A global chain of franchised fast food stores.

Their main product is the 'sub' or submarine sandwich which comes as a 6 inch and footlong version.

A typical order might be: footlong meatball with cheese on brown with all salads except for jalapenos and olives and salt & pepper with tomato sauce.
A metropolitan train system, usually underground (hence the name), though often with some above-ground segments.

The T (a.k.a. MBTA) in Boston was the first subway system in North America, though London had them beat by a couple decades.

The Subway chain of sandwich shops led the way in the ongoing trend at fast food restaurants where you are inundated with annoying questions, superfluous choices and an ordering process that is more like an interrogation session than what you came for, which was a quick and easy meal.

Choosing the type of sandwich you want is difficult because instead of making it easy by numbering the choices, Subway chooses to plaster the options in a helter skelter fashion all over the walls. The choices are not even in any kind of logical order. Looking at the menu board on the wall of your Subway restaurant may very well convince you that you somehow managed to drop acid before getting into your car and going to get what you thought would be a simple sandwich.

Next comes questions about bread. There is apparently their regular kind of bread, wheat bread or a variety of "gourmet" breads, as if you actually went to a fast food restaurant because you are into the whole gourmet kick. People who want gourmet foods go to a gourmet restaurant for a drawn out sit-down meal or cook their own food at home. If only these people could grasp that concept, things wouldn't begin quite as badly as they do during the whole "Subway experience."

After the whole bread fiasco, there may be an effort at cute or funny conversation from your "Subway sandwich artist." I've managed to cut this off before it starts, but others report they have been trapped in conversations at Subway. I feel your pain. Often, if you just look sternly at the sandwich maker and say nothing, they will not continue their attempts at cute and funny conversation. I recommend this tactic.

Okay, let us assume you have made it past the confusing menu board and the bread issues and have gotten the sandwich maker to stop trying to draw you into an inane conversation. This is the point at which you start to believe you are safe and will soon be eating a sandwich and filling the void in your stomach that brought you to Subway in the first place. You are not safe. Regardless of what you tell them you want on your sandwich, they will go through each bucket of vaguely fresh toppings and ask you if you want that topping on your sandwich. Even if you try to avoid this by ordering a meatball sub (which they call something else in order to make it almost impossible to order the meatball sub) and tell them, "I just want whatever you call a meatball sub on your regular bread with provolone cheese and nothing else on it," you are not safe.

The last time I tried to order whatever they call a meatball sub at Subway, in the exact fashion as stated above, the interrogation continued and it including the following question, "Spinach?" I don't know who eats meatball subs with spinach on them, but I will not be friends with these kinds of people.

So, in review, if you like being hassled with unending streams of questions, enjoy idle chit chat with someone who tries to be cute and funny (but rarely does a very good job of it), then your local Subway restaurant is the place to go. If, like me, you feel that fast food is something that should be quick and easy, steer clear of this chain.

Subway is the largest franchise restaurant in the United States and also in the world. At some point, Subway became the most ubiquitous fast-food restaurant. In many small towns I have been to, the Subway is the only chain business present.

What is the most surprising about this is that Subway's spread never happened in a single moment. Compare this to the growth of chain pizza restaurants such as Domino's and Pizza Hut. Some of you might not believe this, but there was a time before pizza was an ever present part of American life. Pizza chains started up in the 1980s, with loudly announced promises that you could have a pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes! This was an aggressive and novel advertising campaign that put pizza front and center as a new, fun food choice, to the point that by the end of the 1990s, we had the Domino's Pizza mascot The Noid in his own video game, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles endorsed Pizza Hut.

I apologize for that tangent about the history of pizza, but it is relevant. At no point did Subway have a cute mascot (Jared Fogle, the man who lost weight and later was sent to prison for sexual molestation doesn't count, for several reasons). There were no Happy Meals, no tie-ins to animated movies, no edgy advertising campaigns. Subway was almost utilitarian in its approach to fast food dominance. It opened up unassuming restaurants until one day, you couldn't avoid eating at Subway. According to the timeline on their website, the 1000th location opened up in 1987, the 2000th in 1988, and the 5000th in 1990, an incredibly rapid growth. Its first national television advertisement only aired in 1991, meaning that the chain managed to quintuple in size in three years, without the help of a national "brand".

There is a pretty explanation for Subway's quick spread: compared to other franchise businesses, it requires less capital, less workers, and less training. Compared to a standard fast-food restaurant, which needs a full kitchen, which involves a larger size, more capital expense for equipment, more energy bills and insurance bills, a Subway franchise can usually fit in a smaller location, and needs only the bread oven and an oversized toaster. I invented this explanation just now, but apparently more reliable sources have documented it: it costs around $200,000 to open a Subway, as opposed to 2 million for McDonalds. And so, Subway pursued its r-strategy until it became commonplace, in every locale from cool urban neighborhoods, to university cafeterias, to suburban strip malls, to small towns, to airports and train stations.

I like Subway. I should be critical of any fast food, and I know that many of the claims of Subway, especially about the health of its food, are suspect. But as a person who has spent a lot of time traveling, it has also been a welcoming site to me, a place where I could get reliable fresh food. Yes, paying 5 dollars for a single serving of vegetables is not really an economic or health masterstroke, but it is better than the alternative. As a vegetarian, it is also often my only option while traveling. I have comforting memories of going to Subway when I first moved to Brookings, Oregon, when I would ride my bike through Stevensville, Montana, when I got off the train station in Dallas, Texas, and ate a Subway sandwich in Dealey Plaza, and when I was waiting in the Amtrak Station in New Orleans (which didn't have free drink refills). I could pretend to myself that my multiple cookies and overpriced bag of chips were balanced by the fact I was eating lettuce. I could look out the window and drink refill after refill of diet Coke while digesting my vegetables and spongy bread. Some might look down on me saying that my experience of American cultural unity is heralded by the wafting smell of cooking, yoga mat chemical bread coming out of a mass business selling basic subway sandwiches, and to them I will only say: extra mayonnaise, please.

Sub"way` (?), n.

An underground way or gallery; especially, a passage under a street, in which water mains, gas mains, telegraph wires, etc., are conducted.


© Webster 1913.

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