As a student at the University of South Carolina, Rock Hill’s Tyler LePhew ate at Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches many times.
The franchise promotes itself as a shop that offers fresh meats and vegetables with no additives or fillers, and with more than 2,000 shops across the country, LePhew thinks it could be a catalyst for bringing more people and businesses to downtown Rock Hill.
The 25-year-old graduated with a degree in hospitality and decided to open a Jimmy John’s on East Main Street. The new restaurant, the first downtown national chain restaurant in recent memory, opened Tuesday.
At least 10 customers had come in within the first half-hour, greeted each time by a loud, “Welcome to Jimmy John’s!” from several employees.
But the road to opening the chain in its location was somewhat of a hard sell to the franchise’s real estate developers, LePhew said.
“I really had to put my heart on the line,” he said.
LePhew took the developers on a tour of downtown Rock Hill, telling them about the upcoming projects, including plans to turn the old Woolworth building into apartments.
The tour wrapped up at 5 p.m. on a Thursday.
“There wasn’t a soul on the street,” he said. “There was nothing to help me out.”
Still, he assured them downtown was the place to be, as opposed to busy areas like Dave Lyle Boulevard and Cherry Road.
“People are going to take pride in something downtown and want to see it grow,” LePhew said. “When people see this, they’ll see it for potential growth.”
He thinks it could be a step to building more business downtown.
Rock Hill’s economic development director Stephen Turner said the franchise is a great addition to downtown.
“For busy people,” he said, “the ability to grab a quick meal without getting in a car creates one more reason why downtown is Rock Hill's preferred location for business.”
Turner said city officials also expect Jimmy John’s to be a destination that will attract customers to downtown for lunch and dinner.
“In other communities, Jimmy John’s is hugely popular with college students and other young professionals,” Turner said. “We expect that to be true also in Rock Hill.”
LePhew also hopes it will attract Winthrop University students, noting how many USC students used to visit Jimmy John’s or have it delivered to their dorms.
Sophomore Katherine Brown attended USC before transferring to Winthrop. The integrated marketing communication major said she prefers their sandwiches to other chains because they are “more original.”
Having a Jimmy John’s downtown will attract more students downtown, she said, and give it a “college feel.”
“It definitely makes downtown more appealing,” she said.
It was a pleasant place to stop for a drink for Kris Trombley and her granddaughter, Nicole Philbeck. The two left a hair salon downtown and happened to see Jimmy John’s sign.
Though the two stopped only for a drink, Trombley was intrigued by the Totally Tuna sandwich on the menu, while Philbeck leaned toward the Country Club.
“We might come after getting our nails done,” Trombley said.
She, too, thought it was a great addition to downtown.
“We certainly hope so,” she said, referring to how Jimmy John’s could help downtown grow. “It’s encouraging.”
Jimmy John’s is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day.