Fred DeLuca, Fort Lauderdale resident and cofounder of Subway, has died, the company announced Tuesday
. DeLuca had been diagnosed with leukemia in 2013. He was 67 years old.
"DeLuca was an active member of the International Franchise Association, a recipient of numerous awards and accolades," a statement from the company reads. "He was a supporter of many charitable organizations focused mainly on those that promoted self-sufficiency and education programs. He was an extremely ambitious businessman, a bright and analytical thinker and was even a member of Mensa."
DeLuca started off his eventual global sandwich empire in Connecticut when, in 1965, a friend of the family loaned him $1,000 to start his own sandwich business. The idea, according to DeLuca's book, Start Small Finish Big: Fifteen Key Lessons to Start — and Run — Your Own Successful Business
, was to start a business that would help finance medical school so he could become a doctor.
The business venture kicked off, and DeLuca opened a sandwich shop called "Pete's Super Submarines" — named after Peter Buck, the friend who loaned him the money. But the business failed. Undeterred, DeLuca opened another shop, named it "Subway," and began dreaming of challenging McDonald's and other mega-fast-food joints by envisioning 32 shops within ten years. By 1978, Subway had its 100th store; by 1987, its 1,000th.
From there, Subway ingrained itself in American popular culture, with its "Five Dollar Footlong" jingle, its "Subway, eat fresh" tag line, and a campaign that focused on Subway's being a healthier fast-food alternative to McDonald's, Burger King, or Wendy's.
By 2010, Subway had become the largest fast-food chain in the world, with 33,749 restaurants, blowing out McDonald's by 1,012 restaurants.
DeLuca was diagnosed with leukemia in 2013 and was even considered on the brink of death
at one point, leading to doubts about his role with Subway and the company's future in general. But in 2014, he announced that he had no plans to retire and was back to being "90 percent involved" with Subway's day-to-day operations.
Not long after this announcement, DeLuca partnered with Palm Beach County developer Anthony Pugliese to develop Destiny, a 41,000-acre development in Central Florida. The development was to be "America’s first eco-sustainable city,” and DeLuca invested $111 million to get it off the ground. The project was shelved after Pugliese was arrested in 2014 on charges that he faked invoices to defraud DeLuca out of $1.2 million.
Over this summer, it was announced that DeLuca would remain CEO but that his sister, Suzanne Greco, would take over the day-to-day operations as the company's president.
DeLuca's company has also been dealing with the fallout over his longtime pitchman Jared Fogle pleading guilty
to allegations that he received child pornography and that he paid for sex acts with minors.
At the time of his death, DeLuca's net worth was at $2.7 billion. He is survived by his wife, son, and sister.