The founder and CEO talks on taking the leap to franchise industry success.
It was 2003 and Jeff Sinelli was restless. He had tasted the success that comes with founding and guiding a franchise concept to expansion with his first foray into the industry, Genghis Grill. But after five years of focusing on strengthening the chain, Sinelli made the decision to sell the brand and focus on something new. The itch to build a new business from the ground floor had emerged almost immediately and Sinelli, a tightly wound ball of ideation, needed to scratch.
“I am always searching for ways to make a greater impact on the lives (and stomachs) of more food lovers,” Sinelli said. “There is always room for improvement and growth regardless of how well a brand is performing. I enjoy creating new ways to make this concept bigger and better for the benefit of all our guests.”
Sinelli left his home state of Michigan after earning an MBA and then relocated to Dallas in the mid ‘90s. There, his entrepreneurial zeal flourished and resulted in the founding of several independent restaurants and nightclubs.
The eternal optimist and big-thinker in Sinelli turned his creative attention towards building a multi-unit concept. He created Genghis Grill, a Mongolian Barbecue restaurant, in 1998, which he grew to 11 units in five states. Genghis Grill earned Sinelli him the Hot Concept! Award from Nation’s Restaurant News in 2002 while QSR Magazine heralded Sinelli as a “branding phenom” in 2003. These were the first of many accolades that Sinelli would receive from the industry.
Spotting opportunity in the booming fast casual sandwich category and seeking to bring a new brand to life, Sinelli sold Genghis Grill and began brainstorming. While searching for inspiration for his next concept, Sinelli started batting around names for a sandwich concept and—being an alliteration aficionado—hatched the idea for Which Wich Superior Sandwiches.
Sinelli has always pooled his motivation from the adrenaline rush of risk-taking and willing ideas into reality. During a trip to Italy several years ago, Sinelli discovered a painting by David Dalla Venezia depicting a man leaping across a void that has haunted him since—a perfect metaphor for his own approach to the business world and to life.
The painting and its message would inspire both the Which Wich Superior Sandwiches brand, as well as his personal “vibe” – the life force coursing through the Which Wich system – captured in a black-and-yellow logo that is displayed in Which Wich stores throughout the country.
It’s that same commitment to living life one leap of faith at a time that has catapulted Sinelli and Dallas-based Which Wich Superior Sandwiches to the upper tier of the highly competitive fast casual sandwich franchise segment.
“I knew in my heart that there was a need for a unique sandwich concept like Which Wich, and based on how our fan base has continued to rapidly grow, I was right,” Sinelli said. “My vision was to build a brand that focused on superior quality and superior service, and I believe that we have achieved that. And we’ll always hustle to keep those standards high.”
With no real plan in place, Sinelli made business cards and shirts with the then-non-existent brand’s name and logo and headed to the National Restaurant Association show. Sinelli’s idea was a hit; several attendees approached him with interest in partnering in the concept.
Which Wich has since grown to more than 400 locations domestically and internationally, with more than 250 locations currently in the site selection, lease negotiation or construction phase. With the brand’s ongoing growth initiatives, Which Wich aims to surpass its 2014 numbers by opening 83 new restaurants in the U.S. and abroad this year. The company currently has locations in 38 states and the United Arab Emirates, Mexico, Panama, Guatemala and Qatar.
Awards have also continued to roll in. Sinelli once again took home the Hot Concept! from Nation’s Restaurant News in 2007, making him one of only a handful of restaurateurs to win the coveted award twice. In 2012, Gourmet named Sinelli as one of their Top 25 American Food Entrepreneurs and referred to Which Wich as ‘the funnest lunch in the land’. In 2013, Which Wich was ranked number 8 in Dallas Business Journal’s ‘Dallas 100: DFW’s Fastest-Growing Private Companies. In 2014, QSR named Which Wich one of their ‘2014 Best Franchise Deals” and Forbes listed Which Wich as one of their 2014 ’30 Best Franchises to Buy’. The brand also received the 2015 Nation’s Restaurant News MenuMasters ‘Healthful Innovations’ award.
“It’s very rewarding to know that I have created and grown a concept that continues to 'wow' guests with our constant innovation and commitment to giving back,” Sinelli said. “I'm looking forward to more good times ahead for Which Wich and the communities that we serve.”
Sinelli’s story is one of what he calls taking the “leap” and the power of positive thinking that he feels can fuel all entrepreneurs to success.