Sports aside, restaurateur lives on the front lines

RANTOUL — Eight years ago, when he was selecting sport management as his major at the University of Illinois, Patrick Wampler figured by September of 2017 he might be on the fast track to rising up the ranks in the front officer of the Chicago Bears or, better yet, his beloved Cubs.

“A coach or a general manager or something involving sports,” Wampler said.

It’s a dream that made sense. Wampler was a standout golfer, tennis player and basketball player at Champaign Central, where he graduated in 2009.

But Wednesday afternoon, the 26-year-old was wearing a headset, apron, jeans and a black Jimmy John’s polo shirt, making sandwiches inside the brand-new franchise of the sandwich chain, which opened its doors for the first time on Tuesday at its Champaign Avenue location.

It’s a long way from Halas Hall or Wrigley Field, but Wampler couldn’t be more pleased with the direction his life has taken.

“Those sports jobs are really competitive; everybody wants to work for the Cubs or Bears or the Blackhawks,” Wampler said. “And there’s long hours, and you’re not going in there to become the general manager on the first day.”

The Rantoul Jimmy John’s franchise is the fifth he’s opened since 2014 under the Subways LLC he operates along with partners Austin Apgar and Craig Neitzel. He’s also got two stores in Danville, one in Tuscola and another in Taylorville.

Unlike the sports path, from day one, Wampler was the boss.

“I liked that. I liked having the opportunity to be my own boss and to grow something,” he said. “That really excited me.”

And in his role as the boss, Wampler isn’t hiding out in some office crunching numbers all day and just delegating duties to his 100-plus employees.

He’s behind the counter, greeting customers as they walk into his stores, and he’s side by side with his employees as they work in tandem to create each sub in less than a minute.

“Sitting in an office, that’s not me,” Wampler said. “I’ve got ADD; I want to be doing stuff and being hands-on helping any way that I can.”

On Tuesday, the grand opening in Rantoul, that meant taking part in making more than 400 sandwiches. And as the opening approached, Wampler and close friend Chris Lehmann, his area manager, spent 22 straight hours in the store making sure the location was ready for its debut.

His days typically start at 5 a.m. where he usually hits two or three stores a day to make sure things are running smooth and to help out.

“I’m usually done by 5 p.m., but sometimes we’ll pop back in at night to check on things and just help out doing what needs to be done,” he said. “We’ve been really lucky; we’ve got a great crew; the managers, the general managers are like co-workers and friends. We have a fun, hard-working laid-back crew.”

But it’s not all work and no play for Wampler. He still plays in basketball and softball leagues around Champaign with some friends and co-workers, and a couple weeks ago, he shot a lifetime best score of 69 on the golf course at Champaign Country Club.

“The golf game is hit or miss right now,” he said. “I’ll hit some shots every once in a while and be like, ‘What in the world was that?’ ”

He even found time last fall to compete in and win the Dancing with the Stars competition, a fundraiser for the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club.

“That was a lot of fun; it was really nerve-racking because we got a late start because we had just opened the store in Taylorville,” he said. “The first couple practices I was worried, and at the event when I saw all the tables in the room, I was scared. A couple of shots beforehand calmed the nerves a little bit, and we went out and had a lot of fun.”

He may not be working in the NFL or MLB, but Wampler’s having a ball with this whole sandwich thing.

mjackson@news-gazette.com

Categories (2):News, Living

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