Subway Franchisee Builds an Equity Empire

Signs have been cropping up of late announcing shopping developments from European Equities.

It’s not the invasion of the strong euro buying up undervalued American real estate. It’s the outgrowth of a Subway franchisee’s quest to build a fully vertical enterprise.

David McComas is the man behind European Equities, which has done $148-million in area developments in seven years. He also owns 23 Subway franchises on his way to 50. He builds equity for his mostly non-European partners through finding land, constructing buildings and leasing their space, including to his own Subway stores.

“I’m not a developer who depends on deals to support the organization,” said McComas, 39, who lives and works on a $50,000-per-Subway-per-year income. “You think more clearly when the only goal is to build equity.”

European Equities has about 30 projects under way or recently completed in the Tampa Bay area, Miami and Georgia. Of those, a third include one of his Subway stores, but the work involves many retail uses and tenants.

There’s a $1.3-million project at Bryan Dairy and 66th Street, a $1.7-million strip on 70th Avenue N, the $6.5-million deal on the Social Security Administration building at 10200 49th St. N, and a coming $2.6-million project at 6900 Park Blvd.

Near the Haines project is a $1.7-million Panchero’s Mexican restaurant at the site of the former Fish Tales. Just to the northwest, a $4-million Golden Corral restaurant is coming to 40th Street and Park Boulevard. Also looming are two more Pinellas Park developments: a $1.2-million deal at 49th Street and 94th Avenue N, and a $2.1-million project at 66th Street and 71st Avenue N.

There’s also a $4-million deal for Roosevelt and 128th Street and a $2-million gig at Ulmerton Road and 114th Street. A little down the pipeline is a yet-unpriced 10-acre, 50,000-square-foot grocery/retail concept at Ulmerton and Starkey. And all of that is just in south Pinellas; more lies north and east.

“Bigger is a relative term,” McComas said from his Clearwater office, “but my goal is to have $100-million in holdings, all from a $100,000 debt.”

McComas started out mortgaging the family home to buy his first Subway franchise in 1988. He was fresh out of high school and couldn’t afford college, so he mimicked Subway founder Fred Deluca, now a regular acquaintance, who was also a recent prep graduate when he started the ubiquitous sandwich chain back in 1965.

McComas built on his first franchise but also branched into point-of-sale software and had a brief flirtation with a dotcom business in 1999.

He emerged from those businesses with some cash but wanted to go back home and build. With four sandwich stores in 2000, he decided to “study my landlords,” he said.

He learned the real estate business and formed Whole Development, the construction arm of European Equities. And he made some potent, if quiet, friends whom he now counts among his equity partners: Greg Politis, Jim Moyles and Efrain Yepes locally, and others who live in Dubai and London, the origin of the “European” in the company name.

“I’m building the machine that creates a stable environment for my equity partners,” McComas said.

McComas’ Subway stores do about $10-million a year in sales while employing 200 people, he said.

European Equities and its affiliates employ another 20 with projects in excess of $100-million on the table.

Next, McComas will go the final vertical leg and supply his own food concept to install in the malls he has developed, alongside businesses like tanning salons and mobile phone stores.

“Now that I’ve been to the rodeo,” he said, “it’s time to decide what to do with life.”