Subway co-founder Fred DeLuca died Monday evening after being diagnosed with leukemia two years ago, the company said Tuesday. He was 67.
DeLuca's death came weeks after the 50th anniversary of Subway, which is the world's biggest restaurant chain by locations with more than 44,000.
The company traces its roots to 1965, when DeLuca opened a sandwich shop at the age of 17 to help pay for college after graduating high school. The idea came from a family friend, Peter Buck, who was co-founder and provided the $1,000 to start the business.
"I knew nothing about making sandwiches, nor the food industry," DeLuca later wrote in a book.
DeLuca and Buck opened their first store in Bridgeport, Connecticut under the name "Pete's Super Submarines," with the priciest sub selling for 69 cents. The name was changed to the snappier "Subway" in 1968, and the pair decided to fuel growth by franchising, or letting others open Subway stores in exchange for fees.
By 1988, Subway had 2,000 locations. By 1990, it reached the 5,000-store mark. And by 1994, it had more than 8,000 locations.
Subway, based in Milford, Connecticut, is privately held and provides few glimpses into its inner workings. But in July 2013, the company announced that DeLuca had been diagnosed with leukemia. It said DeLuca was in regular contact with his management team, but on a reduced basis as he received treatment.
Then earlier this summer, Subway said DeLuca's younger sister, Suzanne Greco, would take over as president and oversee day-to-day operations. DeLuca remained CEO.
Subway has been facing some recent challenges in addition to DeLuca's health. The company cut ties with longtime pitchman Jared Fogle this summer after Fogle agreed to plead guilty to allegations he paid for sex acts with minors and received child pornography.
In addition, some feel Subway has overextended itself with its more than 27,000 U.S. locations. Last year, average sales at established U.S. locations fell 3 percent, according to Technomic.
In DeLuca's book "Start Small Finish Big: Fifteen Key Lessons to Start -- and Run -- Your Own Successful Business," DeLuca recalled living in public housing in the Bronx as a child. His father hadn't graduated high school, but his mother had stressed the importance of education while growing up.
After he graduated high school, DeLuca had planned on becoming a doctor. That was why he started the sub shop with Buck -- to support his college education.
"It wasn't intended to support me forever," DeLuca wrote.
DeLuca is survived by his wife, son and sister, according to Subway.