Jimmy John Liautaud is the founder of the national sandwich chain Jimmy John’s. He established his first location in 1983 in Charleston, Illinois. Jimmy first got the idea when visiting Southern Illinois University. He started it with a $25,000 loan his dad provided. He has now amassed a fortune of $1.7 billion, some of which he has been philanthropically giving away for years.
When he started Jimmy John’s, he saw a lot of struggling people in Charleston. He would help others out, such as paying for people’s dental work. He has now formalized his giving. Along with his wife, Leslie, they started the Liautaud Family Foundation. They donated about $2.3 million in 2018, mostly to health & wellness and educational causes.
An organization they have supported for a few years is the Horatio Alger Association. He never attended college but wants to help others from disadvantaged backgrounds do so. The Liautaud Foundation provided $1.291 million to this organization, which is being used to give disadvantaged youth scholarships.
Their three kids are helping to decide where the foundation money goes. The family supports an organization in Illinois that helps retired horses. They gave $2 million to Brewster Academy in New Hampshire. This was the boarding school that their children attended. They also regularly give money to the University of Illinois-Chicago.
Musician Zac Brown started Camp Southern Ground in Georgia and this is a special needs campus that focuses on children that are on the autism spectrum. Jimmy John Liautaud says that Zac Brown is an excellent leader and is doing a lot of good. This organization helps children on the spectrum eliminate problematic foods such as those with sugar and gluten. The Liautauds have given this organization $2.2 million.
Obesity research and awareness is important to the Liautaud family. They support the work of Mohamed Ali, MD. He works at UC Davis Health and performs gastrointestinal and bariatric surgeries. He researches how hormones and genetics can result in a person becoming obese. The Liautaud Foundation also provides money for obesity research at the Mayo Clinic Center.
Jimmy’s father, Big Jim, died from pancreatic cancer. Because of this, Jimmy John Liautaud and his wife gave money to the MD Anderson and Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. He says that eventually everyone needs to be helped in one way or another by a physician. They also support prostate cancer research.
Big Jim served in the Korean War. It was because of the GI Bill that he was able to attend the University of Urbana-Champaign. Liautaud’s brothers also served in the military. About 10 years ago, his restaurant chain gave $1 million to the Folds of Honor Foundation. This organization provides scholarships to the spouses and children of service members who died or were disabled during active duty.
Liautaud’s mother, Gina, and her family had to leave Lithuania when she was 10 years old as Germany had invaded it. They emigrated to the United States and settled in Chicago. His grandmother worked in the stockyards while his mother became a teacher. His father was African-American and from New Orleans, Louisiana. Big Jim was an entrepreneur. He started several companies that failed before creating several successful ventures.
Liautaud says he appreciates being American and how free enterprise and the privilege of freedom has helped him and countless others. He understands this freedom didn’t come without a price. He has been a major GOP donor for several years. This included supporting Carly Fiorina’s presidential campaign.
Read more about Jimmy’s philanthropic endeavors here.