New Dubuque sandwich shop eyes opening in 2 weeks

Aron Lees, co-owner of Jersey Mike’s Subs, stands in front of the business located in Warren Plaza in Dubuque. PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Kettering

A sandwich shop is expected to open in Dubuque in two weeks, bringing a new food option to the city in a year marked by economic setbacks and business closures.

Jersey Mike’s Subs will open on Wednesday, Nov. 18, according to owner Aron Lees. The eatery will be located at 3500 Dodge St., filling a space in the strip mall next to Target.

This will be the third Jersey Mike’s owned by Lees and his wife, Camilla Lees-Soerensen. The couple also has shops in Davenport, Iowa, and Moline, Ill.

Lees said their experience in those markets has prepared them for what to expect in Dubuque.

“Dubuque has so many similarities with the Quad Cities,” Lees said. “It is a city along the river, with a combination of white- and blue-collar jobs and a number of neighboring cities that feed into it.”

Ten workers have already been hired for the Dubuque store, and Lees said he plans to hire 10 to 15 more in the weeks ahead.

He acknowledged that COVID-19 has altered the restaurant’s approach to its opening.

Generally, Jersey Mike’s distributes a large number of coupons for free subs throughout town, aiming to attract as many people to its store as possible on opening day. Lees said he will be a bit more strategic about that approach and avoid creating a massive gathering on the first day.

“We know we have to be smart about that this year. We don’t want to just flood our four walls with a bunch of patrons on day one,” he said. “You often hear about businesses doing soft openings. We typically try for a hot, hard opening. With the Dubuque store, we’re aiming for more of a warm opening.”

Lees initially planned for an October opening. That timetable was pushed back slightly, largely because contractors were tied up conducting work for the opening of other Jersey Mike’s locations across the U.S.

Despite widespread struggles throughout the restaurant industry, Lees said the business model of Jersey Mike’s has proven remarkably successful during the pandemic.

“Our product is individually wrapped, we are set up for takeout, and it holds up really well (if it is being delivered somewhere),” he said. “We feel confident in our product and confident opening up the store this year.”

In their other markets, the Leeses have sought to work with local schools and nonprofits. While Lees said COVID-19 has complicated efforts to connect with local schools, the eatery has struck up a relationship with Junior Achievement of the Heartland, and he looks forward to supporting that organization’s mission.

Jersey Mike’s history dates back to 1956, and the chain now has about 2,000 locations.