After graduating from Elgin Academy in 1982 second to last in his class, Liautaud’s father gave him two options: start a business or join the army. His father loaned him $25,000 and gave him one year to turn a profit, otherwise he would need to enlist. Liautaud initially planned to open a hotdog stand, but soon realized his $25,000 budget wouldn’t cover the necessary costs. He decided to open a sandwich shop instead, and began shopping for the freshest meats and baking his own fresh bread.
In 1983 at the age of 19, Liautaud opened the first Jimmy John’s restaurant in Charleston, Illinois. His family members helped determine the first four subs on the original menu. Liautaud delivered subs to local college students, and he was able to turn a profit within his first year of business. He worked hard each day from open to close, and spread his work ethic to his employees and store managers. By the end of his second year, he was able to buy his father’s 48% share of the business and became the full owner of Jimmy John’s Sandwiches, all without a business education.
Liautaud opened his second and third stores in 1986 and 1987, and worked at each store during their first year. He opened the first Jimmy John’s franchise in 1994. By 2002, Jimmy John’s had expanded to 160 stores, but 70 of them were underperforming. Liautaud and Jimmy John’s president, Jim North, traveled to each store to assist in the turnaround and reset expectations. Through that process, they raised the standards for future franchisees, and were able to revive the majority of those 70 stores. The 2,000th Jimmy John’s restaurant was opened in 2014 and today there are over 2,700 locations.
Jimmy John Liautaud has been named Ernst & Young Food & Beverage Entrepreneur of the Year and Franchise Times' "Dealmaker of the Year" for the sale to Roark Capital. Under his leadership, Jimmy John’s has become one of the fastest-growing restaurant chains in the country, and he remains a mentor and leader to his team and to store owners.
Liautaud is dedicated to giving back to his community, and has supported many organizations including the Mayo Clinic, Kickapoo Rail Trail, Elgin Academy, and the Folds of Honor Foundation. He applies that same level of dedication to helping entrepreneurs and restaurant owners.