WALLINGFORD — When the first Subway franchise opened on Hall Avenue in 1974, the company reinvented itself.
Founder Fred DeLuca opened the first shop, Pete’s Submarines, in Bridgeport in August 1965. He was 17 at the time and had a loan for $1,000 from a family friend, co-founder Dr. Peter Buck.
Almost a decade later, DeLuca was running five stores in the state and starting to consider franchising in an effort to continue expanding. He looked to a friend, Brian Dixon, to be the first franchisee and owner of the store at 3 Hall Ave.
The two played cards and went to hockey games together, as their wives both worked at the West Haven Veterans Hospital.
DeLuca approached Dixon several times with the offer, and was shot down every time. Dixon was a sheet metal installer for an air conditioning company and didn’t want to give up the security of a weekly paycheck.
“I knew Brian wasn’t happy with his job and I thought Brian would do a terrific job with one of our stores,” DeLuca said in his 2012 book, “Start Small, Finish Big.” He had offered Dixon a loan to buy their fifth store in Wallingford and said he could return the store at any time, without owing them anything.
It wasn’t until Dixon’s employer went bankrupt that Dixon decided to take the plunge.
“I said, ‘Let me give it a shot,’” Dixon told the New Haven Register in 2005, on the company’s 40th anniversary.
When Dixon changed his mind, DeLuca said “we changed Subway.”
After Dixon became the first franchisee, Subway started recruiting more franchisees in full force. The company put ads in local newspapers around Connecticut and immediately collected a steady stream of inquiries. Within a few months, it sold franchises in Danbury, Middletown, and Waterbury, DeLuca said in the book.
Lori Vincent, co-owner of Scotty’s Breakfast II, 33 Hall Ave., recalled eating at the Wallingford restaurant in the 1980s. She lived in Meriden and would meet with friends who lived and worked in the area at the store.
The franchise closed and re-opened at 218 N. Colony Road in 1988. The Hall Avenue space is now occupied by Healing Hands Chiropractic.
“As Subway’s first franchisee, and now one of our Development Agents, (Dixon) built a business that’s far more gratifying and lucrative than most jobs,” DeLuca wrote.
Dixon now owns eight Subway franchises in Massachusetts, according to Public Relations Manager Kevin Kane.
There are now more than 25,000 franchisees in the United States, according to Subway. It is the largest submarine sandwich chain, with more than 40,000 locations around the world. There are currently four locations in Wallingford.