As America’s oldest submarine sandwich chain, Blimpie has served up deli subs for over 50 years. And though they started off with just signature subs—like their meat-packed Blimpie Best, which has been a best seller ever since it was added to the menu in 1984—Blimpie has franchised locations in shopping malls, convenience stores, sports arenas, and hospitals that offer everything from paninis to salads.
Tony Conza, Peter DeCarlo, and Angelo Bandassare met at their Jersey City high school, Saint Peter’s Prep, and the three friends thought that Hoboken needed a submarine sandwich shop. After borrowing $2000 from a businessman friend, they opened the first Blimpie store in Hoboken, N.J. on May 16, 1964.
In the mid-1990s, Blimpie franchises began opening inside of convenience stores. Blimpie had low startup costs and didn’t require a fully equipped kitchen, which made it an attractive fast-food option for convenience stores. The chain also opened in other nontraditional venues like hospitals, college campuses, and sports stadiums, and customers could buy Blimpie sandwiches from vending machines. In 1995, Blimpie had more than 1000 locations.
In 2001, Blimpie was losing revenue and needed to make a change. A private investment group bought Blimpie for $25.7 million, and Conza stepped down from his CEO duties, becoming an advisor in 2002. Another shift occurred in 2006 when a franchising company called Kahala Corp. bought Blimpie. In the decade between 2001 and 2011, Blimpie struggled as it closed over a thousand stores, and its sales went down by more than 60 percent.
Despite the store closures, Blimpie celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014, offering 50-cent subs at all locations to the first few hundred customers. The Jersey City, N.J. Blimpie store made a 50-foot sandwich, donating all proceeds to a local chapter of Boys & Girls Club of America. The mayor of Jersey City was also on hand to present Conza with a proclamation celebrating Blimpie’s 50 years in business.