In Indiana, Subway Jared's downfall is deeply personal
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — For 15 years, they've asked Tim Wintsch, "Is this Jared's Subway?" The store manager, who has made sandwiches here since 1999, would grin below his black visor and point to the receipts, which read: Jared's Subway.
The customers would laugh. They'd snap photos. They wondered where he sat.
"One found out I used to serve Jared," recalls Wintsch, 30. "He asked me to sign a napkin."
The mood has darkened since Subway cut ties with the now infamous pitchman, who, as legend goes, lived above this shop when he lost 245 pounds on a Subway diet. Jared Fogle, known nationwide as "the Subway Guy," agreed to a plea deal last week for possessing child pornography and crossing state lines to pay for sex with minors.
On Sunday, Wintsch ran the cash register. He glanced out the window, grateful the news crews had moved on. Two young men in basketball shorts eyed the menu. One turned to his friend, snickering: "Is this Jared's dungeon?"
The end of a prominent role model for children, a family man who traveled the United States lecturing to elementary school students about eating right, is felt most intimately in Indiana.
To the rest of the country, Fogle, 37, was the approachable everyman who appeared in 300 Subway commercials, often holding up a pair of size 60 jeans he said he used to wear.
But to Hoosiers, Fogle's former classmates and neighbors, he was a local legend — a regular guy, born in Indianapolis, who achieved an extraordinary feat in an apparently simple way: a cup of coffee at breakfast, a turkey sub for lunch and a veggie sub for dinner. Every day. For a year. At 401 South Woodlawn Ave., steps from his apartment and blocks from the heart of Indiana University.
"It makes me sick," Wintsch said, "the way he let us down."
Over the last eight years, as Fogle appeared on television with Michael Phelps and Miss Piggy, prosecutors say he planned his business trips around meeting underage girls.
He also traded photos and videos of naked children as young as 6 with his partner in the Jared Foundation, a nonprofit organization that, according to USA Today, never paid out a grant for its stated mission of fighting childhood obesity.
Fogle agreed to serve at least five years in prison and pay $100,000 to each of his 14 victims.
Forbes estimates his spokesman-turned-child-advocate perch, a role that inspired "Saturday Night Live" impersonations and a chat with Oprah Winfrey, bagged Fogle more than $15 million.
His profile rose after a college reporter broke the story about his weight loss in 1999. A health journalist in New York noticed the coverage in Bloomington and, soon after, so did a Subway scout in Chicago. Fogle starred in his first Subway commercial in 2000.
He defied the spokesman prototype. He wasn't a celebrity endorsing a brand. He became a celebrity by peddling sandwiches.
Beyond Subway, Indiana defined his public persona. He wore Colts jerseys. He raised his two children in a northwestern suburb of Indianapolis. He spoke at fundraisers for local children. He marched for race fans in the IPL 500 Festival Parade. He visited his alma mater with the size 60 jeans. He kicked off Bloomington's 2015 Hoosier Half Marathon.
Fogle's campaign, anchored by his wholesome image, proved successful: Between 2000 and 2006, Subway's domestic sales doubled, from $3.8 billion to $7.7 billion. It ended abruptly in July after authorities raided Fogle's home.
The lurid details surfaced in an Indianapolis courthouse. Subway promptly fired Fogle. "Jared's Pants Dance," an online game, vanished from the chain's Subway Kids site.
His wife announced plans for divorce. His family released a statement saying they are "very concerned for the well being" of his victims. His high school in Indianapolis removed his portrait.
"He was an icon," said Whitney Galster, 23, a nursing student who grew up in a nearby suburb. "A legend here. And now he makes us look bad."
Nazret Gebru, 25, a project manager for a local parking business, remembers writing part of Fogle's script for a 2011 fundraiser in Indianapolis. Hundreds of people flocked downtown. They raised more than $40,000 for homeless teenagers.
"Indianapolis isn't a huge city," said Gebru, an IU business student at the time, "so when you have someone like Jared, a spokesperson representing a large restaurant chain, you tend to think highly of them."
Ken Ungar, president and founder of U/S Sports Advisors, a marketing agency in Indianapolis, has over the years worked with Fogle in his Subway role.
His star power was especially potent here.
"He was a local celeb," said Ungar, 52. "People saw him at Pacers games, Colts games. People would shout out his name."
His undoing shouldn't tarnish Indiana's reputation, however. "I don't see anything he did in terms of helping the state," Ungar said. "I'd heard of his work, his foundation — it seems now that was an illusion."
At the Read Residence Center, the dormitory where Fogle spent his freshman year at Indiana University, two new students discussed the grim news. Beside a half-eaten bag of Starburst, a copy of the student paper sat on a wooden desk: JARED TO PLEAD GUILTY. (Fogle's former room was closed for renovations.)
"He was like the most famous average guy in the history of the world," said Jack Carey, 18, from Park Ridge, Illinois, who lives on Fogle's old floor.
"His Subway," added Joey Riebel, 19, from Peoria, Illinois, "it's like a historic site."
A half-mile away, at the Subway once known as Jared's, Wintsch, the veteran employee, said business continues.
"If anything," he said, "we're busier now."
The fraternity brothers and sorority sisters who live in the mansions on nearby Third Street still come in for $5 foot-longs. As do the ROTC students, famished after a workout. And the School of Optometry employees, who walk across the street on lunch breaks.
Outside the brown-brick building, up the concrete steps, three women now live in Fogle's old apartment.
On Sunday evening, white Christmas lights twinkled on the walls. A floral ceramic pot of lentil soup cooled on the kitchen stovetop. The shades stayed down.
Barbara Bright-Read, 19, from West Lafayette, Ind., sat on the wood floor, painting her toenails red. "The worst part is: I'm the one who chose this place," she said, slumped over.
The music school, where she plays the French Horn, is a 10-minute walk. And normally the place is quiet, just far enough from the Greek houses and bars.
The roommates have seen the reporters outside, the people taking photos. They look forward to the pitchman's memory fading. They plan to avoid Subway.