New Jersey Monthly: You got your first job at the Jersey Mike’s here in Point Pleasant Beach in 1971 as a 14-year-old. Back then it was called Mike’s Subs. You bought the place three years later.
Peter Cancro: I was going to go to Chapel Hill to study law, but I bought a sub shop instead.
NJM: Do you remember making your first sub?
PC: It was Memorial Day weekend. I made a number 2 (provolone, ham and capicola) and a number 5 (provolone, ham, prosciuttini and capicola). You couldn’t slice until you were 18, so I was illegal. I couldn’t use the slicer. When I bought the store, I was still sprinkling and wrapping.
PC: Sprinkling means dressing the sub with lettuce and tomato, red wine vinegar and olive oil. No one around the country was doing that. But that’s what it means to be an authentically Jersey sub.
NJM: In 1987, you started franchising and changed the name to Jersey Mike’s. Why not Jersey Pete’s?
PC: Because it was Mike’s place, and everything that we’ve taken forward I learned in that store.
NJM: But you bought the place in 1975 from a guy named Frank.
PC: The original Mike opened the place in 1956. He passed away. I still see Frank. We just shake our heads and laugh a little bit about what’s happened with the business. And we’re all known as Mike. Even people who really know me will say, “Michael, how are you?”
NJM: Back to what makes Jersey Mike’s so Jersey. Is it just the sprinkling?
PC: When people get a Jersey sub around the country, they expect the quantity and quality of the product. And they expect the juice, which is what we call it. That’s the olive oil, the vinegar, the onions, the lettuce and tomato, the fresh sliced meat. Subs aren’t made that way, fresh to order, other places….If you want the best sub, you go to Jersey.
NJM: Or not! California has more Jersey Mike’s stores than New Jersey.
PC: Yes, California has our largest number, 200. In New Jersey we have about 35. But we’re turning to our backyard to grow now. You’re going to see a lot more Jersey Mike’s coming to the towns of North Jersey.
NJM: That means a lot more employees. What’s the hardest thing to teach new trainees?
PC: The hardest thing is teaching people to be genuine, to be themselves. Just to be real and to give great service.
NJM: When you took over the business in 1975, you committed to giving back to the community.
PC: It’s our mission statement and it’s on our cups. Every year we have a Day of Giving, the last Wednesday of every March, where 100 percent of sales are donated to a local charity. This year we’re giving to 180 different charities across the country, and every single franchisee is on board.
NJM: Do you pitch in with the sub-making on the Day of Giving?
PC: I still make subs, yeah. Faster than anyone.
NJM: What’s your specialty?
PC: I make one called the Cancro Special. That’s off the menu, but it’s provolone, roast beef and a little pepperoni. If you’re a die-hard, you know about it.