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Woodbury Firehouse Subs gives back to community and local firemen

A large, hand-painted mural adorns the Woodbury Firehouse Subs wall. The characters are also meant to represent area high school mascots. (Bulletin photo by Youssef Rddad)1 / 2
Firehouse Subs owners Steve and Patsy Linehan pose at their Tamarack Village restaurant. (Bulletin photo by Youssef Rddad)2 / 2

After nearly two years at Tamarack Village, Firehouse Subs is making a name for itself in the community — not only through its fresh and hot subs, but also through the restaurant's fundraising efforts for local public safety agencies.

With eight Minnesota locations, the chain raised about $155,000 last year to benefit local public safety departments in the state.

Last month, the Washington County Sheriff's Office received a new van used for special weapons and tactics callouts and transporting a robot and other communication equipment.

The Woodbury restaurant's decor includes a large, hand-painted mural of the Woodbury Public Safety building and other donated items, such as out-of-use fire hoses and a fireman's jacket.

The restaurant's owner, Steve Linehan, sat down with the Bulletin Dec. 28 to discuss all thing subs, and the brand's involvement with raising money for local fire and public safety agencies.

What's the story behind Firehouse Subs?

It really came about in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina. Robin and Chris Sorensen, the founders of Firehouse, went to help with the recovery effort, and they went to feed people. They were so touched by it and felt they needed to do something else.

They could see how if the first responders had this piece of equipment or that type of training that it would be beneficial. So they started a foundation in 2005, and the whole goal of the foundation is to provide equipment, training and education for first responders and for the general public. That's the way it started, and it's grown.

Since the foundation was founded, they've given away $23 million in equipment and training.

Washington County, through our store, got their van for their little robot. The (Woodbury) Public Safety building got (a defibrillator) for one of their cars.

We just had a guy in here the other day (who) was eating, and he worked for the St. Paul EMS as part of the helicopter crew. They bought new helmets for all of the helicopter crew in St. Paul.

He specifically came to thank us for getting them these helmets because it is such a big expenditure that they couldn't afford to get them. Whether the new helmets are going to save someone's life in the future, who knows? But it was something they needed to upgrade, and they just didn't have the funds for it.

Last year, Minnesota received $155,000 worth of grant money. To date, it's $292,000 that went to Minnesota. It's a big deal.

Was that part of the allure of opening a Firehouse Subs for you?

It very much was ... It's truly giving back and something that can help anybody.

What has been the local response? I'm assuming every now and then, a group of hungry Woodbury firemen pull in here.

That's one of the wonderful things too. The St. Paul SWAT team shows up here quite often, and partly because they know that they've benefited from Firehouse. The Washington County SWAT shows up every other week or so because they've benefited from us. We have a fair number from the Woodbury Fire Department from up the street who stop in. They're very appreciative of it and supportive of us.

In August, we also do H2O for Heroes, where anybody who comes in, and brings a case of water, gets a free medium sub. We give the water to the fire department for their use or when they go to a fire if they've pulled somebody out or they have people they're trying to house until they get rescue squads there.

It's just another thing we can do to help them. Sometimes it's a side benefit, but it still benefits the community.

What's the story behind the mural?

All Firehouses have to have a mural. They can't open until they have their mural. We tried to make it appropriate to our community because we're all very community-minded, and so that's why we picked the (Woodbury) Public Safety building down the street. If you're familiar with the local high schools, it's the mascots: the Woodbury Royals, the Park Wolf Pack, the East Ridge Raptors and then up in the corner there's the eagle from New Life Christian Academy.

Our understanding is that the Woodbury Royals and Park Wolf Pack is the biggest rivalry, so that's why they're having a snowball fight, and the Raptor's trying to spoil their fun by giving them a sheet of ice.

What was it about Woodbury that made you decide to open here?

There's a lot of economic growth, a lot of great people, a lot of new housing developments and a lot of great businesses in the area, and they just appear to be continually growing.

