At the end of his first day in Jersey Mike’s Subs operations department, Orion native Aron Lees had an epiphany.
“I came home and said (to my wife) Camilla, ‘You may need to quit your job because I want to open one of these,’” he said.
Aron and Camilla Lees were living in Minnesota at the time. They moved to the Quad Cities and opened their first Jersey Mike’s Subs in September 2017.
On Wednesday, April 3, they opened their second on 16th Street, Moline, just north of John Deere Road.
What makes Jersey Mike’s Subs different?
The food is great because of its freshness, Aron Lees said. Customers receive freshly grilled sandwiches with ingredients prepped all through the day. Bread is continually baking.
But what makes Jersey Mike’s amazing is caring about customer service, Lees said.
“We get to know your name,” he said. “We know when little Johnny has a soccer game.”
People come to Jersey Mike’s Subs to be full, Lees said.
“We want people to be full, but if they just wanted to be full, they could make a meal at home,” he said.
Jersey Mike’s Subs offers sustenance.
“We want people to feel special, like a part of our family,” Lees said. “It adds to the overall experience.”
Something else that sets Jersey Mike’s Subs apart is March, the Month of Giving, Lees said. During the month, customers are encouraged to donate to each store’s chosen charity.
On the Day of Giving, Wednesday, March 27, the restaurants donate 100 percent of sales to the charity.
“Each franchise picks its own organization that really strikes at our heart,” Lees said.
Crew members and the management team discussed what they wanted to donate to, he said.
“The common denominator was we wanted to help young kids,” Lees said. “Junior Achievement made the most sense because 100 percent had gone through and been impacted by it.”
This year March 27 was “insane” at Aron and Camilla’s Davenport store, he said.
“Out of 1,500 stores, we were number two,” he said. “We wanted number one, but there’s a store that pulled in some heavy hitters in the last hour.”
The new Moline store displays a surf report and a surfboard. New Jersey is not exactly a surfing hotspot, but the state is on the Atlantic Ocean and the first Mike’s Subs was on the beach in Point Pleasant, N.J.
When the first store was sold, the new owner wanted to take Mike’s Subs nationwide. He added “Jersey” to the name to recognize its origin.
The original store now serves as the chain’s training center. Lees has been there for a week-long session.
“It’s pretty exciting to see where it all happened,” he said.
Lees still has the same enthusiasm that infected him on the first day in the operations department in Minnesota.
He and Camilla were more than ready to start a second store, and for an unusual reason.
“We felt that the one store had so many talented people that we owed them the opportunity to grow and shine,” he said. “We wanted to give them a chance to feel ‘It’s our store.’”
Aron and Camilla Lees chose Moline when a lot of businesses were building and expanding on the Iowa side of the river.
“There was this hotness and pop with the brand,” Aron Lees said. “The Quad Cities has really supported the (Davenport) store. After the first year, sales weren’t dipping.
“We wanted to open while the bridge was under construction,” he said. Aron and Camilla were sure Illinois residents would want to stay on this side of the river.
The couple plans a third store, probably on the Iowa side, he said.
Sitting in the Moline store a week before it opened, Lees said, “If things here go really well, there’s potential for one more on the Illinois side.”
But three is his favorite number, he said.
“I prefer three awesome restaurants to four pretty good ones,” Lees said.