New Subs on the Block
Getting to know Solomon Jones and Jon Smith Subs, the new sub brand on the block. This one comes with fries.
Steak Bombs Hit Jacksonville
I came for the food but left thinking about family.
Sure, moments sitting in the Jon Smith Subs café were dominated by mouthfuls of tasty steak, peppers, and mushrooms mingling with Philly flavor. Yes, I took my time dipping the skinny, salted-just-right french fries in the ranch that was readily available in the condiment zone.
But between giant bites into the Steak Bomb sub and the Cuban oozing Swiss, I got to know the owner, Solomon Jones.
Meet the Owner
I was supposed to attend the soft opening friends and family event. Fortunately, unexpected dental work had me skipping solids for a week or two. I do say fortunate, because I was able to visit this new sandwich shop on my own, allowing plenty of time to get to know Solomon.
Previously, Solomon worked in operations for Smucker's, and his work took him to Ohio and California. He landed at Fanatics here in Jacksonville, thanks to a prudent contact from a doubtful recruiter urging him to just give a shot at applying for an outside-the-box position.
During my tasting, our conversation vacillated from the perils of maintaining smoothie businesses up north in the cold weather, the mass growth of Fanatics, locations selling sports merchandise to the company's recent foray into the gambling market. I tried to reconcile the pristine LinkedIn profile of the Senior Vice President – Controller & Chief Accounting Officer for Fanatics with the engaging man welcoming returning customers by name, learning the names of first-time customers, and asking if I wanted fries.
Owner Solomon Jones
"I recommend starting with the Steak Bomb or the Gator, which has all the meats - including kielbasa! Both of them are big sandwiches."
But First, Let's Eat
That evening at Jon Smith's, I was absolutely torn between the two sandwiches I tried. Now after having the leftovers, the Steak Bomb wins hands down.
Solomon recommended starting with the Steak Bomb or the Gator, which has all the meats - including kielbasa! I sampled the Steak Bomb (a Philly extravaganza) and the Cuban. Some Cuban sandwiches have minimal proportions, stale bread, and are pressed to paper thin. Not this one. Tons of ham, roasted pork, and Swiss oozed out from the very fresh bread. I took some spoils home and my husband and typically-picky-toddler devoured the rest (minus the pickle).
Now Solomon, from what I gather, likes classic deli subs. He says no to mushrooms and tomatoes and an even more defiant no to mayo. But he will ensure that your mayo-laden sub is made to perfection.
The tuna sandwich is another popular item, When it comes to cold subs, “the deli” section, the Italian is a popular choice. Fresh cookies, chip flavor varieties, and combo deals are all part of the expected sub fare. I still want to return and try the Reuben, the Gator and cold turkey sub.
No matter which sandwich you choose, just make sure to order fries with that. Skip the chips and make this a real meal. 'Cause you can, at Jon Smith Subs.
Welcome to the Restuarant Business
Solomon shared how his wife Audrey and daughter Amanda have stepped up behind the counter to help get the business running. It can be a tough time for landing talent in the food service world, and he is working hard to have a great team trained well. His daughter, who has an MBA from UNF, is getting hands-on experience in the full scope of running a business, direct from the franchise training. From food safety standards to ordering and people management, I am certain her hands are full.
He talked about believing things will work out and going into new phases of restaurant growth one at a time. As someone who was pursuing franchise ownership during COVID, he has already overcome glaring obstacles. His decisions seem measured, as he moves forward with one phase at a time. He spoke with great wisdom about choosing a franchise, choosing a location, getting franchise training, and making initial priorities for opening the business.
Jon Smith Subs began in 1988 in Palm Beach County, FL. The franchise has around 8 or more locations in South Florida, the perfect place to have Cuban sandwiches ready. The brand is booming in Canada and in some locations plans to serve alcohol along with the meals. The franchise prioritizes diversity, and Solomon’s store is just one example. Jon Smith Subs has many minority-owned stores. including more than 25% of locations being Black-owned, Indian-owned, or woman-owned.
United Franchise Group initially own Jon Smith Subs, but now it is owned by Indigo Hospitality Group and CEO Rob Cvetkovski. The Indigo Hospitality Group acquired the brand in 2022. Jon Smith Subs franchise owners receive extensive training and support aimed at making franchise owners successful. In the competitive restaurant and franchise-owning world of sink or swim, this presents the business very favorably. The franchise nurtures owners, providing practical advice for not getting weeded (server lingo for getting overwhelmed, stuck, and lost in the weeds).
Their franchise trainers advise:
If you’re slammed and things get too busy or someone is out, temporarily close the deli and focus on hot sandwiches.
Start by handling to-go drink orders and pick-up parking logistics, before taking on the entire to-go scene by storm.
When the processes are established and running well, often a minimum of 30 days, then put the store on to-go platforms like Grub Hub or Uber Eats.
Expect a certain level of turnover in the beginning, as you build the culture of your store and team.
It All Starts on Hodges
Solomon considered the commercial real estate on Atlantic but found getting just the right spot competitive. Across from the Hodges location he chose, construction is underway for a 55+ community. The Publix and Starbucks in the same plaza are busy locations bringing the community closer. Once kids go back to school, another wave of business is likely to come through the doors.
Sunday is the busiest day at the store. There are some larger churches on Hodges, with attendees heading over to Jon Smith's for their post-service meal. This location is a family-centric environment from the ready high-chair to the upbeat tunes to the kids' menu. A family with a baby and toddler in tow met for a cozy Thursday night dinner while I was there.
Solomon is committed to opening one more unit but may move on to two more if the sandwich odds are ever in his favor. With an entrepreneurial spirit, he faces the challenge of creating recognition for this lesser-known sandwich brand with gusto. Building out the brand’s local identity isn’t something that will happen overnight, but I get the feeling that Solomon is busy creating standards that will make the brand blaze in the crowded competitive realm of sublandia.