Before Chicago was inundated with Sub Sandwich chain restaurants, Mr. Submarine stood alone, all the while offering value-priced sandwiches and garnering a loyal customer base, at its 24 locations scattered around the city and suburbs.
The family-owned business debuted in 1975 with a store in the Old Chicago Shopping Mall and Indoor Amusement Park in Bolingbrook, Illinois. Old Chicago closed in 1980 but their success inside the mall spread to a standalone Mr. Submarine location in Berwyn. During its heyday there were about 32 Mr. Submarine restaurants, said Nick Tzoumas, the chain's General Manager.
Tzoumas' father, Gus, used his non-stop energy and work ethic gained a cult following. Mr. Submarine subs provided a textbook example that defined the Chicago-style submarine sandwich. Starting with the bread, they use only the finest from the Turano bakery, and shredded lettuce, which Tzoumas called a "telltale sign" of a Chicago-style submarine sandwich. There's also a homemade vinaigrette with plenty of meat — definitely more than from the other Sub joints. "That's kind of our thumbprint on the sub-sandwich industry," Tzoumas said.
Obviously, with a name like "Mr. Submarine," the chain focused on sandwiches, and for the most part, the menu's remained consistent and simple — at least at city locations. But they expanded the menu in the suburbs, adding items like mozzarella sticks. It's an interesting time for the chain, as Tzoumas has hopes of sprucing some locations up, admitting the spots would benefit from an overhaul. He sees how larger chains like Wendy's have refreshed their locations with a new restaurant design, and while he's not suggesting Mr. Submarine go through a similar transformation, he sees opportunities to modernize.
But while they ponder renovations, they'll concentrate on keeping costs low to provide a better value for customers, with employees handing out coupons. "I think people who know good food will always know Mr. Submarine," Tzoumas says. "It's just a matter of people giving our food a chance, it will always be top-notch, and you have my word on it!"
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.