Miami Subs Grill franchisee Rick Cohler opened a store in Morton Grove, Ill., in July-his second in the region. Mr. Cohler's first franchise opened in October 1993 in Lincolnwood, another suburb.
And earlier this year, Denver-based Quizno's Classic Subs opened the first of five planned restaurants around Chicago, with a goal of opening 70 more in the next five years.
The new chains are trying to steer clear of the dominant Subway Sandwich & Salad Shops chain by developing a niche offering gourmet sandwiches for the consumer willing to pay about $5 to $6 for a quick meal.
The attraction for the chains is clear: The submarine sandwich market is growing much faster than the hamburger market.
Local sub sales last year rose 16%, while burger chains sustained a steady 9% annual increase, said Robert J. Siegel, president of Restaurant Consulting Group, Evanston, Ill.
"Submarine sandwiches are one of the fastest-growing food categories because they offer a healthy alternative to burgers and fries," he said.
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Miami Subs Corp., which this summer tapped Harris Drury Cohen as national agency for its $4 million account, hopes to reach a broader market by offering a wide variety of food.
"Unlike most submarine shops, we do about 40% of our business at the dinner hour because we carry so many dinner items, such as pasta, fish ... and desserts," Mr. Cohler said.
Before opening his first Miami Subs franchise last year, Mr. Cohler was president of Chicago Dining Authority, which owned and managed local restaurants, including Harry Caray's and the now-defunct Burhop's.
Mr. Cohler said he views Golden, Colo.-based Boston Chicken as one of his main rivals.
"Boston Chicken offers an upscale atmosphere with high quality food and quick service for about the same price as we charge," he said.
At market leader Subway, officials say competition helps business. "As the number of sub shops increases and as each one continues to market and advertise, sub sandwiches will become more popular," said Donald G. Fertman, director of franchise sales for Milford, Conn.-based Subway.
Ms. Aran is an intern at Crain's Chicago Business.