Jared, like Bono and Madonna, is one of those celebrities who doesn’t need a last name. Say the name Jared and someone is likely to ask, “You mean the Subway guy?” Back in 1998, Jared Fogle was just another 425-pound college student on his way to an early grave from coronary disease. But then he discovered Subway—or rather, it discovered him. “I lived ten steps away from a Subway restaurant,” he says of his college dorm at Indiana University. “I shared a wall with it.” He ate two Subway sandwiches per day, and managed to drop a staggering 190 pounds. Fifteen years later, he’s kept the weight off. But more remarkably, he’s become an institution, the public face of the restaurant chain that saved his life. He’s no “Where’s the Beef” lady or Dominos Noid. He is to Subway what Ronald McDonald is to McDonald’s. He’s so closely associated with the franchise and its success that one can’t imagine Subway existing without him (or vice-versa).
I called Fogle—sorry, Jared—to talk about his remarkable career as the first guy you think of when you’re wondering “Do I want a six inch or a foot long?”
Let’s start by talking about your gigantic pants. The ones that travel with you when you go on tour or do public appearances. The pants from when you were Fatty McFatterson.
Yes, I know the ones you’re talking about.
Do you keep them in a safe place so you never have to worry about someone stealing them?
Yeah, they pretty much stay in a secure, undisclosed location. I’m not allowed to tell you where they are. No, no, I’m kidding.
But why wouldn’t you? Those pants are your bread and butter.
Yeah, it’s funny, those pants are more well-known than I am. Everyone wants to see the pants. Whether I’m meeting kids at a school or doing a TV interview, everybody want to know about the pants. They probably should have their own Twitter handle by now.
Do you take special care when cleaning them? We all have clothes that we know we shouldn’t put in the dryer because they’ll shrink. These pants – you accidentally shrink them, you’re in serious trouble.
They get washed a few times a year. They’re the original pair, and even though I don’t wear them anymore, you carry them around long enough, you’ve got to wash them. But I don’t put them in the dryer. I let them air dry. I want to make sure there’s no shrinkage.
At places like Disney World, they have several Mickey Mouses throughout the park. Have you ever thought about getting a second pair of gigantic pants, just in case?
Like a decoy? No, I haven’t, but there are times I want to clone myself, because I’ve got a million things going on and it would be nice to have another me. But the pants, no, the original pair is good. They are pretty sentimental to me.
You’ve done 300 Subway commercials. Is there a narrative? If you watch them all together, back-to-back, do they tell a story?
Interesting question. You know — not really. What’s interesting about them is that they continue to change and I think that is the important thing. Subway has been really good about not letting the message get stale. The fact that I’m still doing this fifteen years later is a testament to that. Because the American public can get sick of things really fast.
Mr. Whipple shot just over 500 ads for Charmin toilet paper. Can you beat his record?
I don’t know. I have a lot of respect for Mr. Whipple. He set the bar pretty high. We’ll see. If I do, I’ll have to send him a huge Subway cash card or something as a consolation.
I think he’s dead.
So his next of kin then. His family. I’ll send it to them.
I was hoping for some Mr. Whipple trash talking. Do me a favor and say “Mr. Whipple is going dooooown!”
[Laughing] No way. That’s not me.
It could be argued that you’re the pop culture spawn of Richard Simmons, the original fat guy who got skinny and became famous. Has he given you his blessing?
I met him one time a few years back and he was very nice. It was a real quick hello sort of thing. He and I were booked at a health fair in Columbus, Ohio. But he was nice. To each their own and he’s got a huge fan base and whatever comes to him, I think it’s great.
You’re trying to tell us you think he’s insane.
No, no, no!
I agree with you. I’ve talked to the man. He’s insane. But in a good way.
When I met him, he never stopped moving. I watched him up on stage and the man, for a half hour, never stopped moving. It was unbelievable. No wonder he stays so thin.
And he’ll break into song like a freaking Rodgers and Hammerstein character.
He does. He’s a human musical.
Do you have groupies?
Not really. I have fans. I have people who want a picture, they want an autograph. But I’m not an athlete, I’m not an actor, I’m not a musician. I’m the guy in Subway commercials.
