Three teenagers met at St. Peter's Prep in Jersey City, N.J. Throughout their high school years, they became close friends and began talking about the possibility of starting a business. Like many great entrepreneurs, they had no idea what business to be in, but only knew that they wanted to go into business together.
Armed with a collective business itch, Tony Conza, Peter DeCarlo and Angelo Baldassare started buying women's hosiery wholesale and selling it to family members and friends. The consummate salesman in the group branched out, selling pots and pans door-to-door. The quiet thinker tried his hand at over-the-counter trading on Wall Street. And the third entrepreneur was successful running church hall dances.
A few years pass and one of the young men asked the others a fateful question; "Hey, have you guys heard about those sandwiches they call submarines?" The next morning, the trio leave their homes in north Jersey and head down the Garden State Parkway to Point Pleasant, a little shop serving long, strangely-shaped sandwiches. It was lunchtime and the place was packed. By the time they got to the fresh meat slicer, they had begun to understand all the fuss. A young man behind the slicer was taking orders, cutting fresh Italian bread down the middle and placing the fresh meats on the bread before sliding the sandwich down to the dressing station. There, another added shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, diced onions, oil, vinegar and spices. The three men stared, mouths watering, waiting to chomp these so-called submarines.
At that moment, the three young men with entrepreneurial dreams realized they were on to something very special.
On the way home, they do what entrepreneurs do; they dream and their words fill the car. They agree that people in north Jersey would love this "salad on a sandwich" concept. With a simple menu, they could open a chain of restaurants.
But amidst their enthusiasm, reality quickly set in. None of the three men had any money. Nor did they know anything about the restaurant business. But, like all strong-willed entrepreneurs, they were not deterred in the pursuit of a dream to go into business together because now they had that elusive big idea.
Eventually, they decided Hoboken was the ideal place to open a store because people there loved trying new things. Another bonus was they all had family in the area to provide support.
They considered applying for a bank loan backed by the Small Business Administration. They considered the gamut of other financing possibilities, including venture-capital firms, high-risk lenders, and family and friends. Back then, there were no credit card companies through which entrepreneurs could finance their startup dreams. In the end, they decided to approach a friend in the garment business, offering him 15 percent of net profits in exchange for a $2,000 investment. He agrees and their dream turned into a reality.
Before opening their first store, the three men revisited the owner of the sub shop in Point Pleasant where they had first tasted those so-called submarines. They promised not to compete with him, but needed his advice, which they gratefully received.
With financing and guidance in hand, all they needed was a name. To help set them apart, they wanted to call their sandwiches something other than subs, submarine,s or hoagies. So they went through a dictionary until they came to the word "blimp" and a picture resembling the generous-size sandwiches they wanted to make. This was the "eureka" moment, and the BLIMPIE sandwich and restaurant chain was born!
On April 4, 1964, the three men opened for business on Washington St. in Hoboken. The consummate salesman worked the slicer. The quiet thinker manned the dressing station. And the third entrepreneur took the cash. By the time the door closed at 9 p.m., $295 had been rung up - with sandwich prices ranging from 35 to 95 cents. Although exhausted, the business partners still had to clean up and get ready for the next day. That's when the quiet thinker faced the reality of the moment and of his future.
"Investing in a business like BLIMPIE, is not like a mutual fund. It's more like having a baby. When you invest in a mutual fund, you give your money to some financial outfit, then sit back and hope that it makes money for you. Having a baby of course, is different. Once that baby comes into your life, it never goes away. If you get tired, it doesn't go away. If you want to take the weekend off, it doesn't go away. If you want a vacation, it doesn't go away. However, if you nurture the baby, care for it, and help it grow, one day it will take care of itself - and maybe even take care of you." (Conza, 2000)
*Parts of this company history were paraphrased from Success: It's A Beautiful Thing, Lessons On Life And Business From The Founder Of BLIMPIE International © 2000 by Tony Conza.