The Submarina Story
When Submarina founders Les Warfield and Ron Vickers moved to San Diego in 1976, one of the first things they did was try to find a sub-sandwich shop. The sunny days in San Diego were enough to lure the two U.S. Postal Service workers to request transfers from their Reno, Nevada, postal carrier routes. It wasn’t long, however, before they missed one of their favorite work-day lunch stops. As their sandwich search continued in San Diego without success, they started talking about opening their own shop. How hard could it be?
As Warfield said, “We had no experience, no capital and by every rule of business we should have failed. We didn’t know an avocado from prosciutto, but we were willing to learn.”
“The secret of our success is a quality product.”
Their first lesson was in how to design a building. “We walked around on the site before the construction started and tried to imagine counters and tables – figuring out where to put things,” said Warfield.
“Of course, we have since learned that (the neighboring city of) Poway is a very difficult place to start a new business. What saved us was that we had a very good product and we established a reputation very quickly for great food and service,” said Warfield.
Vickers agreed. “You can put a McDonald’s anywhere. The secret of our success is a quality product,” said Vickers.
That first shop, opened in 1977, was followed by a second in Escondido (California) in 1979.
The stores were run for several years by wives Maureen Vickers and Lynn Warfield, with Ron and Les helping out after hours when they could. Like any family-operated business, there were sacrifices of time, vacations, weekends and evenings, all devoted to Submarina. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that the mail carriers were able to hang up their mail bags and get behind the counter full-time.
Submarina secured its place by producing hearty sandwiches made from quality ingredients. Today the generous helpings of meat and cheese are still sliced in front of the customer, ensuring freshness. All breads are still made from scratch by a baker and delivered to the stores seven days a week.
Controlled Growth Results in a Mature Brand
Even in the early years, the partners had people interested in opening other locations. Three pre-franchise shops were opened in neighboring communities. The first official franchise shop opened in 1988.
“We finally talked to an attorney and realized we needed to protect the Submarina name and ensure the quality of the product,” said Warfield.
The first official franchise shop opened in Ridgecrest near Mammoth Lakes. Warfield’s brother-in-law opened the store after having worked in the Escondido store to learn the business.
Submarina’s initial slow growth has given the chain’s concept time to mature. Product quality has not once been sacrificed to turn a buck.
“The best part is that we’ve had a great time, too.”
Each and every customer is treated with the same enthusiasm and courtesy as the very first customer.
Les Warfield and Ron Vickers are still the down-to-earth guys they’ve always been. The founders and their wives have recently retired, although they remain very interested in their 30-year-old brain child. They are the first to marvel at how the idea they had so many years ago has done so well.
“I would attribute our success to the strength of our individual franchisees,” said Vickers. “And to dumb luck.”
“The whole thing seems incredible. Who would have thought there would be (so many) stores open some day? I know it’s corny, but it really is the realization of the American dream,” said Warfield. “The best part is that we’ve had a great time, too.”
Today, brothers Brian and Matt Kennedy are taking the reins of Submarina, continuing the vision and passion that Ron and Les had over 40 years ago.