Fortune Magazine: Which Wich CEO & Chief Vibe Officer Jeff Sinelli Shares Experience in the Industry
Fortune Magazine: Which Wich CEO & Chief Vibe Officer Jeff Sinelli Shares Experience in the Industry

Sinelli elaborates on how he got started and keeping things fresh in the sandwich space

At the age of 10, Jeff Sinelli began picking up cigarette butts and bottle caps outside of his dad's nightclub, negotiating his pay along the way to feed his growing candy addiction. The task, although daunting at times, taught him the power of even the smallest job. After obtaining his MBA and managing a few nightclubs, Sinelli opted to start his own - a Dallas based nightclub called Main Street Asylum. Getting the business up-and-running in 1996 put him in debt and strained his relationship with family and friends. It was one extended weekend and an Art Festival that jump started his success, earning enough capital to open another 10 clubs and restaurants, and initiating his interest in finding a concept he could launch in other cities.

"I saw a friend doing Mongolian barbecue. I thought I could do it better by modernizing the concept and branding it. So I sold off every thing and started Genghis Grill in 1998," Sinelli said in an interview with Fortune Magazine. "I spent $150,000 on the first restaurant, then more and more to make each one bigger and better. The cash flow was good, and I got an SBA loan."

Soon after, Sinelli started vetting calls from interested franchisees. Although he had no intent of franchising at the time, it helped him realize that this growing concept had serious legs. In 2002, Sinelli sold Genghis Grill to Consilient Restaurants, giving him enough money to launch his next concept - Which Wich Superior Sandwiches.

"I ­designed a logo and passed out business cards at the National Restaurant Association convention. Industry magazines wrote about the concept before we made our first sandwich," Sinelli said to reporter Dinah Eng. "My mom used to put my lunch in a brown sack and put my name on it. That inspired our ordering system. Customers would come in, write their orders on a brown paper bag, and the sandwich would be made to order. People read about the idea and wanted to be a part of it."

Over the next 14 years, that brand has expanded both nationally and internationally, with more than 400 stores and boasting $217 million in annual revenue in 2016. Which Wich even offers 1,700 square-foot locations, kiosks, and build-outs in Target to feed their growing demand.

"I learned early on that you need to keep an eye on everything," said Sinelli. "So I visit our mail room daily to look at what comes in, and I like signing every check. There are so many tangents, from marketing to real estate to operations. You have to have a full understanding of them all."

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