For the first time in 11 years, freshly acquired Firehouse Subs has added a new member to its C-suite. The brand, purchased by Restaurant Brands International in December for $1 billion, named Mike Hancock chief operating officer.

Hancock, an RBI vet who’s spent nearly nine years with the company, including most recently as chief operating officer at Tim Hortons, will help accelerate Firehouse’s development in North America, a company spokesperson says. He’ll join Firehouse in early April and be based out of the chain’s Jacksonville, Florida, headquarters.

Firehouse’s COO position has sat vacant since 2009 when Don Fox was promoted from COO to CEO. Vince Burchianti was elevated to CFO in 2011.

Before his three-year COO run at Tim Hortons, Hancock spent five years at Burger King leading operations across North America, Southern Europe, Turkey, and Africa.

With Firehouse, Hancock will have direct responsibility and oversight of a cross-functional team that includes operations, technology, quality assurance, real estate, and franchise development.

The move comes at a time when Firehouse projects major near- and long-term growth. Its domestic same-store sales grew 15.2 percent year-over-year in the fourth quarter, and 23.4 percent on a two-year basis. As for 2021, Firehouse’s U.S. comps lifted 21 percent and 20.6 percent across two years.

The company’s comp sales and record-high $900,000-plus AUV drove systemwide sales of roughly $1.1 billion last year, compared to $872 million in 2020. More than 27 percent of those sales came through digital channels.

From a unit perspective, Firehouse exited 2021 with 1,213 stores worldwide—net growth of 19 restaurants. There are 1,164 locations stateside and 49 internationally.

RBI CEO Jose Cil said in mid-February, on the company’s Q4 call, the company was ready to shift Firehouse’s growth into “high gear.” Not unlike what it’s done with Popeyes, a chain it brought into the fold in 2017 for $1.8 billion.

Last year, the chicken leader experienced the highest number of openings since RBI acquired it in 2017. Popeyes finished 2021 with 3,705 restaurants globally—a net of 254 stores, or unit growth of 7.4 percent. That total breaks down to 2,754 U.S. locations (net of 146 restaurants) and 951 international outlets (net of 108 restaurants).

Founded in 1994 by brothers and former firefighters Chris and Robin Sorensen, Firehouse Subs had been a privately held company since store one in Jacksonville, Florida, to the 1,200th. Firehouse, which is 97 percent franchised, has tripled its unit count since 2010.

There’s plenty of runway, too. Firehouse presently operates in just three countries and territories. Burger King is in more than 120, Tim Hortons north of 10, and Popeyes over 30.

There are 47 Firehouse Subs in Canada—the first opened 2015 in Ontario—and AUVs, generally, perform above the company’s system average. Subway has 2,940 in that market. RBI has 4,519 restaurants across its brands.

“The opportunity exists,” Cil told QSR in November. “And it’s exciting. We’ve been able to do just that with Popeyes and Tim’s, which gives us confidence that we can do the same with Firehouse. And the common thread is it’s a great product. It’s a compelling business. … The team has done a great job from an operations and equipment and standards standpoint to do something that can be highly scalable.”

Emerging Concepts, Fast Casual, Franchising, Story, Firehouse Subs