December 5, 2017

McKenna Young
484-385-2913 (office)
[email protected]

Owner, Founder & Chairman of Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches, Jimmy John Liautaud, to Receive 2018 Horatio Alger Award

Horatio Alger Association names 12 exceptional individuals, each of whom has overcome significant challenges to achieve professional and personal success, to its Member Class of 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 5, 2017) – Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, Inc., a nonprofit educational organization honoring the achievements of outstanding individuals and encouraging youth to pursue their dreams through higher education, today announced that Jimmy John Liautaud, owner, founder and chairman, Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches, has been selected for membership in this prestigious organization. Mr. Liautaud joins 11 other esteemed business, civic and cultural leaders from across North America in receiving 2018 honors. For more than 70 years, the Horatio Alger Award has been annually bestowed upon admired leaders who have succeeded despite facing adversities, and who have remained committed to higher education and charitable efforts in their local communities.

Jimmy John Liautaud was born in 1964 in Arlington Heights, Illinois, the third of four children. His mother, Gina, was a Lithuanian immigrant. His father, Big Jim, was an inventor, entrepreneur, and educator. He started as an encyclopedia salesman and then launched a plastics molding business. The beginnings and failings of his many ventures took the family on a roller coaster of highs and lows throughout Liautaud’s childhood and early teen years. His father, traveling for his business, was gone 24 days of each month. When Liautaud was eight, his father bought their first home but later that year was forced to declare bankruptcy. Four years later, Liautaud’s father filed for bankruptcy a second time. The financial upheavals left the family feeling stressed and fearful. This situation contributed to Liautaud’s issues with weight and his resulting low self-esteem. He was bullied, which only added to his lack of self-confidence. He struggled in school and had few friends outside of his siblings.

By Liautaud’s freshman year of high school, his father was doing better financially, and he was enrolled at the Elgin Academy School. But attending a private school full of wealthy, self-confident students did not improve his life. Becoming a troublemaker, he often skipped his classes. At one point, the school board wanted to expel young Jimmy, but the dean of students, James Lyons, saw something special in him and fought for him to stay. He mentored Liautaud and helped him with many of his self-esteem issues. The two have remained lifelong friends. Still, Liautaud was second to last academically in his graduating class of 1982. Knowing college was not for him, Liautaud told his father he wanted to develop his own business—starting with a hot dog stand. His father gave him a $25,000 loan to get the business started, but if it wasn’t profitable in one year, Liautaud would have to enlist in the Army.

Ultimately, Liautaud changed his mind about his hot dog stand when he determined he’d need $45,000 for the equipment. He stumbled upon a sandwich shop while visiting a friend at college and saw what little equipment was needed. From there, he learned to bake bread and made six sandwiches that his family voted on, and the top four became his first menu. He opened his first Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches in Charleston, Illinois, in 1983.  To boost sales, he offered free delivery to the local neighborhood, which included the dorms at Eastern Illinois University. By the end of his first year in business, 20-year-old Jimmy had turned a profit. In May 1986, he bought out his father’s portion of the business, making him the full owner.

In 1988, Liautaud met businessman and Pizza Hut franchisee, Jamie Coulter, who helped Liautaud take his business—now three shops—to the next level. In 1994, Liautaud sold his first Jimmy John’s franchise, and by 2002, the company had 160 stores, but 70 were failing. With three young children at home, Liautaud spent a year traveling the country and personally working hip-to-hip with owners to retrain them to the Jimmy John’s systems and procedures. He turned around 63 stores and closed 7. Deciding he wanted to be the best rather than the biggest, he tightened the franchisee selection process and made it tougher to own a Jimmy John’s. He grew the chain to 2,500 units by 2016 and then sold a majority stake to Roark Capital Group. Liautaud remains the largest individual shareholder and chairman of the board.

“Jimmy is an excellent example of the Horatio Alger story,” said Matthew Rose, president, Horatio Alger Association and 2013 Horatio Alger Award recipient. “He persevered through a series of adversities during his childhood and ultimately followed his own path to create the life that he desired. I believe that many of our Scholars will relate to Jimmy’s challenges and find hope and comfort in the fact that he did not let these hardships limit him. He believed in himself.  We are pleased to welcome Jimmy to the Association.”

Today, Mr. Liautaud has a passion for coaching young entrepreneurs and various business and restaurant operators. His family foundation and the company have supported several organizations such as Mayo Clinic, Folds of Honor Foundation, Elgin Academy and Youth Guidance’s Becoming a Man Mentoring Program.

“I couldn’t be prouder to join this impactful organization alongside such accomplished colleagues,” said Mr. Liautaud. “Like many of the Association’s Scholars, my childhood was not easy, but the challenges I faced have shaped me into the man I am today. As I have been fortunate enough – through hard work and perseverance – to experience success, I now aim to give back to these young people and impart some of the valuable lessons I’ve learned. I am grateful to the Association for honoring me with this award and for giving me the opportunity to connect with these Scholars.”

Through its Members, Horatio Alger Association aims to educate young people about the limitless opportunities afforded to them by the free-enterprise system. To further this mission, the organization awards scholarships to outstanding high school students who are committed to pursuing higher education and giving back to their communities. Like Association Members, Horatio Alger Scholars have faced significant adversities, but have also displayed unmatched resilience in overcoming their challenges. Since the scholarship program was established in 1984, Horatio Alger Association has provided more than $143 million to students in need, all of which has been funded solely through the generosity of Association Members and friends.

Mr. Liautaud and the Member Class of 2018 will be formally inducted into the Association on April 5-7, 2018, during the Association’s 71st Horatio Alger Award Induction Ceremonies in Washington, D.C. The annual three-day event honors the achievements of both Members and National Scholars, affording both groups the opportunity to meet and interact, exchanging stories of hardships and triumphs.

For more information about Horatio Alger Association and its Member Class of 2018, please visit and/or follow the organization on FacebookTwitter and Instagram using the hashtag #HoratioAlgerAward.


About Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans:

Founded in 1947, the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, Inc. is dedicated to the simple but powerful belief that hard work, honesty and determination can conquer all obstacles. The Association honors the achievements of outstanding leaders who have accomplished remarkable successes in spite of adversity by bestowing upon them the Horatio Alger Award and inducting them as lifetime Members. Horatio Alger Members support promising young people with the resources and confidence needed to overcome adversity in pursuit of their dreams through higher education. Through the generosity of its Members and friends, in 2017, the Association awarded more than $18 million in undergraduate and graduate need-based scholarships across the United States and Canada, and also provided college support and mentoring services to its Scholars. Since 1984, the Association has awarded more than $143 million in college scholarships to more than 25,000 deserving young people. For more information, please visit