Subway co-founder Fred DeLuca ‘always remembered where he came from’
Fred DeLuca, co-founder of Milford-based Subway, died Monday, Sept. 14, at the age of 67.
DeLuca and his business partner Dr. Peter Buck opened their submarine sandwich shop in Connecticut in 1965 when DeLuca was only 17 years old.
In 2013 while doing what he loved best, traveling around to visit with franchisees, DeLuca fell ill and was ultimately diagnosed with leukemia. Since that time he had been receiving treatments and still overseeing the brand as CEO but recently named his sister, Suzanne Greco, as president to run the day-to-day operations, according to a posting on the Subway website.
Fred DeLuca’s story
Frederick DeLuca was born in Manhattan in 1948, and grew up in upstate New York, according to an article by Don Daszkowski on the website Franchises.about.com. A video biography on the Subway website tells how DeLuca grew up in the projects and collected empty soda bottles to get money to buy comic books. After reading them, he sold the comic books to others. The video describes this as “the birth of the entrepreneur.”
The DeLuca family later moved to Bridgeport, the city that would come to house his first submarine sandwich shop.
“In 1965, DeLuca was preparing to attend the University of Bridgeport, where he wanted to study medicine,” Daszkowski’s article states. “He had gotten a job in a hardware store to put himself through college, and was only making enough to buy lunch at fast-food restaurants.
“The experience and his interest in medicine gave him the idea of running a ‘fast-food venture that provided a healthier, less fattening bill of fare’,” Daszkowski’s article states.
The story of what unfolded is told on the Subway website also: DeLuca shared his idea with family friend Dr. Peter Buck after connecting with Buck at a family barbecue. Later Buck loaned him $1,000 to open a sandwich shop in Bridgeport, which DeLuca named Pete's Submarines, after Buck.
DeLuca thought that in the radio ad he had bought, people were confused and thought he was saying, Pizza Marine, according to Daszkowski’s article. So the name was changed to Pete's Super Submarines and then to Pete's Subway.
Today, it is Subway, and the brand is the largest submarine sandwich chain with more than 37,000 locations around the world, according to company postings. “Subway is unique in that the restaurants are owned by more than 21,000 franchisees — small business owners who operate their neighborhood Subway restaurants in more than 100 countries around the world,” the company states.
Over the years, the Subway restaurant chain was often named the Number One Franchise opportunity by Entrepreneur magazine in its annual Franchise 500 rankings. Subway has also been named #1 Brand in the U.S by YouGov's Brand Index, and Best Service, Most Popular Chain, and Top Healthy Option in the Zagat fast food survey.
Subway World Headquarters also has been a steady business presence in Milford: This year city leaders agreed to rename a portion of Bic Drive where Subway is located. That portion is now called Sub Way.
In the community
In addition to being one of Milford’s most highly recognized businessmen, DeLuca was also known for his charitable work.
The Frederick A. DeLuca Foundation, for example, assists public charities with grants to help give others a chance in life. Concentration is on education, job training and the arts.
For the past few years, Subway has hosted the annual Milford United Way fund-raising kickoff. That event was scheduled for this week, but it has been postponed in light of DeLuca’s death and has not yet been rescheduled.
United Way President Gary Johnson said DeLuca and the Subway team reached out to him and said they wanted to “give back” by hosting the event, providing a venue — the Subway main lobby — and an impressive spread of food and beverages.
Johnson said he also worked with DeLuca a number of years ago on a micro investment lending program aimed at helping struggling single mothers start their own cottage businesses.
“It was part of his vision,” Johnson said. “He wanted to give something back. He was a great person, a real visionary. To grow a submarine shop to a multi-billion dollar company is remarkable. He was always thinking outside the box.”
According to the company website, “DeLuca leaves behind his wife, sister, son and members of his extended family – the thousands of team members that make up the Subway brand all over the world.”
The company’s video tribute to their founder, which may be found at Subway.com, ends with this comment about DeLuca: “Fred always remembered where he came from.”