California-based Mr. Pickle’s Sandwich Shop has added a franchisee — Hungry Hospitality — to its family. The father-son team of Woody and Jason DeMayo, as well as Jason’s lifelong friend and colleague, Eli Illishah, have taken ownership of the Mr. Pickle’s Fresno restaurant at 7967 N. Blackstone Ave. The trio plans to open up to 20 locations in Los Angeles and the Fresno/Bakersfield areas over the next seven years, according to a press release.
“This is a full-circle moment for Eli and me,” Jason DeMayo, CEO of Hungry Hospitality, said in the release. “Growing up in the Bay area, I distinctly remember Eli telling me when we were kids that one day we would own a sandwich shop together. All these years and a million twists along the way, that is exactly what we are doing on a massive scale.”
Though Jason DeMayo grew up in hospitality thanks to his father, Woody — a veteran of Carl’s Jr., Wing Stop and other restaurant entities over the past five decades — the University of Oregon music major’s focus was music much of his life until the onset of the pandemic. In fact, DeMayo still heads Street Joy, a band that has put out albums and played on major stages including South by Southwest.
“While working in music most of my career, I did dabble in hospitality while living in Southern California prior to COVID-19,” Jason DeMayo said. “When the pandemic hit, I began working with my father’s restaurants as a stop-gap but fell in love with it. Eli, who worked in acting for years prior, was ready to make a move as well, so we put wheels in motion the past several years to align with my father and take the next steps with a brand that we personally love.”
Illishah is a long-time fan of the brand, while Jason DeMayo was introduced by way of Mr. Pickle’s CEO Mike Nelson, a veteran of Carl’s Jr., Wing Stop and Subway, who worked with Woody DeMayo.
“During its first three decades, thanks to its company culture, incredible recipes, and all its fans, the brand grew from one to 56 locations across northern California,” Nelson said. “We look forward to growing in partnership with Hungry Hospitality and fellow franchisees over the next several years as we move toward nationwide expansion.”
According to DeMayo, the brand is unique in that it doesn’t turn to big-box vendors for its core ingredients, instead partnering with artisan bakers, regional farms and ranches to source its products.
“You will not see six-inch and footlong options from us, more specialty breads than uniform options,” Nelson said.