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Start Your Business Success Stories

Feeding the Entrepreneurial Fire: From Firefighters to Restaurateurs

Feeding the Entrepreneurial Fire: From Firefighters to Restaurateurs Credit: Firehouse Subs

Growing up in a family-owned business, my brother Robin and I learned old-fashioned customer service values from a young age. We looked for business ventures when we were younger, but decided to put our entrepreneurial spirits aside and pursue careers as firefighters.

Eventually, we realized that our love for cooking and dream of owning our own business was something we wanted to finally become a reality. After going back to the drawing board and hitting a few interesting business ventures along the way – rock 'n' roll, real estate, wedding videographer and yes, even a Christmas tree farm, the stars — or should we say subs — aligned: The idea of Firehouse Subs was born on a napkin one day in a competitor's parking lot.

We opened our very first restaurant in 1994 in our hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. To say it was a huge leap of faith for my brother and me is an understatement. I was still a firefighter at the time and Robin put all of his focus on the restaurant. When we first approached the bank about our idea, we were denied financing. Determined to make our dream a reality, we borrowed a credit card from Robin's mother-in-law and didn't take a consistent paycheck for an extensive period of time to ensure the success of the restaurant. Our common line is that when we opened the first Firehouse Subs on Oct. 10, 1994, we weren't certain we'd make it to Oct. 11. But more than two decades and many subs later, we're proud to say Firehouse Subs has grown to more than 1,025 restaurants and reached international status with our Canada opening in 2015.

Although the restaurants have grown to an international level, Robin and I are still very involved in everyday decisions for the brand. Daily we can be found working on the brand's marketing, something we both take very seriously. Every word, every food shot, every piece of marketing goes before us, where we offer unique but complementary perspectives on how our marketing team can ultimately advertise our famous subs and key brand differentiators. Either Robin or I have personally approved everything in a Firehouse Subs restaurant right down to the straws; something we are both very proud to share with others.

Through all the success Firehouse Subs has acquired over the past two decades, I think we'd both agree that our proudest accomplishment was the inception of Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation. In 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans, we felt compelled to help with disaster relief in any way possible. Since we knew our biggest resource was our restaurants, we provided food and water for first responders and community members in need. Since then, we've put our heart and soul into providing funding, life-saving equipment and educational opportunities to first-responders and public safety organizations. To date, the Foundation has raised over $23 million to support hometown heroes in 46 states, Puerto Rico and Canada.

Looking back over the past 22 years and seeing where Firehouse Subs is today, it truly is a dream come true. We both look forward to the exciting years to come and seeing the continued growth of restaurants, the brand, and of course, the Foundation. At the end of the day, our family and being able to give back to the community is truly the heartbeat that keeps our business growing. Staying true to our firefighter roots, while satisfying our entrepreneurial spirit, is what drives us to succeed every single day. Having this mentality is the forefront to what our mission stands for: our commitment to and passion for hearty and flavorful food, heartfelt service and public safety.

About the author: Chris Sorensen co-founded Firehouse Subs with his brother Robin Sorensen in 1994, in their hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. He also co-founded the non-profit Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation with his brother in 2005. To date the Foundation has given more than $23 million to hometown heroes in 46 states, Puerto Rico and Canada.

Edited for length and clarity by Nicole Taylor. Have a great entrepreneurial story to tell? Contact Nicole at ntaylor@purch.com with your pitch.