A Tasty Venture
Bringing fast food to Russia has been an action-packed pursuit for Jim Gansinger ’67
by Matt ZENCEY
When Jim Gansinger ’67 and two partners launched a fast-food franchise in the world’s largest Communist country, he says “the driving force was not so much making money but how fascinating it would be.”

It was 1991, and the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev was just opening for private Western investment. “We had a bit of the ‘do-gooder’ instinct,” Gansinger says.

It would be years before their venture would make Gansinger and his partners any money, but there were plenty of fascinating adventures.

Early on, Gansinger was scoping business opportunities in a small Soviet rust-belt town when word came that the Soviet Union had officially dissolved.

Jim Gansinger
Photo: ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Stock Photo
Jim Gansinger ’67, speaking here at a global conference, says he could have opted for the Subway franchise in Britain, “but that wouldn’t have been as interesting.”

It took another three years before Gansinger and his partners could work through Russia’s chaotic economic and political transition to open their flagship Subway sandwich store in St. Petersburg. Unbeknownst to them, their Russian venture partners were mafia thugs, who would soon come in with guns drawn and literally steal the store from them. It took eight years of legal struggle to get it back. At times, Gansinger traveled under an assumed name for self-protection.

Since then, the business has expanded, peaking at 700 stores a few years ago — until the Russian economy was devastated by international economic sanctions imposed for invading and annexing Crimea.

Today, Gansinger owns 600 Subway shops across Russia, making his the country’s largest fast-food franchising company.

The work has taken Gansinger on some 200 trips covering more than 800,000 miles across Russia. “Russia remains a land of great opportunity with markets that are largely untapped. It is not, however, a place for the fainthearted or the foolish,” he observes.

At Bucknell, Gansinger was a history and English major. Before launching his franchise, he’d never studied Russian language or culture. Rather, the franchise venture was a sideline to a successful career as a business litigator following his 1970 graduation from Stanford Law.

He’s often asked how he ended up in the Russian sandwich business. He delivers his stock answer with a wry laugh: “A series of bad judgments … but I’ve had an incredible 25 years of life experiences.”