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In the Shadow of Subway: The Quiznos Menu

by Sherman Morrison on March 30, 2015

in Menu Reviews, Sub Sandwich Franchise

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Quiznos Photo by Sean

This Franchise Chatter guide on the Quiznos menu was written by Sherman Morrison.

Founded in 1981 by Jimmy Lambatos, Quiznos quickly grew into a major sandwich chain specializing in toasted submarine sandwiches. Lambatos sold the company in 1991 to father-son team Richard and Rick Schaden when there were just 18 locations. The Schadens took the company public in 1994, which resulted in plenty of funding for expansion, which is exactly what they did, although they decided to turn it back into a private company in 2001.

At the peak of its success in 2007, there were more than 5,000 Quiznos restaurants. But then the Great Recession came along and hit Quiznos hard. Thousands of storefronts were closed and a major restructuring effort was undertaken, including new leadership at the top who claimed the chain would focus on the quality of the food.

Still facing major problems years later, Quiznos filed for bankruptcy in March 2014, emerging four months later with $400 million less in debt.

Part of the problem is that although focusing on the quality of the food is great, the chain was also trying to compete with Subway on price. But higher-quality ingredients cost more, and Quiznos buys the ingredients and then marks them up and sells them to franchisees, which is a very unusual structure that eats away at profits.

In the fast-food world, the formula that brought Quiznos to its knees is simple: High costs + low prices = recipe for disaster. That’s why there are only about 2,100 locations today.

In 2012 Quiznos did a major menu revamp to try to compete better with quick-serve restaurants. It’s new menu features artisan breads, all-natural chicken, natural cheeses, and raw vegetables, while at the same time ditching its cheaper sandwiches.

So the big question is this: What is the newer menu really like? Because Quiznos menu prices may vary by location, I’m going to really hone in on the quality of the food on the menu, focusing on the chain’s primary specialty – its sub sandwiches.

Toasted Submarine Sandwiches

Quiznos made a name for itself by always toasting their sandwiches. The chain explains it this way on its website: “Why do we toast? We like to think of our toaster as a ‘flavor maker.’ Sure, toasting makes our artisan breads taste even better. But our true toasting releases the flavors in our meats and cheeses. That’s why we’ve been toasting for over 30 years.”

So you’d have to specifically ask for the sub to not be toasted (as if anyone would want it that way!). Back when they were the only chain toasting, it was their distinguishing feature – but now everyone offers toasting, so it’s another unfortunate chapter in Quiznos’ troubled history.

A great sub needs great bread. Your choices among the chain’s Artisan Breads include White, Wheat, Rosemary Parmesan, or Jalapeno Cheddar. You can also have any sub put into ciabatta bread.

Speaking of stacking, a major difference between Quiznos and their nemesis Subway is in how the sandwiches are assembled.

Subway tends to jam the main ingredients into the spine, with toppings on top of that. A properly stacked sub means you break the spine and put the main ingredients on the bottom and toppings on the top (hence the name toppings, right?). Quiznos gets this right.

They also get their toasting method right, using a rolling conveyor oven as opposed to Subway’s little zappers, which kind of look like an industrial version of an Easy Bake Oven for kids.

You should know upfront that a Quiznos sub is thoroughly toasted, which means its going to come out of the oven with some slightly burnt edges, but that’s okay in my book. It’s also worth mentioning that Subway seems downright stingy with their meat portions compared to Quiznos.

Below are the 22 different toasted subs you can get at Quiznos, with comments on only some of the sandwiches (I’d never get this article done if I tried all 22).

