Sandwich enthusiasts turn out for restaurant opening on Route 12A

Penny Sheppard, left, of Canaan, N.H., talks to franchisee Chris Brown, of Bedford, N.H., at Jersey Mike’s in West Lebanon, N.H., on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. Sheppard, who often drives to Concord, N.H., to go shopping and get a sub from Jersey Mike’s, has been looking forward to having a closer option. “They just opened a week before my birthday,” she said. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Penny Sheppard, left, of Canaan, N.H., talks to franchisee Chris Brown, of Bedford, N.H., at Jersey Mike’s in West Lebanon, N.H., on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. Sheppard, who often drives to Concord, N.H., to go shopping and get a sub from Jersey Mike’s, has been looking forward to having a closer option. “They just opened a week before my birthday,” she said. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Alex Driehaus

Mickey Potwin assembles sandwiches at Jersey Mike’s in West Lebanon, N.H., on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. Profits from the restaurant’s opening day will be donated to Lebanon High School. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Mickey Potwin assembles sandwiches at Jersey Mike’s in West Lebanon, N.H., on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. Profits from the restaurant’s opening day will be donated to Lebanon High School. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

Customers line up to order subs at Jersey Mike’s in West Lebanon, N.H., on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. More than a dozen employees were stationed behind the counter in anticipation of the high number of customers on the restaurant’s opening day. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Customers line up to order subs at Jersey Mike’s in West Lebanon, N.H., on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. More than a dozen employees were stationed behind the counter in anticipation of the high number of customers on the restaurant’s opening day. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

Richard West, right, of Rutland, Vt., hugs his daughter Narissa West-Brown, of Bedford, N.H., at Jersey Mike’s in West Lebanon, N.H., on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. West’s eyes welled up with tears as he talked about the success and generosity of his daughter and her husband Chris Brown, who are the store’s franchisees. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Richard West, right, of Rutland, Vt., hugs his daughter Narissa West-Brown, of Bedford, N.H., at Jersey Mike’s in West Lebanon, N.H., on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. West’s eyes welled up with tears as he talked about the success and generosity of his daughter and her husband Chris Brown, who are the store’s franchisees. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 11-16-2023 4:08 AM

WEST LEBANON — The months dissolved into weeks, the weeks shortened into days, the days ticked down to hours and finally, on a fine November morning in West Lebanon, the portal to sandwich satisfaction finally opened: Jersey Mike’s, a fast-food chain whose adherents proclaim it dishes up the Poseidon of submarine sandwiches, unlocked its doors at 9:56 a.m. — four minutes ahead of schedule — to welcome its first swarm of customers on Wednesday.

Like a “Star Wars” sequel or new “Harry Potter,” the fans got there early to make sure they wouldn’t miss out.

“I won’t have to go to Concord or Tilton anymore,” said a ecstatic Steven Sheppard, of Norwich, about the trips he no longer would have to make to reach the closest Jersey Mike’s. Sheppard and his wife, Julie, showed up at 8:30 a.m., 90 minutes before opening time, to be the first of a dozen people in line who filed into the eatery where a dozen workers were primed at their stations behind the counter ready to assemble hundreds of subs at conveyor-belt speed in the coming hours.

As a Jersey Mike’s devotee, Sheppard — who had his appetite set on the buffalo chicken — allowed he couldn’t resist being there for “all the hype” surrounding the sandwich shop’s arrival in the Upper Valley, which he judges is “heck, way better” than another national chain’s subs sold nearby.

Not since Target opened up two years ago has such a frenzy erupted across social media about a yet another chain wedging into the Route 12A shopping plaza corridor. But to hear excited customers talk about Jersey Mike’s on Wednesday morning, there is nothing more appetizing they could have wanted.

“I’ve been waiting for this for months,” said Javier Rios, who with his wife, Melissa, was standing in line behind the Sheppards.

And, as former Jerseyites themselves, the Rios knew what to expect.

“We loved Jersey Mike’s when we were living in New Jersey and we haven’t had it for awhile,” Melissa Rios said.

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Initially targeted for opening in May, the conversion of the former Pier 1 store space became drawn out as the franchisee, Bedford, N.H.-based Century Restaurants, ran up against the shortages and backlogs in the construction industry. But Century Restaurants partner Chris Brown said he expects the West Lebanon location to be one of the top — if not No. 1 — performers among his 80 Jersey Mike’s franchises.

“The regional draw for shopping, proximity to Vermont, Dartmouth nearby, make this a great location,” Brown said on Wednesday morning shortly after he walked in with his wife, Narissa. (The McDonalds across the road has long been one of the most lucrative Mickey D’s franchises in New England).

Hiring — as it has been since the pandemic for all retail and entry-wage level businesses — has been a challenge, so employees had to be pulled from Brown’s other Jersey Mike’s locations to staff the crush of opening day.

“We’re a little behind in hiring, but it’s a jovial group,” he said.

All of the Jersey Mike’s first day sales, which Brown estimated would be between $10,000 to $15,000 based upon the opening day sales at his other Jersey Mike’s franchises in New Hampshire, will be donated to Lebanon High School.

“It goes a long way, especially with the way budgets are going with school districts,” Brown said.

The school donation was one of the reasons Daniel Keefe showed up for the opening. The 18-year-old Lebanon High School senior from Grantham came with three other friends to grab some lunch on Wednesday.

Typically, the quartet uses their 90-minute free period to get a bite at Ziggy’s Pizza in West Lebanon or Marsh Brothers Deli or Lucky’s Coffee Garage, both in Lebanon, but knowing they would be helping their school was an added incentive to hit opening day, said Keefe, who walked out with the chicken bacon ranch sub.

Keefe said he’s been to “one or two” other Jersey Mike’s and thinks their subs “pretty good.”

Rockingham, Vt., native Joe Terry, a three-year Century Restaurants manager brought in to run the new West Lebanon franchise, said they had already sold 67 subs within the first 60 minutes and expected to sell between 800 to 850 subs in total before the day was out.

That translates into about 100 pounds of beef, 50 pounds of ham and between 50 pounds to 100 pound of chicken, he said.

The goal is “two minutes per sub” to make a sandwich, he revealed. Starting salary is from $15 per hour to $17 per hour “plus tips.”

Waiting in line, Roy Rogers (“like the cowboy,” he confirmed), of Hartland, said that he used to live in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and “Jersey Mike’s was everywhere” and he was glad to see what he considers a good value is now available in West Lebanon.

“They’re fast, their bread is fresh, the meat is good, I’ve never had a bad meal here, ever,” he said, getting ready to order the turkey and provolone sub.

A retiree, Rogers said he plans his day around where he is going to eat and many of the places along Route 12A he patronizes often cost $40 and more just for two people to dine.

“These places are getting too expensive. I’m not rich. I’m retired,” he said.

Auzzie Reinhardt, of Lebanon, who works from home as an account manager selling computers to the government, said he usually eats lunch at home but since Wednesday was his 28th birthday he decided to treat himself to something special.

“I’d say it’s more of an upper class sandwich shop,” Reinhardt said of his impression of Jersey Mike’s while waiting in line.

He was there to get an original Italian sub for himself and pick up “some type of BLT” sub for his girlfriend.

Reinhardt thinks the rapture people expressed on Upper Valley social media groups over the opening of Jersey Mike’s is understandable.

“Lebanon doesn’t have a lot of choice when it comes to places to eat,” he said. “So when we get something new it’s exciting.”

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.