How Firehouse Subs' CEO Navigates Coronavirus

    The chief executive of a national sandwich franchise weighs in on how he’s communicating with his team and guiding the system through crisis.

    Firehouse Subs sandwich franchise chief executive offers coronavirus tips.
    Firehouse Subs

    Firehouse Subs has more than 1,100 locations, most of which are franchised.

     

    Don Fox has seen a lot in his four-decade-plus career in foodservice. The Firehouse Subs CEO remembers well how he worked through crises like the terrorist attacks on September 11 and the Great Recession that started in 2008.

    While the outbreak of coronavirus and its influence on business has some comparisons to those significant events, today’s national emergency also differs in notable ways. For better, Fox says, we have some sense that the outbreak will eventually stall; he points out that the recession seemed open-ended at the time. For worse, he adds, the coronavirus is having a much more staggering impact on sales.

    But Fox is looking for silver linings in the midst of the emergency, and says Firehouse Subs is in a better position now to handle the new business realities because of its recent shift toward off-premises channels (the only way its restaurants are serving food now).

    In addition, he’s confident in the systems Firehouse has in place to navigate through the crisis with consistency and solidarity.

    “We have a great communications network, and I think that’s very important for every system right now,” he says. “And any brand that has weaknesses there, they’re probably being exposed.”

    Fox says the challenges operators are going through now can help prepare them for better and more efficient business when business returns to normal. But today, all restaurant professionals can do is “what’s right for the public, then what’s right for your team members,” Fox says, and expect that every challenge that comes their way is the new normal—at least for now.

    “At some point we’re going to see where the floor is, and it’s at that point that we say, we’re going to build,” he says. “And unless we take control of our fate and work hard as we can from that point forward to build, then the only other thing that can happen is it’s going to stay the same.”

    For more tips from Fox on how he’s steering Firehouse Subs through the global coronavirus pandemic, stream the podcast above.