You’re saying you’re not the Justin Timberlake of your profession?
I’m really not. But I do get recognized, sometimes in some pretty weird places. I remember a few years ago, getting off the plane in Australia. I’m in baggage claim at the Sydney Airport and I’m jet lagged. I’d flown in from LA or wherever it was, and I’m exhausted and tired and just waiting to get through customs. This guy taps me on the shoulder, and with a really, really thick Australian accent which I’m going to totally butcher right now, he says “You’re that bloke from the States who lost all that weight, aren’t you?” It was a very surreal moment for me.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever been asked to sign?
The strangest thing I’ve ever signed was someone’s actual Subway sandwich. Not the wrapper, but the actual bread. And I really cautioned that person not to eat the sandwich after I signed it. I can’t be responsible if you get Sharpie poisoning. But the guy was adamant. “Just please do it.” So I signed my first name on the first six inch and my last name on the last six. He was happy, he really was. I don’t know what ever happened to that sandwich.
I want to believe he shellacked it.
It could be on eBay right now. Who knows. Maybe he tried to sell it.
Did you see the South Park episode about you?
I did, yeah.
Was that upsetting, or did you find it funny?
I thought it was hilarious. Anybody who knows me knows I’m the first to laugh at myself. And I’ve got a pretty sick sense of humor about it. I was flattered. I mean, to have an entire episode of South Park devoted to me?
Exactly, yeah. When I first heard about it, I was thrilled. And then the next day I get a phone call. We find out the episode title.
Right, right. So we watched it, obviously.
Because you’re like, “I have AIDS? What the hell?”
It was so surreal.
It’s a play on words. Not AIDS as in the disease, but aides as in personal trainers and consultants.
I was laughing so hard.
How many times in a typical week do you have a Subway sandwich?
I’d say two or three. A couple of years back they sent me a Subway Black Card. They’ve actually sent them out to some of their famous fans like Robert Griffin III, Ryan Howard from the Phillies, Blake Gretchen from the LA Clippers. You can go to any Subway with it and pull out your VIP card and get whatever you want. It’s pretty cool.
If you walk into any Subway store in the nation and an employee doesn’t automatically go, “Holy shit, there’s Jared,” shouldn’t that employee be fired on the spot?
[Laughing] No, never. If they don’t know I’m coming, it is sort of funny just to see the reaction. Because most employees definitely know who I am. There has been a few times when I’ve walked in and they really haven’t recognized me at first and I sort of get a kick out of that.
At this point, after all these years of eating Subway, do you even need to look at the menu? Can you close your eyes and know exactly what you want?
Absolutely. Are you kidding me? I don’t need no stinkin’ menu.
I have a menu in front of me. Can you name all the veggies?
Let me see…lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, onion, red onions, green peppers, banana peppers, cucumbers, pickles, black olives. I think that’s it.
Nicely done. One more test. Tell me the sauces.
Oh gosh. Okay, we’ve got regular mayo, lite mayo, spicy mustard, honey mustard, sweet onion sauce, balsamic vinaigrette, red wine vinaigrette, regular mustard, spicy mustard. (Long pause.) Southwest sauce. I think that’s it.
This is very frustrating to me as a journalist. I wanted to trip you up.
I do know the product. After fifteen years, I definitely know the product. I dream about Subway.
Do you really? Are you being serious?
To be honest, every now and then I do. And I talk about Subway all day long. It’s what I do for work. It’s in my DNA now.
Let’s talk about the overweight years. You’ve said that at your heaviest, you were too fat to fit through doorways. Is that hyperbole? Because it sounds ridiculous.
No, it’s actually true. I mean, it depends on the doorway. There were plenty of doorways where if I didn’t turn sideways, I would not be able to walk through them. There was no going in the back seat of a car. I would literally choose my class schedule, when I was in college, by whether a classroom had seats with no arm rests. I was 425 pounds, which seems almost unfathomable to me now.
If I’m not mistaken, that is the weight of an average adult grizzly bear.
Have you ever attacked campers who left food outside?
