A few weeks ago, I had the extreme privilege of meeting Robin Sorenson, the founder of Firehouse Subs. Robin and his brother, Chris are both former Jacksonville firefighters, self-made businessmen, and unabashed “foodies” who founded the restaurant chain in 1994 (on a mother-in-law's credit card, no less!) In the space of eighteen years, the two have expanded their business to an impressive 505 stores throughout 29 states.
Myself and several other DC-area bloggers were invited to the Annadale location—actually the 500th store, interestingly enough—for a meet & greet, some lively chat about the brand as a whole, and (most importantly!) some seriously good sandwiches.
Robin's explanation of how he builds each sandwich was mouthwatering, even before we started. A nitpicky guy by nature, he refuses to relinquish control of any aspect of his stores or his subs. Every photo shoot, every tabletop pattern, every sub name and nature must at least cross his desk for an okay before anything is put into production.
"When I build one of these sandwiches, and I want to put it on the menu, I really don't consider the cost of making it. I never have; each sandwich is just built from what I think will be the tastiest ingredients for the concept, and then we work out how much it will be. I don't ever compromise on quality."
And it shows. (If only the guys at my firehouse could cook like this!) The menu is here; we were given the opportunity to try five different sandwiches, all of which were melty, cheesy, saucy goodness. The secret? The ingredients are paired together and heated up in a steamer, keeping everything moist before it even goes on the bread.
My favorite: The New York Steamer, a beef brisket/pastrami combo topped with melted provolone.
Oh, and speaking of sauce: my favorite part was a pepper sauce, proprietary to Firehouse, that comes in an awesome hydrant-shaped jar. Named for Chris and Robin's father, a 43-year-veteran of the Jacksonville Fire Department, Capt. Sorensen's Pepper Sauce is made from Datil peppers, a Carribbean native that shares the heat level of a habanero with a slightly fruitier kick. (This author has personally put it on pretty much every food imaginable, and has not yet been disappointed. Pizza is especially awesome.)
Their father's shield adorns the label of the pepper sauce that bears his name.
Lastly, and most importantly: Robin and Chris have not forgotten their roots in the fire department. In 2005, the two brothers started the Public Safety Foundation. Taken from the website:
The Public Safety Foundation is dedicated to better equip, educate, and fund public safety entities. …Many first responders are forced to make do with older equipment and have limited access or no access to available resources. Our goal is to ensure that we are able to impact local communities by providing fire departments, law enforcement and EMS with the tools, technology and training they need.
In order to accomplish its mission, the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation plans to provide:
• Emergency service entities with life-saving equipment
• Prevention and educational tools to the public about the importance of fire safety and natural disaster preparedness.
• Financial resources to individuals pursuing a career in the public safety sector through a scholarship program for future firefighters and law enforcement, as well as continued education and training.
• Ground assistance after natural disasters by feeding victims and first responders on the scene.
Robin related that the Foundation has provided everything from thermal imaging cameras to meals for Katrina victims, and has been steadily growing since its inception. To date, the Foundation has raised approximately $5.5 million dollars for organizations and citizens across the nation.
Their most popular item? The bright red pickle buckets that are for sale in the store, as seen in the first photo. Once the 300-odd pickles that are contained within are depleted, the buckets are rinsed and sold for charity at $2 a pop; Francisco Tuttle, a man whose life was saved when his local fire department utilized a Zoll monitor provided by the Foundation, said that "…a Pickle Bucket saved my life!"
All in all, it was a wonderful evening, and my wife and I left well-stuffed with delicious sandwiches. Now, the contest portion! As part of the dinner, I was given five $10 gift cards to give to my readers for promotional purposes.
The first five readers who email me a picture of themselves at a Firehouse Subs location will win a $10 gift card! I'll post a bunch of the pictures here, too, so feel free to get creative (bonus points if you park your apparatus outside the store!)
Find a location here and give it a try. I bet you'll love it, and I can't wait for those photos!
Unrelated to subs, but equally as exciting: I know I left everyone hanging, but I just moved into my first house and this last month has been nuts. Yes, I won the bike I was vying for! Myself and six other cyclists from around the US were chosen as Foundry's first brand reps/sponsored riders, and it feels good. THANK YOU SO MUCH TO EACH AND EVERY READER WHO VOTED. I couldn't have done it without you! I just built my new bike last night and took a few photos, if anyone's interested. Click on the image below for a full album.