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Recipes for Riches

[ 0 ] Aug. 5, 2013 | SBO Editor

Eric Wolfe,  president & CEO of  Erbert & Gerbert's

Eric Wolfe, president & CEO of Erbert & Gerbert's

$27 million selling sandwiches? YES!

Erbert & Gerbert’s isn’t just building subs with the opening of every new sandwich shop. It’s building a Flavornation. A brand that’s booming.

How else would one describe Erbert & Gerbert’s world, where sandwiches have names like Narmer, Bornk and Girf and there is a dedication to serving better, more flavorful sandwiches than anyone else in the universe?

Where else would you find sandwiches like the Spartan with chicken, cherrywood-smoked bacon and Peppadew mustard or the Quatro with chicken and bacon, as well, but also cranberry wasabi that combines the tangy sweetness of cranberries with the heat of horseradish?

“Flavornation stands for quality and being different,” said Eric Wolfe, president and CEO of Erbert & Gerbert’s. “It’s about sandwiches you can’t find in a normal sub shop. It’s part of our culture.”

And the population of Flavornation is growing quite nicely, thank you. Currently with 64 locations in five midwestern states – Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota and South Dakota – as well as Georgia and Colorado, the franchised, fast-casual chain expects to add 20 locations in 2013 and is looking to reach 200 locations nationwide in five years.

The first Erbert & Gerbert’s was opened in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, in January 1988 by Kevin Schippers and his wife Beth. The concept was developed out of the childhood stories that Kevin’s father, David, told to his 10 children about the imaginary adventures of brothers Erbert and Gerbert Herbert. Each sandwich is named after a character the boys meet as they travel through time and space, learning a little bit about history and science, but mostly about being a friend. Thus, every Erbert & Gerbert’s sandwich has a unique story behind it.

After building the chain to 23 locations, Schippers decided to enter the ministry in 2003 and sold Erbert & Gerbert’s to an investment group led by the 46-year-old Wolfe, who had a history of developing small companies. By adding a number of talented industry veterans to his executive team, Wolfe has Erbert & Gerbert’s positioned for strong growth.

Consider: The average unit volume has increased from $447,000 in 2003 to $574,000. The company is debt-free.

Systemwide sales have more than doubled in the last nine years from $11.9 million in 2004 to more than $27 million in 2012. In an economy that is still rebounding, two percent growth is expected in 2013.

“Our executive team is made up of highly experienced people from such brands as Famous Dave’s BBQ, International Dairy Queen, Panera and Hardee’s,” Wolfe said. “Some of those same people were also franchisees, so they understand both sides of our company. We know what it takes to become a national brand.”

Among Erbert & Gerbert’s recent success is the introduction of its “Signature” sandwich line in 2011 featuring fresh, delicious and healthy flavor combinations. Besides the previously mentioned Spartan and Quatro, the Signature line also includes the Erupter with Buffalo chicken salad and bleu cheese, the Pompeii (chicken salad with sweet chili sauce) and Titan (turkey, sun-dried tomato and pesto mayo).

The Signature line joins Erbert & Gerbert’s selection of 16 other Specialty and Classic sandwiches, as well as an appetizing selection of chili and soups that include chicken dumpling, Wisconsin beer cheese and smoked chicken & sweet potato.

“We are really happy with the popularity of our Signature line of sandwiches,” Wolfe said. “The Signature sandwiches are 18 percent of our menu mix. But in new stores it’s more than 30 percent. We continue to look at new sandwiches and strive to be different as part of our Flavornation philosophy.”

Erbert & Gerbert’s is targeting investment groups, multi-brand franchisees and owner-operators for growth. The majority of current franchisees own multiple locations. Wolfe said college markets and central business districts are a main focus of growth.

“We have a lot of investors that want to get into the business. We require them to have an operating partner to run the stores,” Wolfe said. “At the same time, we have multi-unit operators that come with an entire team of people. Most importantly, we look at the passion of the individual or group. We have the systems, the support staff and product. They need to bring the passion and hard work.”

The sandwich segment is one of the hottest trends in the restaurant industry, with its popularity continuing to grow. With Erbert & Gerbert’s celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2013, Wolfe says competition is welcome.

“Ultimately, the difference between Erbert & Gerbert’s and our competition is the quality of our products and our service platform,” Wolfe said. “You can’t find sandwiches and soups like ours. But I believe competition makes you better. It’s just like sports. If you play with better people, you become a better player.”       •


Sandwich shops represent the hottest segment in today’s restaurant industry. The uniqueness of Erbert & Gerbert’s Flavornation extends to how every sandwich is prepared. After the bread is cut, the soft, white dough part – referred to as “Mr. Guts” in Erbert & Gerbert’s vernacular – is removed and put on top of the sandwich. Leaving a pocket in the sandwich helps to hold in the ingredients and improves portability.

“The ‘guts’ idea came from our customers,” Wolfe said. “We would throw it away in the early days, but the college kids who would come in after the bars closed would yell at us to keep the bread. They loved it. Now, some customers use it to dip in their soup. Everyone seems to really like it but it does take time for our customers to understand it. It’s different and has been a huge success.”

The company’s headquarters: 5828 Arndt Rd, Eau Claire, WI 54701. Phone: 800-283-5241. You can also visit their Website: www.erbertandgerberts.com

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Category: Magazine, Small Business Opportunities, Small Business Opportunities Nov 2013