Food & Wine People

Fred DeLuca: From Italian Roots to Italian Sandwiches

Before he founded Subway, Fred DeLuca was raised in the projects of Brooklyn, NY by his parents Carmela and Salvatore DeLuca, who were of Italian descent and instilled a love for Italian American food in Fred at an early age that would eventually give way to the creation of one of the largest restaurant chains in the world.

After DeLuca graduated from high school, he had aspirations of becoming a doctor but the financial hurdles surrounding his pursuit of a medical degree were a roadblock to his dreams. To seek advice on this predicament, DeLuca approached a family friend in 1965 by the name of Peter Buck, who suggested that he start a business to generate the funds needed. It wasn’t before long that Buck offered DeLuca $1,000 to start his venture and the two became co-founders of what was previously known as Pete’s Submarines in Bridgeport, Connecticut. They quickly encountered an issue with the name of the business, with “Pete’s Submarines” often being confused with “Pizza Marines,” so they opted to change the name to “Pete’s Subway,” which was eventually shortened to Subway in 1968.

However, submarine sandwiches were not widespread at the time, and were only consumed in Italian neighborhoods where the kinds of Italian deli meats that were featured on these types of sandwiches were popular. Yet, in a country where fast food options were abundant and rapidly expanding like McDonald’s and KFC, DeLuca was convinced that offering a healthier alternative that did not compromise on the convenience aspect of the quick-service restaurant experience would eventually catch on with the American public.

His vision of long-term success paid off, in large part because of Subway’s open kitchen concept and personalization component which were the first of its kind in the sandwich industry. While Subway’s competitors were focused on offering a set menu of sandwich options that were prepared in a kitchen away from the customer, Subway turned this model on its head by preparing the sandwiches directly in front of customers. This allowed them to experience the actual building of the sandwich, with the ability to customize every aspect of it to their liking from the bread to the toppings.

It was not before long that Subway became a dominant force in the fast food space, not just locally but globally as well. Currently, Subway has the most locations of any fast food restaurant in the US, along with the second most locations in the world.

Today, Subway’s signature “Subway Series” menu features 5 main categories: Deli Heroes, Cheesesteaks, Chicken, Clubs, and most importantly, Italianos. With Italian favorites like The Hotshot Italiano, Supreme Meats, and Bella Mozza available, Subway is a sandwich shop that can be enjoyed by Italian Americans and non-Italian Americans alike.

To learn more about Fred DeLuca and the impacts of the Subway brand on food in America, you can watch Season 3, Episode 1 (“Submarine Warfare”) of the series The Food That Built America on the History Channel.

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