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Friday, June 21, 2024

PrimoHoagies opened a Gainesville location in March, now hopes to attract college students

The new Italian specialty sandwich shop struggles to reach students

PrimoHoagies stands on Main Street on Sunday, April 14, 2024.
PrimoHoagies stands on Main Street on Sunday, April 14, 2024.

Gainesville has a rich culinary scene from around the world. Amid the international staples downtown, an aroma of a dish from closer to home envelopes a gray-brick building: PrimoHoagies.

PrimoHoagies, specializing in Philadelphia-style Italian sub sandwiches, hosted a grand opening of its Gainesville location at 211 S Main St. March 21. The event attracted hundreds of people with its opening day special where more than 250 customers indulged in a free hoagie. 

Beginning in south Philadelphia in 1992, PrimoHoagies has expanded to more than 100 locations across the United States, including five in Florida: Tallahassee, Fort Lauderdale, Naples, Stuart and Gainesville. William Kulick became a franchisee, inspired by his visits to Philadelphia, where he fell in love with the city’s traditional hoagies.

“There's nothing [like] that authentic Philly hoagie with the fresh bread and all the meats and cheeses,” Kulick said. “I know how good this stuff was for me as a customer, and I knew if we found the right spot… we could do well with it.”

As a native of Ponte Vedra, Florida, Kulick was determined to open a location in his home state, and Gainesville was ideal for its large student population, he said. 

“Gainesville is just a nice place to be,” Kulick said. “We were looking to expand into that area at some point.”

Although the opening was met with a large turnout, PrimoHoagies has still yet to see regular business from one of its intended audiences: UF and Santa Fe College students.

“We have a good lunch crowd from all the businesses downtown,” Kulick said. “The next step is to figure out how to get ourselves involved more with campus and have some of those kids coming out to the area.”

Kulick said he’s experimenting with different strategies to reach students. He’s considering the creation of a Gator-inspired sandwich, as well as giveaway events.

Lise Love, the manager’s assistant, has spearheaded some marketing tactics, using ideas influenced by her time working as the manager of a Dunkin’ Donuts on University Avenue.

Love brought Mr. Bone, a plastic skeleton for Halloween decor, from Dunkin’ Donuts to PrimoHoagies. The mascot, who can be found sitting at the restaurant’s table sporting PrimoHoagies merchandise, has an Instagram account with more than 1,200 followers.

She is also working on making sample trays for various groups across Gainesville such as the athletes in football training and the Gainesville Police Department.

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“I'm trying to get the students that know [Mr. Bones] to come here,” Love said. “[The goal is to] let people know that we're here.”

Based in Westville, New Jersey, PrimoHoagies was recognized as the No.1 Best Sandwich or Sub Shop in the 2023 USA Today 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards. 

Before its grand opening last month, PrimoHoagies faced permit and construction challenges, Kulick said.

PrimoHoagies has maximized its proximity to the Alachua County Criminal Courthouse. A large portion of its regular customers are jurors and judges, Kulick said.

Jake Crown, a 44-year-old food distribution sales representative, has frequented PrimoHoagies since he noticed signs promoting the opening.

“We were in desperate need of more sandwiches downtown, so I was excited,” Crown said. “[It offers] a higher quality sandwich and [there are] super nice people that work here.”

The PrimoHoagies staff anticipates a slow summer and hopes to kickstart marketing initiatives geared toward students during the Fall semester.

Contact Molly Seghi at Follow her on X @molly_seghi.

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Molly Seghi

Molly Seghi is a first-year journalism major at UF and a Fall 2023 Avenue Reporter. When not writing or journaling, she can be found at a live music event or working on her podcast “An Aural Account.”

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