During his days as a promising Detroit Tigers prospect, Anthony Tomey’s pitches were freaky fast.
Armed with a fastball that lit up JUGS guns at speeds reaching 96 miles per hour, Tomey averaged more than a strikeout an inning for the Tigers’ minor league affiliates beginning in 2003, including one memorable “K” against future Hall-of-Famer Jim Thome, who had returned to the minors briefly for a rehabilitation assignment.
When life threw Tomey a change-up in 2008, he launched it out of the park — and the lifelong metro-Detroiter has been swatting tape-measure home runs in the restaurant industry ever since.
The Tomey Group is among the top five Jimmy John’s franchise operators in the United States.
“In 2008, we owned and operated four Jimmy John’s and my dad (Fawzi) basically said we were going to stop expanding, at least until I was done playing baseball,” Tomey said. “Even when I was pitching in the Tigers organization, I was still involved in the operations. After batting practice, I’d jump on my computer and everybody was like, ‘What are you doing?’
“My dad would have loved to see me pitch forever, but I made a decision at that point to trade in baseball for the family business.”
Turns out it was a shrewd decision.
“I’ve made a lot more money selling sandwiches than I ever would have playing baseball,” Tomey said, smiling.
Never a dull moment
In March, Tomey’s family-run Farmington Hills-based company partnered with The Jonna Group (which is led by his brothers-in-law Simon and Raymond Jonna) to open Michigan’s first Chicken Guy! franchise in Livonia — with a forecast for 20 more Guy Fieri-themed chicken locations to open in metro-Detroit.
Making the best use of all 24 hours he is allotted per day, Tomey has also been instrumental in the launch of 8 Mile Vodka and the Born in Detroit Apparel brand.
“I wake up at 5 a.m. every day, hit the gym, come home and take the kids to school,” said Tomey. “Then I get on the phone with members of our team and see who needs help, so I bounce around to our different stores. I try to be the best husband I can be to my wife Rita and the best father to my sons (Anthony, Nicholas and Luka).
“I love what I’m doing. There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.”
Tomey is the epitome of a hands-on owner.
“I swear I make the best Jimmy John’s sandwich in the world,” he said with a hearty laugh. “My entire family is like that — we’re not above doing anything we ask our employees to do.”
Tomey said there is no secret sauce that has led to his family’s success.
“We out-work people and we do things the right way — no short-cuts,” he said. “My dad always told us that when you go to bed at night you should sleep well, knowing you’ve worked hard and done the right thing.”
A Detroiter, through and through
Tomey was born in Detroit and lived the first five years of his life in Redford Township, before his family moved to Farmington Hills just before his sixth birthday.
After graduating from Detroit Catholic Central in 1999, he was drafted by the Cleveland Indians, but decided to attend Eastern Michigan University, where he earned a degree in business and pitched for the highly-regarded baseball team.
“We had some very talented teams at Eastern,” he said. “We beat a Nebraska team one year — I pitched against (future New York Yankees ace) Joba Chamberlain — that had a bunch of studs, including (future Kansas City Royals star) Alex Gordon.
“Being a MAC school, we just didn’t have the depth required to make long runs in the post-season.”
Almost a Wolverine
Tomey said he was close to pitching for the University of Michigan.
“Michigan’s coach told me that if Rich Hill signed a pro contract instead of coming to Michigan, they’d sign me,” Tomey recounted. “Well, Rich Hill signed with Michigan and is still pitching in the Major Leagues at 41.
“If I was left-handed like him, I think I’d still be pitching.”
Tomey delivered a hearty laugh.
His four years at Catholic Central were life-altering, Tomey emphasized.
“That place is amazing,” he said. “It’s impossible to describe the positive effect attending Catholic Central had on me. The academic discipline I experienced there … let’s just say it made college academics seem easier.
“Of all my friends who went to Catholic Central, there’s not one that’s not successful. They prepare you for success. It’s like, it’s not okay to fail there. That culture — along with my parents’ upbringing — helped make me who I am today, which is why I give back as much as I can.”
The Tomey family’s passion for giving back is as powerful as its work ethic.
The Born In Detroit Apparel brand recently partnered with the Kirk Gibson Parkinson’s Foundation to raise money for Parkinson’s Disease research.
Two-year-old apparel line is booming
Just two years old, Born In Detroit Apparel’s growth is blowing up, as it recently signed a partnership with the University of Michigan and has a strong relationship with other big-time metro-Detroit organizations, including the Detroit Pistons.
“We’re teaming up with several high schools — Catholic Central, De La Salle and the Detroit Public Schools, to name a few — who are using our brand,” Tomey said. “When I attended De La Salle’s state championship football game (in November), I saw more Born In Detroit brand shirts than anything else.”
Tomey said while The Tomey Group’s present is bright, the future is brighter.
“One thing you can say about us is we’re not afraid of growth,” he said.
And like his fastball and Jimmy John’s delivery service, don’t be surprised if that growth comes at a freaky-fast rate.
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