Your local Subway franchise is not generally associated with the stuff of high drama. They bake their own bread, they make large sandwiches; the whole mood is assumed to be pretty sedate. In 2003, the cult webcomic Achewood riffed on this with the “Subway Wars” storyline, in which the owners of rival franchises took a series of absurdly escalating steps to combat one another, eventually leading to the death of one of the comic’s main characters. Part of the humor of the arc derived from the fact that, after all, this was Subway — not the sort of place you’d imagine would bring out the most competitive tendencies in feuding personalities.
Times change, and this year has brought with it a harrowing account of corporate intrigue, betrayal and power struggles in the world of rival Subway franchises — something that’s led to the death of entrepreneurial dreams and caused marriages to collapse along the way.
Subway conducts internal inspections of its locations; if a store has enough issues over a certain period of time, the franchisee can lose control of their location. Assuming the inspectors are working in good faith, this is understandable, and can lead to a healthier, more sanitary cooking and dining experience. But what happens when one of the inspectors is acting as, as one former inspector puts it, a “hit man”?
As this New York Times report explains, several factors specific to Subway help explain why things have gone awry for many franchisees. Subway being a privately-held company is one factor; the nature of Subway’s franchise agreement is another. An aggressive expansion strategy, which sometimes led to rival locations being mere blocks apart, also contributed.
At the root of the issue described in the New York Times report is the structure of regional Subways, in which regional managers are often franchisees themselves — meaning that they’re often competing with the very people whose Subway locations they’re in charge of monitoring. You might think that this is a system that could be easily gamed and used for personal benefit; you would be entirely correct in thinking this.
Sometimes, fast food can be a stress-free, comforting experience. But as this report shows, there can be plenty of drama lurking below the surface of even the most nominally restrained chain restaurant experience.
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