Sub shop rivalry stays in the family

by Dan Haugen

A pair of local franchisers celebrated the opening of a new Erbert & Gerbert’s restaurant in Stadium Village on Tuesday, upping the chain’s competition with an intra-family rival.

The new shop, located at 720 Washington Ave., sits a few hundred feet from Big Mike’s Super Subs on Oak Street Southeast. The two sandwich chains were started simultaneously by cousins Kevin Schippers and “Big” Mike Liautaud in the late 1980s.

Now, after a decade and a half of expansion throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin, the chains find themselves butting heads in markets like Minneapolis and Milwaukee.

Schippers, Erbert & Gerbert’s chief executive, said opening the Stadium Village store close to Big Mike’s was more coincidence than a strategic move.

Franchise owners Mike Hoenie and Josh Jungling purchased the Dinkytown Erbert & Gerbert’s in April, intending to open another store nearby. Their Dinkytown landlord also owns the Stadium Village space, so when McDonald’s vacated it in November, he offered it to them.

Neither store is panicked about the close competition, but each said it will make it extra important to serve customers the best they can.

“It makes everybody perform better,” said Liautaud, owner of all 38 Big Mike’s stores. He said there are no plans to cut prices, but customers should win overall when it comes to service.

“We’re really trying to be on top of things,” said Chelsie Towns, training manager at Stadium Village’s Big Mike’s.

She said she does not expect much of a sales dent from Erbert & Gerbert’s. She said many of their delivery customers know drivers by their first names, and because of that loyalty she does not expect customers to change stores now.

Because the chain owners exchanged ideas with each other when they first started, the sandwiches are similar in taste, price and appearance. However, the chains have gravitated toward unique recipes and ingredients.

The chain owners also drew ideas and advice from another cousin, Jimmy John Liautaud, who opened the first Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwich Shop near Eastern Illinois University in 1983.

He said he helped Schippers and Mike Liautaud set up their first shops in Eau Claire and Madison, respectively.

“They’ve been very successful with my sandwiches,” Jimmy John Liautaud said. He said the cousins have mended hard feelings, but he was miffed when the two entrepreneurs began competing against his chain.

“At this point I expected them to be franchisees of mine, paying me,” he said.

More competition for Erbert & Gerbert’s and Big Mike’s is on the way. Jimmy John Liautaud said there are plans to open 60 Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwich franchises in the Twin Cities over the next four years. Currently, there are two in Minneapolis and three in surrounding suburbs.

Hoenie and Jungling look forward to heavy foot-traffic and a central delivery spot in their new Stadium Village store.

“We’re excited about the location, and we think we have a great product,” Jungling said.The two also plan to remodel their Dinkytown franchise over spring break.