Joe Mancini has sandwiched several careers into his life.
Mancini and his wife, Debby, are the owners of nine area Subway restaurants, the first of which — in Shenango Township — they opened in 1988. Along the way, Mancini also worked in purchasing for Rockwell International, as a business education teacher in the New Castle Area School District and as the owner of two bakeries.
On top of that, he and Debby have brought up a second sandwich generation, as daughters Cara, Michelle and Joelle all worked in the restaurants as youths. Joelle already is overseeing some of the operations and preparing to take over for her parents.
“We have her (Joelle) and a couple of good managers who have been with us for quite a while,” Joe Mancini said. “Eventually I’d like to hand it over to her.”
And how soon is “eventually”?
“Not too soon,” Debby said.
“She wants to stay busy,” Joe said of his wife, “which we do.”
That’s a trait that will remain infused in the restaurants at whatever time Joelle takes the reins.
“I’ve learned everything — patience, be a hard worker — from them,” Joelle said of her parents. “Work ethic — that’s a big one I learned from them.”
A 1970 New Castle High graduate, Joe Mancini earned a business/marketing degree from Youngstown State in 1974. He took a job with Rockwell’s Spring Works, moving on to other locations when that division closed in 1982, before returning to New Castle’s Axle Division.
When that plant also closed in 1992, Mancini returned to school to earn his teaching certification, and ended up working in the New Castle Area School District from 1996 until his retirement in 2015.
Along the way, there was also the Royal Bakery in Mahoningtown, which became one of two Mancini bakery locations in the mid-1980s after Joe and Debby purchased the former Croton Bakery on Croton Avenue, where Joe's mother was working.
The Mancinis' multiple enterprises overlapped each other for a time, but the one that lives on is Subway, which Joe and Debby introduced to Lawrence County in 1988 in a small strip plaza on Ellwood Road just south of Cascade Park (it now is a free-standing restaurant across from Shenango High School).
Mancini had been speaking with a former co-worker from Rockwell’s Kenton, Ohio, facility about the relatively young sandwich chain, which had opened its first store in 1965 but didn’t start franchising until 1974. Subway had just opened a restaurant in Kenton.
“He told me they bake their own bread and the other things they do,” Mancini said, “and that it’s a franchise. I said, ‘Is there any information?’ He sent me fliers they would have at the store.
“One thing led to another, and we got it” — but not without at least a crumb of trepidation.
“At first, I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know,” Debby said. “It was scary. It made you nervous.”
Additionally, Mancini recalled that at the time, Subway already had 2,500 stores.
“I’m thinking, ‘Oh, that’s pretty saturated,’ ” he said. “But now there’s over 40,000.”
One might say he got into the business for the dough.
“We were involved in the bakery, too,” he said. “The baking of the bread (at Subway) sort of got my attention. It was fresh, and it was good.”
Just two years later, the Mancinis opened their second store at 2418 Wilmington Road, a location they recently remodeled. Others followed in Ellwood City and Farrell — both of which they later sold — until they rounded out their current franchise list at nine. It includes a second store in Neshannock Township (Field Club Commons), two in New Castle (19 E. Washington St. and 1200 Butler Ave.), two in Union Township (1909 W. State St. and inside Wal-Mart, where they also own Auntie Anne's) and single restaurants in Slippery Rock and Harrisville.
“I think it was the challenge,” Debbie said of why the couple kept pursuing expansion.
“... and the opportunity,” Joe added.
One of the more surprising things the Mancinis have seen over the years was the soaring success of Subway’s $5 footlong promotion.
“That started in Florida,” Joe said. “We kept seeing it in newsletters and thinking, ‘That’s crazy,’ but they were showing the increases in volume that they were doing. They rolled it out, and it was a shot in the arm.”
Nowadays, Joelle — who earned a degree in accounting and started out working for Carbis Walker — handles much of the responsibility that used to fall to Joe and Debby. She says that it wasn’t a difficult decision to switch career tracks to Subway.
“They started it, and I was always with them, so no,” she said, noting that she previously worked in the restaurants during her high school and college days.
“They are big shoes to fill, but I learned from the best.”