Geographically speaking, Madison is located just about dead center in the battle royale for the hearts and stomachs of submarine sandwich fans in the Upper Midwest. The home base of Milio's Sandwiches -- formerly known as Big Mike's Super Subs -- is situated in a Fitchburg office park, a location that's more or less smack dab between the Champaign and Eau Claire headquarters of its corporate competitors, and quite literally, cousins in the form of Jimmy John's and Erbert & Gerbert's.
The legend of their origins is spreading nearly as rapidly as are new locations for the three chains. Though the details remain a matter of dispute and lawsuits in the past, the story goes that Jimmy John Liataud founded his first self-named sandwich shop in Charleston, Illinois in 1983. By the end of the decade, his cousins Mike Liataud and Kevin Schippers had launched their own sub shops in Madison and Eau Claire, respectively.
As detailed in a 2004 article in the Minnesota Daily:
Because the chain owners exchanged ideas with each other when they first started, the sandwiches are similar in taste, price and appearance. However, the chains have gravitated toward unique recipes and ingredients.
The chain owners also drew ideas and advice from another cousin, Jimmy John Liautaud, who opened the first Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwich Shop near Eastern Illinois University in 1983.
He said he helped Schippers and Mike Liautaud set up their first shops in Eau Claire and Madison, respectively.
"They've been very successful with my sandwiches," Jimmy John Liautaud said. He said the cousins have mended hard feelings, but he was miffed when the two entrepreneurs began competing against his chain.
All three chains have exploded in recent years, with Milio's overseeing several dozen franchise locations scattered around Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota, with another few dozen Erbert & Gerberts found around Wisconsin and Minnesota. Jimmy John's remains the largest, though, opening shops six around Dane County several years ago and boasting some 400 more located in some 20 states, and hundreds more on the way.
In marketing terms, though, Erbert & Gerbert's is raising the stakes with a new video-based promotion for their subs. A couple of weeks ago, the chain launched its Human Flipbook campaign, a promotion centered around short stop-motion video clip that pushes their sandwiches by means of 150 t-shirts. Released online a couple of weeks ago, the commercial went viral and is now spreading the name of the smallest and most strangely-named entrant in the Midwest sub war.
The making-of video for the original promotional spot follows below.