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Subway is about as big as a fast food chain can get. It’s the largest fast food chain in the world based on footprint, it serves 7 million sandwiches daily to 2.1 billion guests a year and its more than 21,000 franchise owners employ hundreds of thousands of people around the globe. But even if you dig into a cult favorite fast food menu item like a Chicken & Bacon Ranch Melt or a Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki sub for lunch every day, we bet there’s a lot you don’t know about this chain.
Like many of the world’s biggest businesses, Subway had humble beginnings. In 1965,17 year-old Fred DeLuca attended a party and struck up a conversation with Dr. Peter Buck, a nuclear physicist and a friend of his parents. Fred was looking for a way to make some money to pay for college, and Buck suggested he open a sandwich shop. Buck provided DeLuca with a $1,000 investment to get the business off the ground, and the first location opened on Aug. 28 of that year in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Needless to say, prices have gone up slightly since then — just one of the many ways that fast food has changed since you were in high school.
DeLuca and Buck opened with 312 breads on the first day and sold them all.
The shop, which quickly became hugely popular for its crowd-pleasing sandwiches, was originally named Pete’s Super Submarines, but the name was changed to Subway upon the opening of the fifth store in 1968.
By 1974, DeLuca and Buck had realized that they weren’t opening stores fast enough, and that locations farther afield were more difficult to manage. The decision to franchise, or sell the rights to operate locations to people outside of the company, was an immediate success. Prospective franchise owners jumped at the opportunity to own their own Subway, and by early 1975, the company had expanded into a full-fledged regional fast food chain, with locations in New York and Massachusetts. Today, every location of Subway is a franchise and none are company-owned.
Up until the late 1960s, employees would take an order then turn around to make the sandwiches with their back to the customers. All this changed after DeLuca picked up a hitchhiker who spotted a Subway and bragged about being able to steal soda from there. When pressed, he said that when employees had their backs turned, he was able to grab all the sodas he wanted from the cooler by the front door. DeLuca changed the format shortly thereafter.
In 1975, the chain introduced a new flagship sandwich, called the BMT, and today it’s one of the most famous fast food menu items of all time. Filled with Genoa salami, pepperoni and Black Forest ham, today it stands for “Biggest, Meatiest, Tastiest.” Originally, the name came from the BMT, an old New York subway line that’s today better known as the B, D, F, J, Z, L, M, N, R and Q trains.
There are Subway locations in every continent except for Antarctica nowadays, but the very first international location opened in 1984, in the small Middle Eastern nation of Bahrain.
If you wanted to add some healthy foods to your diet and order your sandwich on wheat bread, you would have had to wait until 1985 for the privilege. That’s also the same year that steak and cheese subs were first offered.
You don’t have to travel far to visit a movie location in real life. Subway really went all out with its product placement in major movies during the 1990s. If you look closely, you’ll see plenty of Subway in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” as well as movies including “Coneheads,” “Beverly Hillbillies” and “Happy Gilmore.” The chain also partnered with “Terminator 2” to offer special collectible cups.
You’ll find a location of Subway inside the fake town built at the FBI’s training academy in Quantico, Virginia (the only functioning business there, pictured). There are also Subway restaurants in Utqiaġvik, Alaska, the northernmost point in North America and one of the coldest cities in the world; in Ushuaia, Argentina (the southernmost city in the world); and inside a riverboat that cruises down the Rhine River in Germany.
Napkins, sandwich wraps, sandwich pouches and bags, salad bowls and lids, and catering trays and lids all contain recycled content. The majority of Subway’s packaging can actually be recycled, making it just one of the things you didn’t know you could recycle.
If you are an honorably discharged veteran who wants to open a Subway location on a government or military installation, the franchise fee will be waived.
Subway lists all of its ingredients online, and its vegetarian veggie patty has some interesting components. Believe it or not, its main ingredient (after water) is water chestnuts. Other vegetables and grains in the patty include onions, carrots, brown rice, mushrooms, oats, green and red peppers and black olives. It’s not exactly one of the most over-the-top fast food menu items of all time, but it’s still a great option for vegetarians.
Asking for your sandwich to be cut “old style” used to be one of the most well-known fast food secret menu hacks, but there’s no guarantee the sandwich maker will know what you’re talking about if you ask for that today. Back in the day, the sandwiches used to be cut from the top — a “trench” would be cut out, meats and fillings would be added and the top would be replaced — but all signs point to it not being done since the 1990s.
On Aug. 1, 2015, Subway set the Guinness world record for the most people making sandwiches simultaneously, with 1,481 people assembling six-inch subs. The record stood until Feb. 27, 2016, when 2,586 people in Dallas made sandwiches at the same time.
If you travel abroad and happen to stop into a Subway for lunch, don’t be surprised if you encounter some unexpected menu items. Sandwiches not available in the U.S. include smoked chicken and cream cheese in Brazil, barbecue rib in Germany, chicken tikka in the U.K. (pictured), raclette cheese in France, peri peri chicken in the United Arab Emirates and South Africa, chicken schnitzel in Australia and shrimp avocado in Japan, which happens to be its top-selling sandwich there. These are some fast food options that we really wish we had in the U.S.
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