating establishment being developed across the street in the former Grafton Street Pub building will help connect the core area of downtown Cedar Rapids with the revitalized New Bohemia Neighborhood District along the Third Street Corridor.”
Earl said there continues to be interest in the former location of Blend, an upscale restaurant at 221 Second Ave. SE that closed in January 2010.
“A steakhouse has been interested and we still have a lot of people ‘kicking tires,’” she said. “It’s a great place with an opportunity for someone to come in with all the equipment and everything built out. They wouldn’t have the normal debt of a startup restaurant.
- By George Ford