The secret is down to a simple recipe: consistency, said owner Teresa Giles, who celebrated 31 years at PJ’s Dec. 11.
“Nothing changes. We serve the same thing every day. The meats don’t change. The way we make it doesn’t change. It’s keeping everything fresh and never serving anything that’s stale,” Giles said. “We have added things over the years, like a meatball sub and a BLT.”
A recent customer, who had not visited PJ’s in five years, paid Giles the ultimate compliment. “He said it tasted ‘exactly the way it did the last time I came in here.’ We always make it the same and we weigh out the meats, so whether I make the sandwich or someone else makes it, it always has the same amount of meat.”
PJ’s has earned a cult following locally and beyond, with customers driving from Riverview for a sub and iced tea as well as interstate truck drivers who will exit I-75 and navigate their way to Parrish for the food. “I have one customer who will drive five miles off the interstate to get his sub, brownie and tea,” said Giles.
Knowing what a customer will order as soon as they walk through the door also helps build a relationship, Giles said. “Customers love it when you know what they eat. I am awful with names but if you are a regular, I can tell you what you eat. My husband and I will be out and I’ll spot one of our customers and he will ask their name. I can’t tell his name but I can tell you what he eats. He’s turkey, ham and cheese all the way with no onions.”
Giles learned from Patricia O’Connor, her mom. “She worked in a small place in Sarasota and she was taught there to make the food well and fresh and don’t change it.” O’Connor ran PJ’s for a number of years but when Giles bought her mother out she kept the menu pretty much the same, adding a BLT and peanut butter and jelly sandwich for children. “But the chili recipe is the same from the first day she made it.”
The store goes through 150 to 200 subs a day as well as three to four loaves of bread making other sandwiches. PJ’s also serves up to 40 gallons of iced tea daily.
Giles’ advice to anyone contemplating a similar venture? “Location, location, location. When we started out here we had more cows and orange trees than people. You have to be in a place where you can establish yourself slowly. When we started, a $100 day was a big day, but it gave us all the time in the world to get better. When people started realizing who and where we were, it got busier and busier.”
The restaurant’s sandwiches run from $4.50 to $8.25, along with salads and soups. There’s also a menu for children, desserts, sides and drinks, including PJ’s popular iced tea.
PJ’s Sandwich Shop, 12342 U.S. 301, Parrish, is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. PJ’s delivers to the surrounding area, including Sun City Center. Call 941-776-2307 for more information.