It’s hard enough to squeeze a dozen people into the prep room of a sub shop.
It’s even tougher if they’re all NFL players.
But that’s who’s wedged between the refrigerator, the bread oven, the meat slicer and cartons of ingredients in the back of a Jersey Mike’s in a strip mall on the fringes of Ann Arbor, Mich., just after the lunch rush. The men are students at the NFL Business Academy — a program, run out of the University of Michigan’s Stephen Ross School of Business, that teaches franchising and entrepreneurship to help prepare players for the often rocky transition to life after pro football.
“A lot of players have been led to believe that all they can do is play football,” says Indianapolis Colts nose tackle Joey Mbu, one of the men packed into the tiny space. “We don’t want that to be us.”
Standing before them is Peter Shipman, Jersey Mike’s area director for Michigan, northern Indiana, and northwest Ohio. The men nod as Shipman walks them through the ins and outs of every facet of the business, from sandwich making to customer service, before ending on an inspirational note. “All I can say to you guys is, don’t fearthe unknown. You can adjust; you can adapt. You guys are professional football players. You know how to work hard.”
They leave the prep room, and Shipman introduces Bob Middleton, 2016 Jersey Mike’s franchisee of the year. Middleton owns or co-owns more than a dozen locations in Michigan. “One of the things you have to ask yourself is Can I execute this?” he says as the players down free subs. “You have probably all played with amazingly talented athletes who didn’t make it, and they didn’t make it because they didn’t listen to the coaches. What I do every day is, I’m a coach.”
Even for someone like Shipman, who has hosted pros before, these visits can be heady experiences. He recalls showing around an earlier crop of players and pantomimes a double-take: “I turn around and do one of these and think, Holy crap, that’s Drew Brees!”
The questions come next, and they’re well-informed and pointed. Minnesota Vikings punter Ryan Quigley wants to know the cost of food that goes bad, and how it’s factored into the accounting. Bills running back Patrick DiMarco asks if it’s better to buy an existing store or start from scratch, and to lease or own the underlying property.
After the session, the players applaud the sub shop workers and head back to the bus. The next stop? An Orangetheory Fitness franchise.