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Subway super fan wins free sandwiches for life after getting foot-long tattoo

"I love Subway, so I’m proud of this," said James Kunz, Colorado doctoral student and the lucky recipient of a foot-long tattoo and free subs for life.
James Kunz getting his Subway Series tattoo at Bad Apple Tattoo in Las Vegas.
James Kunz getting his Subway Series tattoo at Bad Apple Tattoo in Las Vegas.Subway

A Pew Research Center study from 2010 found that 72% of adults with tattoos said their ink is usually hidden from view by clothing. This is certainly the case for one Colorado man who has joined the 26% of Americans who have tattoos, but when he takes off his shirt, my, oh my, will people be able to see it.

On Wednesday, Subway threw a block party in front of Las Vegas tattoo parlor Bad Apple Tattoo to celebrate its new Subway Series menu. While the party only lasted a day, nine super fans were offered the opportunity to get a permanent token, care of Subway: a tattoo of the Subway Series logo. That elite crew would then receive a range of prizes, from a month of free Subway sandwiches up to a lifetime supply of lunchtime bliss.

“Tattoos hold a special meaning for my customers, they come to me to celebrate the things they love the most or to commemorate a major moment in their lives,” said tattoo artist DJ Tambe in a press release about the event — and celebrate they did.

Participant Michael Booker getting a Subway Series tattoo at Bad Apple Tattoo.
Participant Michael Booker getting a Subway Series tattoo at Bad Apple Tattoo.Subway

If you thought no one would possibly take them up on that offer, you would be wrong. In fact, all nine slots were scooped up well before the 3 p.m. deadline, including the big one: a foot-long tattoo. That distinction goes to James Kunz, a Fort Collins, Colorado doctoral candidate who received a 12-by-12-inch tattoo, earning him free subs for life.

“A super fan flew out from Colorado and waited two days in line,” said a reporter from NBC affiliate KSNV.

In an interview with TODAY Food, Kunz said the decision to get the tattoo came from a personal place.

“When I was a teenager, I was still kind of chunky,” said Kunz, adding that it was around that time he decided to start working out. He said that, while the biggest thing for him in making a lifestyle change was starting an exercise regimen, Subway was a factor in his becoming a healthier person. “Because of that, I have kind of a brand loyalty.”

Kunz said that he first saw the promotion when a friend of his shared it with him on social media as a joke. But for him, it was no laughing matter. (Well, maybe a little bit.)

"I said, 'No, no, I’m totally serious about this. I love Subway, and I’d be pumped to get this tattooed and get Subway for life,' and so I went for it,” Kunz said. “And I’m super glad I went for it. It was a total blast.” 

James Kunz after receiving his foot-long Subway Series tattoo at Bad Apple Tattoo in Las Vegas.
James Kunz after receiving his foot-long Subway Series tattoo at Bad Apple Tattoo in Las Vegas.Subway

Just to give you an idea of what a conversation with Kunz is like, an initial missed call to his cell phone was met with the following outgoing voicemail message: “Hi this is Jimmy! If you can dream it, you can do it!” 

The chipper nature of Kunz was clear during a conversation with the Colorado State student set to begin the fifth year of his doctorate in industrial organizational psychology this fall. “It’s basically like work psychology. We tackle things like motivating workers,” Kunz explained.

Though Kunz learned about the contest over the weekend, he didn’t immediately jump on a plane from Colorado to Vegas. While debating on whether or not he should really take the tattoo plunge, Kunz wondered whether or not someone was already waiting in front of Bad Apple Tattoo. So, he did what any rational super fan would: He remotely hailed a Las Vegas Uber and asked the driver to check the front of the shop for him.

A participant who got a Subway Series tattoo at Bad Apple Tattoo.
A participant who got a Subway Series tattoo at Bad Apple Tattoo.Subway

“I thought, 'Well, it’s pretty hot out there. I don’t know if I want to sit out that long,” Kunz said. “My sister’s local, but she was at work. So I thought, ‘Maybe if I call an Uber driver … ’”

Luckily for Kunz, the driver told him that there was nobody waiting, so on Monday, he traveled to Las Vegas and perched himself in front of the tattoo parlor. During his time waiting in front of the shop, Kunz said his sister brought him water and snacks, and even though he was initially nervous sitting in front of the shop for two whole days and nights, he said the owners of the shop and all the tattoo artists were incredibly kind to him.

“I was intimidated,” Kunz said. “I walked in a couple of days early just to say, 'Hey, I plan on camping out and I hope I’m not a nuisance.' I thought they were going to think I was crazy.”

Kunz said, in addition to his sister, the folks at the shop checked if he was hydrated while enduring the Las Vegas heat and that it made him feel less intimidated about the tattoo he was getting. “They really have a very real community there. They really care about each other and that made the wait easier in terms of the initial intimidation that I felt going in,” he said.

For Kunz, the initial hit of the needle was a rude awakening. In fact, this tattoo was his very first foray into the land of permanent ink.

A Bad Apple Tattoo artist inking a Subway super fan.
A Bad Apple Tattoo artist inking a Subway super fan.Subway

“I hadn’t even thought about the tattoo itself, because I was just hoping that I’d be first in line,” Kunz said. “When I actually got in the chair, I don’t think I knew what I was in for. And I was like … by the end of it, just blown away by the pain.”

Not-so-fun fact: For those who get ink, it typically is more painful to get tattooed in a muscular spot then a fatty one (like your butt or thigh), so for Kunz, who appears to be all traps, lats and delts, a few breaks were necessary for him to get his bearings. 

James Kunz with a Subway sandwich.
James Kunz with a Subway sandwich.Subway

“I think that I slowed down DJ, because I needed so many breaks to rest up for a while,” Kunz said. “So he could have done it faster. I took maybe 30 minutes worth of breaks, so it was probably like four-and-a-half hours of needling.”

His loved ones, he said, were all supportive of his tattoo journey, telling him to “go for it” — including his girlfriend Kate.

“When I first told her, she thought I was kind of nutty,” Kunz said. “But she’s really supportive and knows that I love Subway.” 

Subway is the latest in a long line of restaurants and food brands who have offered tattoos for free food, including restaurants like Farmer Boys and Casa Sanchez and brands like Duke’s Mayonnaise and Drumstick.

While Kunz said that many more than nine people showed up to get a tattoo, he and eight others behind him in line ended up being the lucky recipients, and for that, Subway commends him.

People waiting in line at Bad Apple Tattoo.
People waiting in line at Bad Apple Tattoo.Subway

“The launch of the Subway Series earlier this month was a significant moment for Subway,” a Subway spokesperson told TODAY. “Celebrating with James, DJ and some of our most passionate and dedicated fans was the perfect ending to an unforgettable July. We are humbled by how much these super fans love Subway and our 12 new, most craveable subs ever.”

If in the future, a stranger catches a glimpse of his tattoo at the gym or at the beach, he has a response ready.

“I’m grateful to Subway, long story short,” Kunz said. “I would just tell if people love something that much, then more power to them. And for me, I love Subway, so I’m proud of this.”