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Local produce possible at Firehouse Subs

Previously thrown away, these buckets now sell for $2 each.

Previously thrown away, these buckets now sell for $2 each to help fund foundation grants.

A couple of months ago, No More Empty Pots had the opportunity to visit the new Firehouse Subs near 72nd and Jones ST in Omaha. Robin Sorenson, co-founder with his brother Chris, was in town to share the Firehouse Sub story. Robin tells the story well.  He loves food. His favorite memories are around food. Robin comes from a family of firefighters known for good food, great fellowship and camaraderie at a communal table at the firehouse. And his mother cooked meals every night. You can find details here on the website: Firehouse Subs.

The real fun in this personal visit is hearing the story from Robin while the attentive and conscientious staff serve sub after sub after sub. From the Hook & Ladder to the New York Steamer to the Italian to the Smokehouse Beef & Cheddar Brisket, the subs just kept coming. Firehouse Subs takes pride in the quality ingredients and that shows. The basil from the Italian was in the air before the sub hits the table. For each sub, the meat and cheese are steamed to release flavors and the bread is grilled perfectly, every time.

To take advantage of the over 700 store purchasing power, supplies are purchased  in bulk then distributed to each location. From the wonderfully textured bread that reminds you of a poboy sandwich to the ‘at least 16 hours’ smoked brisket from Sadler’s Smokehouse in Texas to the napkins and forks, the purchases are centralized.

The purchasing exception is produce. Sourced locally there is an opportunity for local and regional growers and farmers to get their products on a sub by selling to a distributor or wholesaler that supplies a local Firehouse Sub store. Firehouse Subs sends their own inspectors for random checks at local suppliers to help ensure that quality standards are met. They are serious about every item on that sub.

Robin shared information about  the business of Firehouse Subs too. The founders spent about $30,000 in start-up funding – from themselves, friends and family. When the first store made $347,000 they knew they were on to something. It is now a $450 million business. Firehouse Subs operations became debt free in 2000 and has been ever since. Robin was adamant that they are successful because of discipline and watching every penny. He offered this advice, ” Don’t let personal lifestyles determine business decisions.”  The company uses data, analytics, forecasting and demographics to make the decisions that determine their paths.

One contradiction to data led decisions is related to stories in caring for people who need help. The Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation, a charitable foundation of the company, has awarded over $7.7 million to date. The foundation contributes to communities where Firehouse Subs are located and to national and international disasters. Grants are available by applying online. From the catastrophic events in Haiti to Hurricane Katrina, residents have benefited from the generosity of Firehouse Subs patrons and franchisees. Robin admonishes, “If it is on your heart to do it, just do it. Don’t ask anybody’s permission.”

This spring Firehouse Subs plans to add lighter fare to the menu. The under 500 calorie menu will include a chicken salad made from scratch daily (Robin’s mom’s recipe) and a new sweet Thai chili pork sub. With local produce sourcing and more fresh salad options there will be more opportunity for local ingredients in Firehouse Subs stores.  Another local/regional option available at Firehouse Subs is Sparky’s Wing & Dippin’ Sauce from Grand Island firefighter, Todd Morgan. Sparky’s has quite a following.

Firehouse Subs is a leader in fast casual dining. People centered leadership, fantastic service and subs that deliver on taste are key to selling over 1 million subs in a week. Stop by a local store and find out for yourself.

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