In an economic downturn, when it seems as though most businesses are cutting back, at least one local business is enjoying wild success.
Johnny's Lunch, a pillar of the Jamestown community since it was established here in 1936, is moving ahead with plans to build more than 1,100 new franchises over the next 15 years.
''To tell you the truth, I'm a little nervous and a little excited,'' said Diane Calamunci, the mother of Johnny's Lunch CEO Tony Calamunci. ''With the economy being the way it is, my stomach is in somersaults over it. But I'm very excited and very, very proud.''
Gust Calamunci grills hamburgers and hot dogs at Johnny’s Lunch on Monday.
P-J photo by Kristen Johnson
The new franchises will be located along the west coast and in the Pittsburgh, Pa. and Atlanta, Ga. areas.
In a two-phase development deal that is the largest in franchise history, more than 1,000 restaurants will be built on the west coast between Arizona and Washington - 605 of them in the next 10 years and the remainder another five years later. Ninety restaurants will be built in the Atlanta area, while 40 will be built in the Pittsburgh area.
''We are cautiously optimistic because of the economy, but we have a very strong development group interested in developing Johnny's on the west coast,'' Tony Calamunci said.
Calamunci said Johnny's Lunch was contacted by a Buffalo-based developer interested in helping the restaurant chain expand to the west coast. Negotiations began in February and a contract was signed at the end of July.
Smart growth has always been a big part of the Johnny's Lunch business plan, Calamunci said.
''We are trying to make the right decisions and not grow too fast or too slow. We want to hit our stride - and we think we're close to it - and get Johnny's open across the country so people can enjoy our product,'' he said.
Calamunci said one big reason why Johnny's Lunch has enjoyed such success is that nobody else has become a ''national player'' in hot dogs.
''Subway does subs, Pizza Hut has pizza, and there are places like Taco Bell, Starbucks, McDonald's and Burger King that have established a brand name in other areas of the food service industry,'' Calamunci said. ''But nobody has cornered the hot dog market yet. There's no national franchise associated with hot dogs. It's an underserved brand and it represents a huge opportunity for us.''
Ms. Calamunci attributed the success of Johnny's Lunch to the family atmosphere that has been prevalent at Johnny's since it was established.
''I think it's because of the way we serve our customers,'' she said. ''If these other restaurants that are going to open follow through with our friendliness and warmth, they'll be successful. I certainly think we offer a quality product at a fair price, but I think you've got to treat people right in addition to doing those things. Otherwise, you won't be in business very long.''
The Jamestown location is the original Johnny's Lunch, opened by Johnny and Minnie Colera during the height of the Great Depression. The Coleras' grandsons, Tony and John Calamunci, decided two years ago to take the restaurant chain national. Eventually, the brothers hope to have 5,000 restaurants open throughout the nation.
''Jamestown will always be the restaurant to emulate,'' Calamunci said. ''That's where it all began. That restaurant is the model for every other franchise that will be opened, from decor to customer service.''
In addition to its Fairmount Avenue location, Johnny's Lunch currently has six locations in Ohio and Michigan.