A Cut Above the Rest

Sixteen years ago, when fast-food chains were becoming increasingly indulgent, Quiznos Canada Corporation went a decidedly different route, with hearty, healthy sandwiches and soul-satisfying soups. Today, Quiznos has become known for its toasted, mile-high sandwiches and hearty soups, but the company’s designation as the country’s fastest-growing service restaurant in the upscale sandwich category suggests there’s more to being successful than dishing out delicious food. That’s where George Jeffrey comes in. The COO began his career in food production at the age of 12, and through diligence and determination, Jeffrey is now in charge of Quiznos’s 435 Canadian locations—an impressive number for a franchise that’s only been in the country for 16 years. Here, Jeffrey discusses his hardworking childhood, Quiznos’s critical differentiator, and his favourite part about being COO.

George Jeffrey’s experience in the food industry dates all the way back to when he was an assistant baker at age 12.

How did you come to enter the industry when you were younger? Was it just a job at first, or were you sincerely interested?
I guess you could say I was a money-hungry kid. I had a paper route when a bakery job became available through my sister, and I jumped at the chance to make $2.25 an hour as an assistant baker. Eventually one job led to another and, before I knew it, I was growing up in the food industry. Thirty years later, I’m still in it because I do find it interesting. It’s a dynamic industry with ever-changing trends. I love the interplay between the brand and its consumers. I think it’s fun.

How did you go from working on the service side to being COO of Quiznos?
I got into food distribution, and from there it was a series of promotions to management positions until I found my way to food-service sales, where I sold to the leading brands in North America. I eventually headed up our company’s food-service division when my CEO at the time suggested I obtain my MBA, so I went back to school and loved every moment of it. It really connected the dots for me—how a company’s success requires all of these intricate pieces to come together for results. So I’ve been involved in all aspects of the industry, and I feel that’s a real asset because I know how each piece functions and I understand what customers are looking for. Running a brand requires having a keen understanding of what your customer base wants.

Compared to other franchises, Quiznos is still relatively young. How has the company been able to develop such great brand awareness and such a strong consumer following in such a small amount of time?
Quiznos zigged when everyone else in fast food zagged. We really focused on great quality, and we positioned ourselves as a cut above. Our slogan is “The finest ingredients, exquisitely combined, and freshly prepared,” and we take that very seriously. We have artisan breads, chef-inspired recipes, natural cheeses, and meats sliced fresh daily; the food is just more wholesome. Our biggest problem—and it’s not a bad problem to have—is that we don’t have enough locations. There is room for growth, and we’re happy about that. Our competitors hit critical mass decades ago, and so, as a newer brand in the market, we have had to be patient with unit growth.

George Jeffrey’s quick tips for rapidly growing a young franchise

•    Start with a great product consistently prepared.
•    Cluster your locations, meaning you should build one market at a time.
•    Understand the importance of local store marketing.

In your opinion, what are the most important attributes needed for a successful franchise in the food industry?
In our business, it has to be about great food, great service, and affordability. You always hear it’s just about “location, location, location,” and in many ways that’s true because you want to be near the demographics most likely to patronize your concept—those who like and can become regular users of your brand—but it’s always great products and service that bring people back.

What past experiences do you feel really prepared you to be COO of a franchise as large as Quiznos?
Leadership has always been a topic of study for me. My management experience exposed me to the specifics of what was required to run a large chain, and my MBA connected the dots. Spending years working with the most successful brands also helped a great deal. The food industry has very unique “dos and don’ts,” and I learned from the most successful brand managers in the country.

As far as growing the brand and expanding the franchise, what are your next steps moving forward?
We are looking to open up in other countries by having more corporate-owned brand offices in places like the UK and Australia, which will utilize our corporate team of experts. We’re basically applying the Canadian model to other countries while making any modifications needed to fit into new marketplaces.

What’s the best part of your job?
Sampling the new recipes, of course! The food aspect is really fun. I also really enjoy the process of building a brand. We have a close eye on our customers, and we also use the feedback of our franchise owners to make decisions that will make our products and service the best they can possibly be. Letting our customers and our restaurants owners know that we hear their opinions and that we value them is really important to us as a brand.