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Houston Hartwig

Owner of Jimmy John’s in Storm Lake, Sioux Center and Sheldon

SIOUX CENTER—Real life has gone beyond what Houston Hartwig ever thought possible.

“This is beyond what I dreamed,” said Hartwig, 33, of opening three Jimmy John’s locations in three and half years.

The Sioux Center native is no stranger to the restaurant business as his parents opened and owned Hardee’s in Sioux Center for 33 years. For 11 years they also owned the Hardee’s in LeMars, Orange City, Sheldon, Spencer and Storm Lake as well as Worthington, MN.

Hartwig started working at the Sioux Center Hardee’s when he was 14. After college, he became branch manager for up to three Hardee’s locations but he felt a tug toward another brand as the family looked to the future.

“I walked into a Jimmy John’s and the employees were singing, dancing, having fun, doing great work, it was clean. I ordered a No. 9 with hot peppers and just loved it all,” he said. “I knew I wanted to bring this to Sioux Center.”

Because of its population size, however, Sioux Center originally was not an option. The Jimmy John’s franchise did not open in towns smaller than 10,000. The closest option Hartwig had was Storm Lake, which he opened in October 2017. That location was recognized as one of the franchise’s top 10 operating locations in 2018-19, which brought company founder Jimmy John Liautaud to Hartwig’s Storm Lake business.

Hartwig’s success there led the company to tour Sioux Center upon his request and gave him the green light to build. The Sioux Center location has become one of the top grossing sales stores in the smallest town with a free-standing building that has gained national recognition.

His third location will open March 16 at Crossroads Travel Plaza in the northeast corner of the Highway 60 expressway and Highway 18 intersection east of Sheldon.

It took a lot of work to get here as Hartwig slept in the Storm Lake store three nights a week for several months to make sure his first store was a success.

“We’re kind of pioneering the small-town category for the franchise,” he said. “The fact that we did something no one else has ever done and are thriving at it is so exciting.”