Maybe, Victoria Trujillo crossed her fingers, he would have some specific advice to make her dream of opening a cake business a reality.
"I figured I'd give it a shot," the single mom and Indiana University South Bend business major said, after listening to what she described as an inspiring talk. "I liked his personality and enthusiasm. For someone who is that successful, he's a normal person."
He graduated second to last in his high school class in 1983. Instead of like his father and brother, Jimmy John wanted to start a hot dog stand.
He opened a sandwich shop instead and made his first million dollars at age 30.
"I found I love making sandwiches for people. I love cooking for people. I love giving somebody a product and them giving me money and saying 'thank you.' It buzzed my soul," he said.
The 48-year-old is still majority owner of a private company that bears his name, markets its sandwich-making and delivery as "freaky fast," operates more than 1,200 primarily franchised stores, and employs thousands of people.
Jimmy John could retire.
But he doesn't want to.
When it was Trujillo's turn to meet Jimmy John, she nervously explained her passion for baking. Her desire to start a business. Her dream for even a taste of the kind of he's enjoyed.
He gave her much more than reassurance.
"He handed me his business card and told me to e-mail him. I'm supposed to remind him we talked at Notre Dame, and he said I could meet up with him in Champaign," at Jimmy John's corporate offices in Illinois.
He wants her to finish her business plan, first, of course.
When a reporter asked Jimmy John whether he
really intends to follow through with the meeting -- maybe he was just being nice -- he looked offended.
"If I can help her, that's an hour. Are you kidding?" he asked. "Do I sound like a guy who doesn't live up to his promise? There you go."
Jimmy John said he will meet with the IUSB student because, 1. she made the effort to meet him, 2. she said it's her passion and she's great at making cakes, and 3. she's a single mom, had kids at a young age, and "now she's ready to rock."
"That's what it's all about, are you kidding?" he asked. "I love growing young people, watching people bloom, love helping people. It's about teaching them to fish, but not giving them fish."
When Jimmy John takes the stage, he commands the room with a powerful voice (he says he used to listen to music too loud), humor, infectious enthusiasm and honest advice.
"Arrive (to work) an hour earlier and stay an hour later. Work on Saturday. Volunteer for everything you can. Man, just do it," he said. "Even if your boss doesn't notice, someone will. Anything you can do that shows that you're trying to kick ass -- show them you kick ass. Hard work separates good from great."
Andy Knapick, one of three local Jimmy John's franchisees in our region, says it's hard not to feed off Jimmy John's energy.
Jimmy is the brand.
"The biggest thing is he wants to keep it real. He's upfront and honest and likes to help young people. I've heard a lot of people say, 'Jimmy gave me an hour of his time.' That shows how passionate he is," Knapick says. "And his story is the American dream. If you work hard enough at something and don't give up, you can make it happen."