Childhood & Early Life
Jimmy John Liautaud was born on January 12, 1964 in Arlington Heights, Illinois to James Liautaud, an entrepreneur, and his wife, Gina Gudaityte Liautaud. He has three siblings, two brothers Greg and Robby Liautaud, and a sister Lara Liautaud Berry. He is the third of the four siblings.
He attended Elgin Academy, a private prep school in Elgin, Illinois. After completing his schooling, he enrolled at the Eastern Illinois University. However, Liautaud left it midway to make a career in restaurant business.
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When Jimmy John Liautaud graduated from high school, he asked his father for a loan of $25000 to open his own business. Though his father readily agreed to give him the money, a condition was laid that if the business failed, Jimmy would enlist in the US Army. Senior Liautaud also asked for a 48 % stake in the business.
With money at his disposal, Jimmy started to think, about what venture would best be suitable for him. Initially, he planned to open a hot dog stand, but finally decided on opening a sandwich shop as hot dog stand would go out of his budget.
For opening a sandwich shop, all he had to do was to purchase premium meats and bake his own bread. He started off by making his family taste different types of sandwiches and finally concluded on having four types of sandwiches on his menu.
On January 13, 1983 ‘Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches’ opened in Charleston, Illinois. Though he had perfected his taste by then, poor location did not do much to enhance his sales. However, not the one to give up easily, he offered delivery service. Next, he targeted University dorm students and started selling his sandwich samples door-to-door.
His efforts paid off and his restaurant turned profitable within a year. By the end of second year, his sales boomed further and he successfully bought his father’s share in the business. Operating as a sole owner, Jimmy John Liautaud’s food venture turned extremely lucrative and by 1987, Liautaud opened two more shops.
In 1988, Jimmy first met Jamie Coulter, the Pizza Hut franchisee owner. It was Coulter who helped Liautaud upscale his small shop business into a big entrepreneurial venture. He educated Liautaud on the importance of creating a brand value and name of the business.
In 1994, Jimmy John Liautaud sold his first Jimmy John’s franchise. The franchise not only helped Liautaud extend his accessibility to people from different areas and regions but also gave him a new growth opportunity. By the time the first leg of the franchising was over, ‘Jimmy John’ had 10 new stores. He had successfully taken his business to the next level.
By 2002, Liautaud’s company had more than 200 stores around the country. Of these, about 10 percent of the stores that were corporate were managed by Liautaud himself.
What seemed as a dreamy expansion turned a little tainted as some of Liautaud’s stores performed poorly. In fact, sales at the stores managed by Liautaud and those that were managed by franchise owners had a wide margin of profit difference between them.
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Taking it upon himself, Liautaud visited 70 of the poorest performing stores. He instilled in the staff a new surge of energy and spark by motivating them to up their skills. He turned tables and converted the tedious and monotonous activity into one that is interesting and appealing, thus helping the stores become profitable.
In January 2007, Liautaud struck a deal with a private-equity firm, Weston Presidio. The main aim of this equity firm was to help him acquire better locations for his expanding company. Buying 33 percent of the stakes, by the end of first year of their partnership, Weston Presidio had successfully made more than 100 real estate deals with Liautaud.
In September 2016, Roark Capital Group purchased a majority stake in Jimmy John Liautaud's company, after Weston Presidio sold their minority investment. Currently, Liautaud retains 35 percent of the company shares. This makes him the company’s largest individual shareholder. As a founder member, Liautaud also serves as chairman of the board.
Apart from his restaurant business, Liautaud is an investor in wines and vineyards, at least one of which has been featured on the cover of Wine Spectator Magazine.
Awards & Achievements
Jimmy John Liautaud received the first token of appreciation when he was named Chicago’s ‘40 Under 40’ by Crain’s Chicago Business.
In 2004, he was named the Ernst & Young Food & Beverage Entrepreneur of the Year in Illinois. Same year, he was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the National CEO Conference. He was also inducted into the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization Hall of Fame.
In 2007, he was invited to deliver a commencement speech at his alma mater, a program of Elgin Academy now known as the Liautaud-Lyons Upper School.
He is a Hall of Famer of the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Chicago Area Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame.
In 2012, he was awarded the prestigious Nation’s Restaurant News Golden Chain award.
In March 2017, Jimmy Liautaud was named ‘Dealmaker of the Year’ by Franchise Times' (FT). It was basically for the deal that he cracked up with Roark Capital Group as the company's new majority owner. FT's editor-in-chief called the deal ‘one of the best private equity deals of all time in the restaurant business’.
Personal Life & Legacy
Jimmy Liautaud married dancer, playwright, actress and choreographer Leslie Liautaud. The couple has been blessed with three children, Spencer, Lucy and Fred.
An avid philanthropist, Liautaud has been engaged in a lot of charity. His benevolence and generosity helped make a difference in many ways than one. In 2008, he donated $1 million to his high school, Elgin Academy. In 2011, he donated money to Frances Nelson SmileHealthy dental clinic in Champaign, Illinois.
In July 2014, Liautaud donated $1 million to the Folds of Honor Foundation, an organization that supports the families of fallen soldiers. In mid-2016, Liautaud helped funded the first phase of construction for the Kickapoo Rail Trail that would connect Urbana and St. Joseph.
Together with his wife Leslie, Liautaud founded the Liautaud Family Foundation. The main aim of the philanthropic organization was to help make donations to a variety of charitable causes. The Foundation’s first donation was provided to Crisis Nursery, a $200,000 fund for its building expansion. The nursery serves as a shelter, providing emergency childcare facility for families in crisis.