  • Chipotle Steak & Cheddar. Steak and cheddar with sautéed peppers and onions, with chipotle mayo on jalapeño cheddar bread. The steak in this sandwich is a surprisingly good quality for a sandwich chain, and it comes out juicy and tender. The chipotle mayo is a nice creamy touch that, along with the jalapeño bread, gives you a medium kick of heat – enough to enjoy without making your eyes water.
  • Peppercorn Steak. Peppercorn steak with mozzarella, sautéed onions, peppercorn sauce.
  • Steak Bacon & Swiss. Steak, bacon, and Swiss, with sautéed onions and mayo.
  • Black Angus Steak. Black Angus steak, all-natural mozzarella and cheddar, sautéed mushrooms and onions, honey bourbon mustard, and zesty grill sauce.
  • Classic Italian. Capicola, genoa salami, ham, pepperoni, all-natural mozzarella, black olives, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and red wine vinaigrette. My major problem with Quiznos in general comes out especially strong with this sandwich. Provolone cheese is not offered, period. How can a sub chain not offer provolone cheese? It’s ridiculous, and it makes a big difference on sandwiches like an Italian sub. Don’t get me wrong, mozzarella is a great cheese, but it belongs on pizza, not sub sandwiches. I don’t mind mozzarella being an option for those who want it, but not having provolone at all just doesn’t make any sense to me. The chain also tends to go a bit overboard with the vinegar dressing.
  • Spicy Monterey. Turkey, ham, mozzarella, pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, mayo, and four-pepper chili sauce.
  • The Traditional. Roast beef, turkey breast, ham, cheddar, black olives, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, onions, buttermilk ranch dressing.
  • Tuna. Tuna with your choice of dressing, cheese, and veggies. This sandwich seems so innocent – fish, cheese, and veggies. But when you think about the gobs of mayo that go into tuna salad, throw in a bunch of cheese, and add a dressing on top of all that, you’re looking at a sub that packs a 1,100-calorie punch, followed up with 51 grams of fat. Yikes!
  • Veggie Guacamole. Cheddar, mozzarella, guacamole, choice of veggies, red wine vinaigrette. The guacamole is surprisingly good and makes this a great sandwich, but the dressing ruins it because the chain puts way too much on it. The result is that if you don’t eat it right away, you’re going to end up with a soggy mess that completely falls apart on you.
  • Honey Bacon Club. Turkey, ham, bacon, Swiss, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and honey-French dressing.
  • Italian Meatball. Fontanini meatballs, double mozzarella, and marinara sauce. Okay, the mozzarella does work really well on this one, and doubling it was the right thing to do. In fact, everything works really well on this sandwich. There are wonderful garlic overtones in this sub, which is as it should be, but not overpowering. This could well be the standout sandwich of the entire menu. It also comes with 1,530 calories and 81 grams of fat (28 of which are saturated). And it’s awesome.
  • Lobster & Seafood. The chain’s Lobster & Seafood salad comes with crisp lettuce on butter-toasted artisan bread. This one actually tastes quite good, although it tends to come out on the dry side – maybe a bit of mayonnaise or ranch dressing or something could correct for that. Lobster only makes up 51% of the seafood ingredients, and even so you’ll find this to be a very pricey sandwich. The other 49% is whitefish, but the chain doesn’t tell you that – I don’t know why it should be anything but upfront and clear. But it’s definitely better than the one Subway used to offer, which was made up of imitation crab meat.
  • Honey Bourbon Chicken. Oven-roasted bourbon chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, honey bourbon mustard, and zesty grill sauce. The main attraction of this sandwich (for some) is that it lacks both cheese and mayo, which apparently automatically puts it in the realm of “healthier” menu options. The chicken here is unremarkable, although there’s plenty of it. The standout is the honey bourbon mustard, which does in fact add just the right tang and acidity. The honey part could be stronger, however, to offset the saltiness of the meat.
  • Pesto Caesar Chicken. Chicken served with mozzarella, 3-cheese blend, seasonal greens, tomatoes, basil pesto, and peppercorn Caesar dressing.
  • Mesquite Chicken. Chicken, smoky bacon, all-natural cheddar, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, buttermilk ranch dressing. This sandwich is surprisingly well-balanced, which is a feat considering it includes a BBQ-esque flavor (that would be the mesquite). It doesn’t overpower everything else, and neither does the red onion, which can be another dangerous choice. The bacon doesn’t fare so well – it doesn’t feel crispy out-of-the-pan fresh, but it was good enough.
  • Baja Chicken. Chicken, smoky bacon, all-natural cheddar, onions, Baja sauce, chipotle mayo. As with some of the chain’s other sandwiches, the two sauces included are the sub’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. The Baja sauce and chipotle mayo turn out to be a really great combination, resulting in a burst of BBQ with southwest seasoning and a bit of heat from the chipotle. Logistically, however, the two sauces quickly turn this sub into a big, fat, soggy mess – but again, very flavorful.
  • Carbonara Chicken. Chicken, smoky bacon, all-natural mozzarella, sautéed mushrooms, Parmesan Alfredo sauce. This is pretty much the only sub you’re going to find here or anywhere that comes with a white sauce. Not everyone likes a good white sauce, but this one is worth trying. It combines well with the cheese, chicken, and bacon. The only complaint here is that the mushrooms were practically nonexistent, both in quantity and added flavor.
  • Honey Mustard Chicken. Chicken, bacon, Swiss, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and honey mustard dressing.
  • Turkey Bacon Guacamole. Turkey breast, smoky bacon, guacamole, all-natural mozzarella, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, onions, buttermilk ranch dressing. Everyone knows that bacon makes everything better, but to be honest I’m more likely to say that avocado or guacamole makes everything better. Well, with this sub, you get the best of all possible worlds. And the addition of the ranch dressing works really well, too. I’d have to put this one second in line after the meatball sub.
  • Turkey Lite. Turkey served with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, and fat-free balsamic vinaigrette.
  • Turkey Ranch & Swiss. Turkey breast, Swiss, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and ranch dressing.
  • Ultimate Turkey Club. Turkey breast, smoky bacon, all-natural cheddar, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and mayo.

In the final analysis, Quiznos subs are really pretty decent. Most often I find them better than Subway’s. You have a sense with Quiznos that a real chef somewhere took the time to experiment with the different sauce combinations to figure out what really works best for each sandwich. That research has paid off in terms of interesting and flavorful menu options.

Quiznos does have a fairly extensive menu beyond its sub sandwiches, including grilled flatbreads, salads and wraps, savory soups, pasta, desserts (cookies and brownies), and a breakfast menu featuring various biscuits, burritos, flatbreads, and breakfast subs. Oh, and fresh-squeezed pink lemonade is a beverage option – an often overlooked but much-appreciated fresh drink offering.

The Quiznos menu has a lot to offer, but I also have a sense that it will continue to be a chain that struggles in the shadow of behemoth Subway, even though its subs might actually be better. Quiznos menu prices tend to be higher than Subway’s because they’re going for higher quality, and although sometimes they miss that mark, they do good work on their sandwiches.

There’s a lot to like about Quiznos relative to Subway, so hopefully something will happen that gives the chain new life in the coming years.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Windy Daley February 13, 2016 at 6:24 am

Quiznos is not consumer friendly! I would never buy a Quiznos franchise because they refuse to list the complete ingredients in their food. I have asked repeatedly for ingredients of their breads–and have been refused any information. What do they use for dough ingredients? Azodicarbonamide? High fructose corn syrup?
The consumers deserve to be answered quickly and honestly. I haven’t eaten at a Quiznos in years because they refuse to answer questions about their ingredients.
Boycott Quiznos! Don’t open a franchise that is being boycotted.


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