Perserverance pays off for Quiznos operators

TRAVERSE CITY – The TC Quiznos has much to toast, besides its sandwiches. It's currently No. 2 in the Michigan region in sales, out-sold only by the Quiznos inside the Detroit Metro Airport, and the owners are currently working on opening another shop.

"We were looking hard at the Wuerfel Park area," said co-owner Joel Ravitz, "but just couldn't make the deal we needed. Now we're carefully considering two other areas. We still predict to have another shop going by summer '07."

Ravitz and his partners, Mike and Julie Bella, never would have predicted owning a sandwich shop together when they first met.

In 1985, Mike, Julie, and Joel sat around their college apartment near MSU, vowing to stay in touch despite their diverse fields and aspirations. TC natives Mike and Julie ended up taking vows of their own in 1988 and followed opportunity to St. Louis where Julie worked as a licensed dietician and Mike built a business designing and installing high-end kitchens. Joel went on to earn a master's degree in urban and regional planning and worked around the country planning wireless infrastructure.

Through the years the friends stayed in touch, seeing each other whenever they could. Mike and Julie did well in St. Louis, yet dreamed of moving back to TC. They began looking at franchises, but nothing excited them. Then Mike wandered into a St. Louis Quiznos and ordered a sandwich. It was love at first bite.

Julie remembers, "He quickly bought another and drove all the way across town so I could try it."

Mike also called his buddy Joel, then living in Greensboro, NC. "I investigated the company and saw Mike was on to something," Joel said. "So I signed on as a silent partner, never really intending to get involved."

Mike and Julie sold everything they could, left their jobs and business, and moved into a 500 square-foot apartment in Traverse City to get started. "The hardest part was just living with the boxes in that tiny apartment." Julie said. "It was like living in a tiny warehouse!"

Then they hit a snag. "We got burned on a lease," Joel explains. "It was an easy court victory, but it cost time and time is expensive. I was in Boston then, and it seemed like I was flying to TC every weekend to deal with the incident. It's hard not to like Traverse City. As we got ready to open at a new site, I found myself in-between projects and decided to move to TC for a while, just to help get things started."

Joel moved in with the couple until the business got off the ground.

"It was so ridiculous it was kind of fun," Julie recalls. "We actually had less space than we did as housemates in college! Now, three years later, we're back in a nice house and Joel just bought one too, so it's easy to laugh about."

The 38-seat Quiznos is located in the Cherryland Center. They have 19 employees and are hiring.

The friends credit their success to having a great product, following the corporate guide to the letter, and having managers who are owners. They don't know if they can ever beat the shop at Detroit Metro, but being No. 2 in sales out of 146 stores "isn't bad."

"We laugh at ourselves all the time," Mike said. "Twenty years after college and here we are wearing little name tags on our Quiznos shirts, making sandwiches.

"But it's rewarding seeing our business prosper," he added. "And there's sort of a positive Zen in making people warm, healthy, delicious food. It's like you make everybody just a little bit happier when you make them a great sandwich." BN