Fred DeLuca, who parlayed a $1,000 loan from a friend into the global Subway sandwich chain, has died at 67 of leukemia, the company announced Tuesday.
DeLuca had been treated for the disease since 2013 and had named his sister, Suzanne Greco, as president to run day-to-day operations.
His death comes just weeks after Subway celebrated the company's 50th anniversary, the company said in a statement that called DeLuca a "franchising visionary."
He opened the first restaurant in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1965 as "Pete's Subway", borrowing $1,000 from family friend Peter Buck, who had suggested he open a shop to sell submarine sandwiches to finance his education.
The pace of growth accelerated considerably after 1974, when DeLuca and Buck sold the right to use the Subway brand to franchisees in return for marketing and other support.
Today, Subway boasts 44,270 restaurants in 110 countries, more than McDonald's, with the biggest representation outside North America in Australia, China, India and Europe.
Sales totalled $11.9 billion last year, according to Technomic, a food industry consultant.
Subway successfully pitched itself as a healthier alternative to McDonald's and other chains with servers freshly preparing the sometimes foot-long sandwiches before the customer.
The chain suffered a bout of negative publicity a month ago when former pitchman Jared Fogle pled guilty to having sex with minors and accepting child pornography.
Fogle had been at the center of a long-running advertising campaign claiming he lost 200 pounds (90 kilograms) in college by eating healthily at Subway sandwich shops.