Obituary: Fred DeLuca
Co-founder of Subway, the fast food chain famous for its high-carb 'submarine' rolls
Published 04/10/2015 | 02:30
Fred DeLuca, who has died of leukaemia aged 67, was the co-founder of Subway, the chain of fast food restaurants that is now the largest in the world.
DeLuca, who was nicknamed the "King of Sandwiches", co-founded Subway at the age of 17 with the nuclear physicist Peter Buck. Over the past half a century the chain has grown exponentially. Last year it was valued at £1.3 billion - with some 35,000 branches dotted over 100 countries.
The founding premise behind the franchise was simple: it was to be a sandwich shop where size matters, the food is fresh and service is quick.
Their submarine sandwiches - long, tubular rolls known as "subs" - could be filled with an array of fillings from gut-busting carnivorous options to the "veggie patty", a "wholesome slice of goodness" containing soya, carrots, corn and red peppers.
Most customers, however, came for the meat: the beef pastrami melts, meatball marinara, steak and cheese, "Spicy Italian" and the chain's trademark "Subway Melt", a feast of ham, bacon and "re-formed" turkey breast enveloped in melted processed cheese.
The chain's ubiquitous high-street presence meant that it became a popular choice for office workers, builders and hungover clubbers. DeLuca's start to the day at home in Florida was somewhat different. "I'll put on shorts and a T-shirt," he noted, "and walk about barefoot with a protein shake."
Frederick DeLuca was born on October 3, 1947, in Brooklyn, where his parents, Salvatore and Carmela DeLuca, were part of the local Italian-American community. His father was a factory worker.
When Fred was 10, his family moved to Amsterdam, New York, where he met Peter Buck, his future business partner. Later, the family moved again, to Bridgeport, Connecticut.
In 1965, when DeLuca left Bridgeport's Central High School, Buck lent him $1,000 and advised him to open a sandwich shop to help him pay for his medical studies at the University of Bridgeport (he graduated with a degree in psychology in 1971). Buck, who had a doctorate from Columbia University, would remain a silent partner and continue his work as a physicist for General Electric.
DeLuca's intention, he later claimed, was to create "a fast-food venture that provided a healthful, less fattening bill of fare". The first restaurant opened in 1965 in what DeLuca described as a "crummy area" of Bridgeport. He called it Pete's Submarines in honour of his backer, but on their radio advertisements listeners misheard the name as Pizza Marines, so he changed it to Pete's Subway before settling on Subway in 1968.
Their first two shops were not a great success, but with the third, which opened in a better location, their fortunes changed. As the franchise grew DeLuca and Buck realised the value of marketing and placing branches in high-visibility areas.
By 1988 there were 1,000 outlets. As Subway's popularity grew, the chain gained a list of "famous fans" to help promote the brand. These were mostly sportsmen such as the Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps and Pele.
In later life DeLuca lived in Fort Lauderdale, 15 minutes from Subway's headquarters. He claimed he and Buck had never argued.
"He put up $1,000 for the first shop and now he has half the money and he hasn't worked in years - that's how smart he is," DeLuca joked.
DeLuca's death came only a few weeks after Subway celebrated its 50th anniversary. Earlier in the summer he passed over the day-to-day management to his sister Suzanne Greco.
Fred DeLuca married his wife Elisabeth in 1966. She survives him with their son. He died on September 14.