PART TWO: The Experience
Firehouse Subs was growing by leaps and bounds. They were seemingly unstoppable. The Sorensens were trying to keep pace with it all, but Chris and Robin could not go it alone. Eleven years ago the Sorensens knew it was time that they go “big business” and they brought in Don Fox as their CEO. Don was no stranger to the fast food industry with his tenure with a very large burger chain and other places in the industry. Robin cites that Don has brought the company the executive leadership that it needed, but also is quick to say that he and brother Chris still remain the visionaries and company compass.
I met with Don, a mild mannered guy that knows the company and his industry well. Under his direction Firehouse is debt free and has over 770 locations in 41 states and Puerto Rico. “Our growth is solid and steadfast,” he proclaimed. Don goes on to say, “This is a company that dedicated to its customers and to the people that make it work every single day, as well as to the communities we serve.”
Robin enthusiastically told me that it was time to eat. He and his team whisked me away to several of their corporate stores to get me to take in the full “Firehouse Subs Experience.” I did not know that it was going to becoming an all out tasting experience. Robin had me try the “Hook and Ladder” sub, which is their top seller. And being a New Yorker, I had to try the “New York Steamer.”
I also tried the “Hook and Ladder Light”, which is off their Under 500 (calorie) menu to compare between the original. Truthfully, the taste differential was minimal. I also enjoyed Don Fox’s favorite, the Under 500 “Turkey Salsa Verde.”
Equally intriguing is their business partnership with Coca-Cola, allowing them to offer 100 different drink options using the Coca-Cola Freestyle Drink Machine. Don told me that they are the first and only fast/causal franchise to use the Freestyle machines throughout the company.
When we returned back to the corporate office, I was met with Robin Peters, the Executive Director of their foundation. Robin is a petite woman that was filled with passion for what she is doing. She has been in the fundraising game for many years and is quite persuasive. She was eager to tell me about the Firehouse foundation and its allocation of funds.
I was quite to surprise at the amount of money they have raised as a restaurant chain and that the funds get used in ways that best serves the community. For example, she told me a story about one of their franchisee’s employees. They had purchase for a fire company much need Jaws of Life. Little did they know that the first person to have need for them would have been a Firehouse franchisee’s employee who was involved in a very bad car accident just days after the fire/rescue company had received the Jaws of Life.
“That young man would not be alive today if the foundation was not around,” Peters stated. “The single principle of this foundation is to make a difference and help our communities,” she continued. And they continue to do so every chance they get. “We are now getting donations from other sources and our foundation is going. To date, we have distributed millions of dollars of equipment to fire and rescue, police and other community services,” Peters stated.
This was one interesting company with more than one story to tell. I now could understand why Josh wanted to be part of the Firehouse family. Firehouse is not just another fast food franchise; it is something more. It is about people, it’s about customers and it’s about the community it feeds. It is a company with values, and in today’s world, that is something that is both fresh and refreshing just like their subs and drinks.