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Arby’s parent Inspire Brands buys Jimmy John’s Sandwiches

A logo of the sandwich restaurant chain, specializing in delivery Jimmy John's hangs outside one of their shops in downtown Washington, DC, June 9, 2016 A US sandwich chain is being sued for locking its low-paid workers into non-compete agreements more typical of high-tech workers or top executives. The state of Illinois, where Jimmy John's is headquartered, accuses the company of requiring employees to sign clauses barring them from working at competing sandwich stores within two miles of one of its outlets for at least two years after leaving the company. / AFP / Mladen Antonov (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)

ATLANTA — The parent company of Arby’s is buying Jimmy John’s Sandwiches, hoping to reverse sluggish sales at the chain.

Atlanta-based Inspire Brands said Wednesday the acquisition will make it the fourth-largest restaurant company in the U.S., with annual sales of $14 billion and 11,200 restaurants. Inspire also owns Sonic, Buffalo Wild Wings and Rusty Taco.

Jimmy John’s founder and chairman, Jimmy John Liautaud, will step down and become an adviser to Inspire’s board. James North, Jimmy John’s president and CEO, will serve as president and report to Inspire CEO Paul Brown.

Like Papa John’s founder John Schnatter, who was forced out as chairman in 2018 because of racist comments, Liautaud has been a liability for Jimmy John’s in recent years. Actor Mark Hammill is among those who have called for a boycott of Jimmy John’s on Twitter after social media photos showed Liautaud posing with an elephant and a leopard he had killed on hunting trips.

Jimmy John’s sales totaled $2.15 billion in 2018. That was flat from 2017 and up 1% from 2016 even though Jimmy John’s added 156 stores in that period, according to Technomic, a restaurant data firm.

Inspire said it can help Jimmy John’s with product development, marketing and stronger purchasing scale. The company said Jimmy John’s also has a lot of potential for international expansion.

Jimmy John’s was founded in 1983 in Illinois. It has 2,800 locations in 43 states.

Roark Capital, the private equity firm that owns Inspire Brands, had already purchased a majority stake in Jimmy John’s in 2016.

The deal is expected to be completed by the end of October. Terms weren’t disclosed.

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