I never did. But when I was big, there were the occasional missing campers. I don’t know, maybe I went on a binge.
Some people complain when they see fast food franchises popping up everywhere. They’re like, “Oh, another Subway. They’re slowly taking over the planet,” that kind of thing.
I don’t know if it’s that bad.
Last statistics I read, there’s roughly 30,000 Subways in 88 countries. There does seem to be a Subway on almost every corner. But couldn’t an argument be made — think about the fat people! They need to have accessibility so they can get to a Subway and lose weight. Is it possible that people who hate Subway secretly want fat people to die?
No, no. It’s not about that. It’s just…Subway is the biggest franchise in the world now. They offer a menu that has a lot of variety on it and they give people choices and that is what it is all about. Over the years, they’ve gotten thousands and thousands of letters and emails from people who heard about what I did. They saw an interview, they got inspired, and they started eating more Subway. Not necessarily every single day like I did. But just even a couple of days a week. And it started making a difference for them.
Because this is your job, you have to maintain the weight. A few years ago you gained 40 pounds, which was too much. What is your window? Can you gain up to five? Is there a contractual weight?
No, there’s not. I just call it the eyeball test. I want to maintain the weight for myself. But obviously, when you’re doing commercials, you want to make sure you’re looking the part. For me, it’s a motivation to keep the weight off. But like you’ve said, I’ve had a couple of hiccups along the way, like anybody else. And I can guarantee, before my life is over, I’ll have many more hiccups. But it’s just a matter of saying today is a new day and I’m going to keep going with it now and get back on track with it. Until they make a carrot stick that tastes as good as a mozzarella cheese stick, it’s going to be a battle.
I heard that Subway provided you with a personal trainer. Do you enjoy his company? Or does he have the soothing personality of a POW camp guard?
No, he’s good. He pushes me to a point I would never push myself to. I just want to stay where I’m at, so I’ve learned to like exercise. An hour a day, a few days a week. To me, that is a good amount. It’s not too much, it’s not too little. But you’ve got to do something. I’m 35 years old now. When I was in my early and mid 20s I could eat a lot more of the stuff that I shouldn’t have eaten and probably wouldn’t have had to do much to keep the weight off. But now I have to do more.
Subway’s marketing chief claimed that “one-third to one-half of Subway’s growth is because of Jared.” What does that translate to in terms of stock shares for you?
Subway is a private company, so there is no stock. But they did reload my Subway Black Card, and I was very happy about that. Hopefully it will extend my free years of Subway.
What does the future hold for you? Is there going to be a Jared movie? A Jared reality show? Jared on Dancing With The Stars?
You’re not going to see me on Dancing With The Stars. I have four left feet. But I don’t know, I think it’s an open book right now and the goal is to continue to keep the weight off and stay who I am. The folks at Subway have been really good about continuing to evolve the story and continue what the message ought to be now. I’m very grateful to them. I’m very grateful to you guys too. Everybody at Men’s Health.
We are the Dr. Frankenstein to your monster.
You really are. Men’s Health played a huge role in the start of this. You guys plugged me into that story, “Crazy Diets That Work” or whatever it was.
“Stupid Diets That Work.”
Yeah, yeah, that was it. It got me national attention. And it’s the reason Subway called and asked if I wanted to be in a commercial. My whole career came out of that. I’ll tell you, it meant a lot. It did a lot for me.
Don’t cross us, Jared. We made you, we can destroy you.
[Laughing] I’ll keep that in mind.
So listen, given how Men’s Health is responsible for your career and all, you think you could hook me up with one of those Subway Black Cards?
I think I might be able to help you out. I know a few people.
Don’t tease me.
I don’t know for sure if we can get you a Black Card, but we can get you a Subway card.
I just want access to the exclusive VIP rooms I’m pretty sure are hidden in all the Subway stores.
Oh yeah, that’s totally a real thing.
You show them your Black Card and they escort you to the back, where there are couches and cocktails and live jazz performers.
Exactly. They bring the trays of vegetables right over to your table. That’s exactly what happens.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on MensHealth.com.)