Now That the $5 Footlong Is Dead, Can We Admit that Subway Sucks?
Their sandwiches are bad; their scandals have been even worse.
Photo via Flickr user James
Ding dong, the witch is dead.
Not the cruel headmistress of a Victorian-era boarding school, or Shushanna from Bachelor in Paradise. No, I am referring to that toxic temptress that was the Subway $5 footlong. Yes, at long last, stores will no longer be pushed to offer the promotion, meaning that many franchises will likely drop it.
For years, this deal has poisoned the minds of otherwise reasonable people. Indeed, five dollars is a pretty good price for a 12-inch-long sandwich, especially if you are on a road trip or in an airport or Very Tired from a Long Day or needing to feed a car full of people that you don't particularly like and may or may not be genetically related to.
But the financial appeal of this offer has caused its takers to ignore the joylessness of the Subway sandwich, and the curse of its parent company.
When Fred DeLuca started Pete's Super Submarines (named for a friend he borrowed $1,000 from to found the venture) in Connecticut in 1965, the sandwiches were probably halfway decent. I imagine that in the spirit of most American food in the 60s, the menu items were piled high with meat and cheese, and the ingredients handled with care and served with some semblance of a smile. Before they became miserable logs of olfactorily engineered bread and sickeningly sweet honey mustard, the sandwiches had the convenience and customizability for mass appeal.
For the next 50 years, the chain's number of locations would balloon and spread at a near-exponential rate. By the 90s, however, the premise seemed outdated, the food unspectacular, and the brand lacked the oomph of big-campaign fast food brands like McDonald's and Burger King. There are plenty of other places to get sandwiches, after all—ones that don't taste like cardboard and cellophane. Subway faced the same problem with its iceberg-lettuce-laden meatball troughs as Don Draper did with Lucky Strikes: How do we convince consumers that they're special?
But then, of course, there was Jared Fogle, that guy who famously shed more than 200 pounds by eating at Subway every day. Fogle's endorsement of the chain as a nutritious, low-guilt choice created a new consumer perspective, and every overgrown-child bro you went to high school and college with subsequently started eating Subway a few times a week, when they wanted to be "healthy."
In 2008, Subway unveiled the $5 footlong concept—its most successful promotion ever. Between 1998 and 2011, Subway's sales more than tripled from $3 billion to $11.5 billion. With its new image as a pocketbook-friendly lunch destination that seemed comparatively healthful relative to a pile of Big Macs, Subway was on a high. The brand was saved by its famously low prices and by a dumpy overweight guy who got less dumpy and overweight, and the customers flocked. Subway became the largest restaurant operator in the world, with more locations than McDonald's.
Then, some cracks began to appear. In 2013, a teenager pointed out that many Subway "footlongs" were less than 12 inches. Outrage ensued.
"With regards to the size of the bread and calling it a footlong, 'SUBWAY FOOTLONG' is a registered trademark as a descriptive name for the sub sold in Subway Restaurants and not intended to be a measurement of length,” the chain responded, although it later pledged to measure its sandwiches and ensure that they were, in fact, a foot long.
In 2015, another far more unpleasant truth came to light: Fogle was a pervert. Despite his rise from extreme nobody to a nationally recognizable spokesperson worth $15 million (and with his own charity aiming to curb childhood obesity), the man had some very dark secrets. On July 7 of that year, the FBI raided Fogle's home in Indiana and uncovered more than 500 child porn videos. In his plea deal, he also admitted to traveling to pursue sex with a minor—he paid to engage in sexual acts with a 17-year-old girl—and it was revealed that he even paid adult prostitutes a finder's fee to find minors for him to have sex with. Federal judge Tanya Walton Pratt sentenced Fogle to 15 years and eight months in prison, stating, "The level of perversion and lawlessness exhibited by Mr. Fogle is extreme."
Worse yet, in October 2016, Katie McLaughlin, the ex-wife of the disgraced former spokesman, sued the chain for damages, alleging that they knew of his pedophilia as early as 2004 and did nothing to stop it. McLaughlin's suit claimed that Subway received at least three reports on Fogle's sexual misconduct, and not only failed to go to the police, but also continued to have Fogle promote the brand at elementary schools. The case was eventually dismissed.
And last year, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation investigation found that the "chicken" in Subway sandwiches contained as much as 53 percent soy protein. Subway acknowledged that it did include soy, seasoning, and other additives in its chicken in very small amounts, but denied the numbers found by the CBC, which stood by its data.
“The fact is these guys sideswiped us,” Subway franchisee Bob Grewal said at the time. “This was purposely done to drive ratings.”
All of this not to mention the time that a Subway employee allegedly put meth and THC into a drink that they served to a police officer; the time that the chain tried to pay "apprentice" "sandwich artists" the equivalent of $4.37 an hour; and the time that one of their non-apprentice "sandwich artists" was caught electrocuting flies directly over their food.
So to summarize: Subway's sandwiches have been bad for, like, at least 20 or 30 years. Then, people thought they were good because you could buy one for a fiver and because a random guy lost a bunch of weight by eating them—a guy that turned out to be a pervert. Also, the chain has been accused of covering up everything from its ingredients to the length of its sandwiches to the perversions of its spokesperson.
Now will you really miss those $5 footlongs?
Instead of the paltry half-inch of sliced bologna that you'll find in a Subway cold cuts sandwich, hit up a Togo's and get their far more substantial and flavorful Italian. (Actually, if there's a legit family-owned Italian sandwich spot in your vicinity, go there.) Compare Subway's pathetic cucumber-on-wheat Veggie Delite with the robust, mushroom- and olive- and cheese- and guacamole-smothered Veggie Guacamole from Quizno's. And would a roast beef footlong by any other price (than five bucks) really taste as sweet?
It's time for us to all move on. Just eat something else. Subway is bad.
UPDATE 9/14/18: A reader pointed outed out that the Subway employee who was accused of spiking a police officer's drink with meth and THC was cleared of those charges at a later date.
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