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Firehouse Subs: A Taste of Human Kindness in Every Bite

Robert, Chris and Robin Sorensen in their firefighter days.
Robert, Chris and Robin Sorensen in their firefighter days.
Firehouse Subs

This is a story about a fast casual food chain. It is not an article intended to promote the brand in any way, but it is an article that makes a statement and says something about people, their ideology and commitment to values. I just felt compelled to let you in on it. There was a lot to tell that this article had to be broken into two parts.

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Firehouse Subs

PART ONE: The Story

A month ago, I found myself totally famished while driving home after a long day. It was late and I was hungry. With nothing in the house to eat other than canned tuna and with my favorite sushi place would be closing in matter of minutes and was completely across town, my stomach was not very happy.

I was not in the mood for a burger or pizza. Suddenly like a distance there was a foodie oasis in the form of Firehouse Subs. Perfect choice and my stomach agreed. Quick, easy and just what this doctor ordered.

But all hope was suddenly dashed when I found the door locked. I looked at my watch it was 9:10 pm! As I started walking back to my car, I heard the click of a deadbolt turning and then a voice calling to me. I turned to hear—“Can I help you?”

“I was just looking for a bite to eat, but I see you are closed,” I said. “ No problem, I have not started to clean up yet, so come on in and I’ll fix you something,” said this man with a big smile on his face.

Wow! Where was I the land of OZ? Opening up after closing? I probably was going to get the day’s leftovers.

The kind man asked what I would like. I perused the menu board and saw so many options. How could I choose? I told him to surprise me. In the end, he made me one of Firehouse’s limited specials--the Sweet Thai Chili Pork sub. Heaven on a role! What a taste sensation. There was a party going in my mouth. I was in foodie heaven. It was so good, I asked him to make me one to go (for tomorrow night’s dinner.)

I finally asked him his name. “Josh,” he said. I thanked my newfound friend for the great sandwich and for opening the place up for me. He quickly blurted that I looked like a man in need of a delicious sub.

As I enjoyed my sub, I could not help but notice signs asking for donations. I asked Josh why they were collecting donations. Excitedly, he told me about the foundation that the owners of Firehouse had set up to give back to the community.

Josh went on to tell me that Firehouse Subs founders, Chris and Robin Sorensen, along with their partner Stephen Joost formed the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation nine years ago. They have already raised over $11M with each of the franchisees helping to raise money through the support of their patrons and through the purchase of the Firehouse Subs pickle buckets.

Josh was genuinely enthusiastic about this foundation and about Firehouse Subs. He told me that he chose Firehouse as a franchise because of their founders and the history of the company. It sounded something out of a Horatio Alger tale.

I knew I had to find out more. So, I threw some money into the foundation bin, paid for my subs and thanked Josh for his kindness.

First thing the next morning, I went to the Firehouse Subs website to check things out. There it was, the foundation information on the site. “The Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation is dedicated to improving the life-saving capabilities of first responders and public safety organizations in communities served by Firehouse Subs by providing funding, resources and support.”

I was now more intrigued than ever about this company. Did I just hit upon Josh as a one of a kind nice guy or was he truly part of a supportive team driven by an extraordinary company? I called the Firehouse Subs’ corporate office in Jacksonville, Florida.

I did not say that I was a reporter and just asked to speak with someone about the company. The next thing I know, Robin Sorensen was on the phone. Robin is one of the two founders of Firehouse Subs along with his brother Chris.

I told him my tale of kindness with one of his franchisees and asked about questions and moreover, I wanted to learn of his foundation. He told me that there was a lot to tell and to my surprise he invited up to Jacksonville to visit him and his operation and talk to his staff and other employees, franchisees, and to chat with Robin Peters, the Executive Director of the foundation.

When I met Robin I found him to be literally a bigger than life man with a gentle demeanor, extremely personable and passionate about what he does. The first thing he told me was that he never, in his wildest dreams, ever expected to be in this position. His goal was to have a simple sub shop that supplied the best ingredients he could find. Little did he know that he and his brother had stumbled on the true recipe for success.

What he is most proud of is that fact that he can employ so many people and let other people in on his and his brother’s success with their franchisees. [Their] biggest accomplishment though is their foundation. “To be able to give back to the community is Firehouse’s greatest accomplishment,” Robin proclaimed. “We are very grateful for everything we have so, giving back to the community to let them know that we care and appreciate what [they] do makes our success all the better,” he continued.

He told me about his humble beginnings and about using his mother-in-law’s credit card to start the business. He and his brother were actual firefighters, along with their father Robert (lovingly referred to as the Captain.) They had no experience in the food service business. Before jumping in to the business, they checked out all the fast food places, sub shops and burgers joints and came up with their own spin on what they thought would work better. “A lot was done by trial and error or just plain happenstance,” Robin stated. “All we knew is that we wanted our food to be fresh and tasty; the best you can get—anywhere,” he elaborated. And Firehouse Subs was born.

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