From Chicken Ice Cream to Chicken Subs: The Story of South Florida-Based Jon Smith Subs

Billed as a limited-time menu item, the Maple Chicken Sub evokes the flavors of the season. It starts with a whole chicken breast, coated and grilled in Smith's own seasoning blend, then finished with a quick sear in pure maple syrup. From there, it's fitted into a fresh-made sub roll, slathered in Hellmann’s mayo, layered with lettuce and tomato slices, and topped with crispy bacon. 

It's just one of many sandwiches you can find at Jon Smith Subs, Palm Beach County's own local sub-shop chain. With nearly three decades under its belt, the family-owned and -operated chain is nine locations strong, with stores from Boca Raton to Jupiter.

At the helm of this Florida-based submarine empire is the eponymous Smith, a South Florida resident who continues to oversee every aspect of operations for the company he founded in 1988, when he and wife Stephanie opened the first two locations in Lake Park and Jupiter. 

But he wasn't always all about the sandwich. Circa 1976, the Massachusetts native first went into business making ice cream.

"We had some really innovative flavors, everything from chicken ice cream with all white meat to large-mouth bass ice cream. There was even a hot-dog-with-everything ice cream," says Smith, who grew the business to six locations including Martha's Vineyard and Cape Cod.

Despite the success he had coming up with crazy ice cream flavors, when Smith was looking to relocate to South Florida, the idea melted. 

"When I moved here, I decided to open another sub shop," says Smith. "There were already plenty of ice cream places down here. It seemed like the right move."

Despite his expansion into a chain over the years, Smith says his basic business philosophy has never changed. That means sub sandwiches that are prepared daily and made-to-order. Vegetables are fresh-sliced in-house. The mayonnaise is Hellman's. And the bread is baked locally, delivered fresh to each store daily. Think of Jon Smith Subs as a "mom-and-pop-type place on steroids," says Smith.

Today, the menu consists of nearly 40 subs, as well as salads and cooked-to-order fries. Smith shares his favorite subs:

1. The Steak Bomb
"This is, overwhelmingly, our most popular sub. When we say 'bomb,' that means we add mushrooms, peppers, onion, bacon, and tomatoes to the sandwich. From there, our prime sirloin steak meat is cooked in-house daily and sliced to order. It's still my favorite."

2. Tuna Sub
"You won't find a tuna sandwich like this one anywhere else," says Smith. "It's made from scratch twice daily using the highest-quality tuna available and real Hellman's mayonnaise. The only other ingredients we add is a bit of celery for some crunch and a touch of lemon juice."

3. Maple Bacon Chicken Sub
"This is one of our newest menu items," says Smith. "But it's already one of my favorites. Whole chicken breasts are rubbed in our own blend of maple seasoning, and before we pull them from the oven, we sauté each breast in real maple syrup. The result is meat that's not too sweet but really full of flavor." He likes the seasonal offering so much, he says, that it might just become permanent.

4. The Cuban
"There are plenty of places in South Florida to find an authentic Cuban sandwich, but I think ours is one of the best. We start with a sweet Cuban bread baked in our company bakery located in Hallandale, and from there we use two different types of pork: a sweet and regular smoked. Then we take Virginia ham and Swiss cheese, add our signature mojo Creole sauce, and pickles with mayo and mustard. It's more authentic than a real Cuban sandwich. I guarantee."

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Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.
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Nicole Danna is a Palm Beach County-based reporter who began covering the South Florida food scene for New Times in 2011. She also loves drinking beer and writing about the area's growing craft beer community.
Contact: Nicole Danna