There's a lot of great activities for families to do, and it's fairly close to our home, so that's why we looked at Woodbury as the place for us to be.

We felt it was a good spot for us to bring this franchise in. It's so different and unlike anything else, and we thought it'd go over really well.

How do you feel Firehouse is different from other restaurants?

It's not a themed restaurant. People think it is because of the firehouse decor, but it's truly founded by two firemen. This is really the way they felt about the whole business. They wanted the big portions, quality meat, and they want you to walk out of here full.They want you to have the Firehouse experience.

One of us is here all the time, so it's kind of a mom-and-pop restaurant in Tamarack (Village). We make sure we try to visit with everybody and strike up a conversation.

We try to make sure the service they get here is top notch.

How do you feel having that family presence adds to the restaurant?

We want to make sure you're getting a good meal when you're here, good quality meat and a big portion. We also want it to be steaming hot when it comes to your table.

If you want a fire hat, we want to make sure you have a fire hat when you leave.

A fire hat?

We give all the kids fire hats when they come in. Not just the kids either, there's a lot of adults who want fire hats, too, before they leave.

What's the rundown of the menu for someone who, let's say, has never been here before?

We serve all of our subs warm. We steam the meat and cheese (and) toast the buns. A lot of the subs (are) "fully involved," which means there's mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, onion and deli mustard on the sub.

(The specialty subs) are served on a regular sub roll, and are roughly 8 inches and 12 inches.

The Hearty and Flavorful are served on a light wheat deli roll. They're under 500 calories and have the same amount of meat and half the cheese.

The most popular sub nationwide is the Hook and Ladder. It's also my favorite, and it's ham and turkey. The most popular sub here is probably the No. 4, The Italian, along with No. 5, the Turkey Bacon Ranch.

One of the more interesting subs we have is No. 3, the New York Steamer. It has pastrami and corned beef on it with a little bit of Italian dressing, mayonnaise and mustard. It's just a great combination of meats.

I always tell people too, we have a nice messy meatball (sub). You'll probably wear some of it home with you.

We slice all of our meat daily here, and we slice all of our vegetables. We use premium quality meats and cheeses. It's not the stuff that comes pre-packaged that's all laid out and you just slap on a bun.

People can tell when they eat the sandwich that it's (freshly) sliced turkey or roast beef rather than the stuff you buy in the grocery store.

The steaming process really brings out the flavors of the meat and adds a bit more juiciness to it.

The way the process is here is you place your order at the cash register. If you're eating in, they give you a table number and your drink glass ... We'll make the sandwich and bring it out to you.

Our goal is to get the sandwich to you in less than six minutes.

We encourage you to eat it here because the sandwich is much better right away when it's fresh and hot, because it's not going to be hot when you get home, especially this time of year.

Why do subs seem to taste better when someone else makes it?

I think here, in all honesty, the reason is the quality of the product that we're using, and the process that we use. It's not something you can duplicate at home easily, so you aren't going to get that flavor.

The other part, I think with a lot of food, is because I didn't have to make it.

How has business been in the last year and a half now that you've settled in?

It's been good. We're starting to come into our slow season. We had a really good fall and up through the holidays. Today's been a real steady path all day long.

What are some of the challenges you've run into as business owners?

Probably finding employees. If you drive around Woodbury, every store has help wanted signs in the window. It's just a real hard thing to find employees, so we're always looking. We're always keeping our eye open for the right people to walk through the door to ask for a job.

We don't get a lot of walk-in applications. We get a few, but we've found a lot of our employees through somebody who already worked here or whose friend worked here.

Otherwise, I don't really see any big major hurdles.

What's next for Firehouse Subs? What are some of your goals for the new year?

We look forward to opening up another Firehouse at some point in time. We want to keep building this, and we want it to become more family — and community-oriented. We want to be a household word in Woodbury, so when people are deciding that they're going out to eat, that Firehouse floats to the top. Not just because of the great food but because of the great service, and that it is a mom-and-pop restaurant.

That's what we really hope happens.

This interview has been edited and condensed.