James John Liautaud (January 12, 1964) is the founder, chairman, and majority owner of Jimmy John’s sandwich chain
Jimmy John Liautaud was born in Arlington Heights, Illinois on January 12, 1964. His father is James Liautaud, longtime entrepreneur, and his mother is Gina Gudaityte Liautaud. He has two brothers, Greg and Robby Liautaud, and a sister, Lara Liautaud Berry. He was born the third of four siblings. He attended Elgin Academy, a private prep school in Elgin, Illinois. During high school he became close with and was influenced by the dean of the academy, James Lyons.
He was enrolled at Eastern Illinois University but left in order to grow his up and coming restaurant business.
After Liautaud graduated from high school in 1982, his father offered him a loan of $25,000 to open a business on the condition that if the business failed, he would enlist in the US Army. Although his father wanted him to enlist, he agreed to loan him the money in exchange for a 48 percent stake in the business. Initially he wanted to open a hot dog stand, but after visiting numerous such stands throughout the summer of 1982, he realized that $25,000 would not be enough for such a venture. After a chance encounter at a sandwich shop, Jimmy John realized that he could open a sandwich shop within his available budget by purchasing premium meats at a neighborhood market and baking his own bread. With the help of his family as tasters, he decided to put four types of sandwiches on his original menu. On January 13, 1983 Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches opened in Charleston, Illinois. Due to the poor location of his first store, Liautaud decided to include delivery of his sandwiches to boost sales. He began by bringing samples door-to-door to the nearby Eastern Illinois University dorms. By the end of his first year, the restaurant turned a profit. At the end of his second year, Liautaud was able to purchase his father’s share in the business and he became Jimmy John’s owner in full. The business continued to grow, and he was able to open his second and third shops in 1986 and 1987.
In 1988, Liautaud met businessman Jamie Coulter. At the time, Coulter was a Pizza Hut Franchisee, and later became the Chairman, Founder, and CEO of Lone Star Steakhouse and Saloon and other chains. Coulter helped Liautaud take his business to the next level. In 1994 he sold his first Jimmy John’s franchise. When franchising began, Liautaud had 10 Jimmy John's stores.
By 2002, the company had about 200 stores, 10 percent of which were corporate stores that the Jimmy John’s owner oversaw himself. Sales at the stores managed by Liautaud were outpacing the franchised stores by a wide margin. Together with his partner, and now Jimmy John’s President CEO, James North, he visited 70 of the poorest-performing stores. After 18 months of getting the stores “back to basics” and instilling in them “some of that initial spark”, he was able to help the stores become more profitable.
In January 2007, Liautaud found a private-equity firm, Weston Presidio, to help him acquire better locations for his expanding company. Weston Presidio bought a 33 percent stake in the company, and during the first year closed on over 100 real estate deals.
In September 2016, Roark Capital Group agreed to purchase a majority stake in Liautaud's company, as Weston Presidio sold their minority investment after 10 years. Terms of the transaction were not immediately disclosed, though it was later clarified that Liautaud retained 35% ownership of the company as part of the deal. As part of the agreement, Liautaud, as the company's founder and largest individual shareholder, will continue as chairman of the board.