Firehouse Subs Embraces Its Heritage

NEW YORK As Jim Carrey’s character in The Mask, Stanley Ipkiss, would have said, the sub sandwich category is “Smokin’!” And Firehouse Subs is answering the call with a nationwide expansion and a new brand identity.

Embracing the brand’s heritage will be a critical ingredient in new plans. The “If a firefighter says it’s good, it’s good” campaign isn’t just a new batch of ads, said CEO Robin Sorensen, who founded the chain in 1994 with his brother Chris, both coming from a long line of Jacksonville, Fla., firefighters. “This is the story of Firehouse moving forward.”

Now at 185 stores and with $90 million in sales last year (up 63 percent, per Technomic, Chicago), the Southeastern chain has inked 750 new franchise owners to open stores during the next five years.

Firehouse Subs will spend $5 million to air two 30-second television spots and four 60-second radio ads. The TV ads, via Erwin-Penland, Greenville, S.C., are shot documentary style using black-and-white film. They show firemen from two firehouses talking about what their days entail and why a good meal is important.

While Firehouse was tempted to tout the fact it has toasted subs for more than a decade, it did not want to come off as a me-too. “Quiznos says they’re toasted and Subway spent $100 million to say they’re toasted,” said Sorensen. “As firemen we all cook. The real story is our heritage and the tradition of our family. That’s the story our competitors don’t have.”

Technically, Firehouse steams its meats and cheese, and toasts its bread separately to derive its unique taste.