At Jimmy John’s, speed is everything. When you punch in your order online, it pops up within seconds in the restaurant’s open kitchen. Once the bread for your sandwich hits the cutting board, the prep staff has 30 seconds to have it wrapped and ready to go, and five minutes to get it into your hands.
I’d always imagined Jimmy John’s delivery drivers were like Bo and Luke from The Dukes of Hazzard—scruffy outlaws sliding across car hoods and jumping dry creek beds with the sheriff in hot pursuit, risking it all to get your tuna salad to you three minutes faster than the next guy. When I signed up for a lunch-shift ride-along with Adam Ropp, a beefy, clean-cut 28-year-old, I figured we’d wreck at least four cars and rack up at least three felonies.
Turns out delivering sandwiches for Jimmy John’s isn’t quite so dangerous. The downtown Sarasota location employs around 11 delivery workers during its lunch rush Monday through Friday, which spreads the work around so that no one has to run afoul of the law. Delivery employees can ride a bike or drive a car or scooter. Driving is less strenuous, but drivers must pay for their own gas, which cuts into profits. Like much service work in Sarasota, the money is seasonal. In the summer, Ropp delivers between 12 and 15 orders in a single lunch shift and makes $40-$50 in tips; in season, he’ll make 20 deliveries and earn as much as $80.
Around 11:30 a.m., Ropp’s first order is up. He grabs the items, stuffs them into a white Jimmy John’s bag, staples the receipt to the outside and hops into his black SUV. Ropp knows many customers’ orders by heart and has memorized most of the streets in the restaurant’s delivery zone. His first order takes him to Hawthorne.
It’s hot out, but skies are clear. You’d think drivers would prefer delivering when it’s sunny, but Ropp says precipitation has its advantages. “I like it when it rains,” he says, “because people tip better when you go in a little wet.”
Ropp hops out of his car and walks into a small office in a strip mall. “Maria?” the receptionist asks. Ropp nods. “She’s already paid, so it’s good,” he says, handing over Maria’s sandwich. Ropp bounds back outside. “That’s it?” I ask. “That’s it,” he says.
Of course, that’s not really it, because Ropp has to drive back to Jimmy John’s and do it all again. And then again. And again.
Ropp has been working for Jimmy John’s since he was 17. It provides a steady paycheck with minimal hours and quirks that keep him on his toes. He’s delivered sandwiches to Resurrection House, Planned Parenthood and the jail (“The guards, not the inmates, of course”). While delivering for a Jimmy John’s in Tampa, he brought sustenance to college kids—some half-naked, some smoking weed—and even once made a drop-off at a rave.
These days, after a shift at Jimmy John’s, he goes to classes to become an emergency medical technician. He wants to work as a firefighter.
Back in the kitchen after his first delivery, Ropp ties on a white apron and pitches in bagging up orders. The phone keeps ringing. The printer keeps spitting out orders. “Adam!” a manager calls. “Delivery on Main Street!”
Ropp checks the address. He knows just where to go. “All right,” he says. In five seconds, he’s out the door.