Firehouse Subs Ringing Alarm for Growth

At Firehouse Subs, it all comes back to the food, says Greg Delks, director of franchise development. “Firehouse Subs was founded by firefighters, and they know where to go for great food and a lot of it. Our restaurants offer an environment and a dining experience where the customer can get a steaming hot sandwich with half a pound of meat.”

That quality and quantity translates into a good opportunity for investors. “The appeal of the food and the good ROI attract new franchisees,” says Delks, “and the way we manage the company keeps them happy. In an industry survey, our franchisees ranked as the most satisfied franchise owners in the business.” And while the accolades mean new restaurants and new franchisees keep coming, Delks says the growth remains deliberate.

“Two key factors for success in this industry are who is running the business and where it is located. We are growing, but growing with discipline,” he says.

“We get some 425 inquiries about franchising every month. The interest in owning is robust. There’s tremendous opportunity across the U.S.”

Franchise candidates are vetted very well. “We want to make sure this is a good fit. Candidates work in a restaurant for a full week before they ever sign an agreement. It’s a test drive for both of us,” says Delks. “We see how they interact with young crew members and how they are engaged. Of course, our hope is that at the end of the week they want to come on board, but for some, it is not the right fit, and that’s okay.”

A key component of selection is interaction with one of Firehouse Subs’ 45 area representatives, franchisees themselves, who have years of multiunit restaurant management experience. They become the selectors of candidates, then mentor and train candidates in their own restaurants. The franchisees brought into the system have a relationship with their ARs for the life of their Firehouse Subs agreement. (ARs share royalties for the work and support they give the franchisees in their areas.) “The only way to get to the Day of Discovery is through an AR,” says Delks.

Because of the close ties and constant business interactions ARs have with the franchisees, Firehouse Subs want operators to run about three restaurants. “Say it is a 45-restaurant market—for the AR to support 45 different franchisees is not effective. Supporting 15 is effective. And three units are better than one because that three-unit operator has resiliency in a down market,” says Delks.

The best candidates have outgoing personalities and are the face of their Firehouse restaurants. “We do not allow absentee owner/operators. Our owners must be engaged with their locations and their communities. They have to possess the propensity to get outside the four walls of their restaurants and market to their communities. This is so important, because we can’t compete with the 40-foot pole signs and the tens of millions of dollars in ad budgets the bigger players have. We need to be out there driving traffic to our restaurants,” says Delks.

Franchisees give back to their communities via Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation, which creates local community ties to the restaurants. “Last year we donated more than $2.1 million to 155 communities in 33 states and Puerto Rico, impacting millions of citizens,” says Delks. Dollars received for the Foundation come from collecting change in the restaurants and selling empty, five-gallon pickle buckets. Funds buy life-saving equipment for first responders in Firehouse Subs communities. The equipment is then presented to those first responder units by the franchisees.

>Firehouse Subs aims to have 2,000 restaurants open by 2020. “We grew by 98 restaurants last year,” says Delks. “We get some 425 inquiries about franchising every month. The interest in owning is robust. There’s tremendous opportunity across the U.S.”

For more information about franchising opportunities with Firehouse Subs, visit