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    Keeping the Subway Love Going, 30 Years Later

  • Running a franchise like a small family business is something that never gets old.

    Subway
    Lisa and Steve Ginsberg run seven Subway stores.

    Steve and Lisa Ginsberg have been together three decades, and they’ve been Subway franchisees for just as long. Together, the couple runs seven locations. Yet to put into perspective just how deep this history goes, 12 babies have been born as a result of their employees meeting over the years.

    What’s their secret to longevity in the franchise business? It might sound cliché, but the Ginsbergs say it comes down to running each unit like a small family business. How they do so, however, is far more involved than a simple mantra. And it all starts with employees.

    Steve and Lisa took some time to chat with QSR about their Subway story, how they thrive in a changing industry, and what a family-first franchise really looks like.

    So, 12 babies have been born under your Subway watch? How crazy is that to even consider?

    Lisa: It’s really is hard to believe that in the 30 years we’ve been franchisees together, 12 babies have been born as a result of our managers and employees meeting, dating and ultimately getting married! 

    Our managers’ oldest “babies” are now college graduates; some are the first in their families to go to college.  In some sort of way, I want to believe that our philosophy about family has contributed to our managers staying with us so long and allowing them to fulfill their dreams. We have had our managers for a long time—one of them for 26 years (her daughter is currently in vet school). When you have employees who are with you for a while, it creates a family atmosphere and, I guess, the opportunity to really get to know—and maybe fall in love with! —your coworkers.

    Talk about this idea of running restaurants like small family businesses. How important is that today, especially for chain restaurants?

    Steve: My philosophy is to treat and pay employees well, make them feel like family, and, in our belief, that creates a sense of community. We give our entire team small tokens of our appreciation during the holidays; we provide our managers a birthday dinner, Thanksgiving allowance for their shopping needs, as well as paid leave the day of Thanksgiving and the day after so they can be with their families. We try to provide a family outing each year by having summer swim parties at our home to connect with them on a different level. We also give them lots of flexibility to ensure they don’t miss life moments, whether that’s time off for school or religious activities for their kids, or any type of special event that comes up in their life. These things have been very important to us and we believe that they truly enjoy what we have offered them over the years.

    We’ve also always recruited our managers from within our Subway team. For example, giving Sandwich Artists who show manager potential the first opportunity for that position. Recruiting from within truly empowers the Sandwich Artists to perform at their highest level with hopes of becoming a manager someday.

    We really strive for excellence in all aspects of life and encourage and help facilitate that for our employees too so they can be successful in life—at Subway and beyond. For example, we used to have a program for our high school and college students where we’d pay for 100 percent of an employee’s schoolbooks if they got an A; and 75 percent of their books for a B.

    Lisa: We truly are a small business: we have the franchise behind us, which is great, but we put everything into it and take a hands-on approach. I think customers really appreciate and take notice. And we’re members of the community, too. It’s not just a chain—it’s a locally, independently-owned restaurant.

    Subway
    The Ginsbergs have always recruited managers from within their teams.

    How do you accomplish that? What kind of community outreach do you do, or marketing?

    Lisa: When we get calls for community outreach, we try to work with each individual to say yes when we can, whether that be giving meals 50 percent off or free, depending on the event and relationship we have with them. 

    How did you each get into franchising?

    Steve: I was working for my father after college, but it was a 90-mile commute and I was looking for a change. My father, who provided full-service distribution to 7-11, AM-PM and Stop-N-Go (those were the days!) knew a Subway owner in LA, and I began working in a Subway restaurant that was up for sale at the time. After six months, I really enjoyed doing the work and the possibility of owning my own business was an incredible feeling. Once I purchased that restaurant, I knew it was a good fit and after one year, I doubled the sales for that restaurant. After several years, my wife joined the team and we decided to expand the business.

    Just how different is the business of running a restaurant today versus when you first got started?

    Steve: It’s very different today than when we started. The world has changed from 30 years ago.  To name a few: technology has moved in, the way customers give feedback through other third-party applications, increased competition, and procedures that require being more detail-oriented and hands-on than ever before. 

    What are some challenges you face today that you never thought you’d encounter back then?

    Lisa: We knew we would face challenges during the process of owning a franchise/business. That is the nature of owning your own business. Since we have been in it for so long, we’ve learned that challenges come with the business in general. The cost of doing business has become our biggest challenge to date—it costs much more to run a business in today’s environment than when we started 30 years ago.

    How is Subway positioned to meet these challenges? What are some key ways the brand is evolving?  Steve: To meet these challenges, we are giving it our all each and every day to be the best we can be for our staff and our customers. The brand is evolving to improve every touchpoint of the guest experience—from launching third-party delivery and a new and improved app, to refreshing the look of restaurants themselves.

    The Ginsberg family
    Steve and Lisa on their wedding day.

    What’s it like running restaurants together as a family? How do you make that work?

    Lisa: It’s not always easy, but we believe hard work and staying focused on what we need to do are the most important qualities. People think that running a franchise is easy—it’s not. It truly takes a village, and business knowledge. Not only is Steve a great businessman, he has a background in accounting, food business, technology, programming … the list goes on. He didn’t just come into this business saying, this is a really successful franchise, I’m going to buy into it; he knew he could really contribute to it based on what he brings to the table. Both of our fathers were in the food and customer service business. They worked long days and weekends but were really family men to the core. Those values and work ethic were instilled in both of us.

    Steve: Ultimately, it’s about trust. We trust each other completely and have the same goals and understanding which has been a key to our successful union.

    How often do you find yourselves talking about Subway?

    Steve: This might be a good question to ask our friends. We are pretty sure we talk way too much about our business, but we are just proud of the goals we have set and achieved. We have met many goals in our 35 years and being in business 30 years is pretty impressive.

    Lastly, if you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring franchisee, what would it be?

    Lisa: First and foremost, any person interested in being a franchisee for Subway should have the love for food, organizational skills, patience, love for customer interaction and dedication to the brand that you are buying into.   

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