Firehouse of America LLC debuted a non-traditional Firehouse Subs restaurant on July 1, in the Jacksonville International Airport in Florida, becoming the chain’s first domestic location to serve breakfast.
The restaurant is operated by Bethesda, Md.-based concessionaire HMSHost and offers such fare as pastrami, egg and cheese sandwiches and instant oatmeal.
“We’ve done a couple of one-off locations like arenas in the past, but this is the first one that I would say is a long-term engagement,” Firehouse CEO Don Fox told Nation’s Restaurant News on Wednesday. “We hope this may be the first of many.”
The Jacksonville, Fla.-based brand, which has 1,084 restaurants in 44 states, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico, may move more aggressively into non-traditional airport, college, military and stadium venues, he said. The new airport unit is located in a secured-area food court.
Two years ago, Firehouse Subs had a brief concessions presence at the San Diego Padre’s Petco Park, Fox said, but discontinued it after one year.
“A lot of it is having the right space, where the economics work well,” he said. “And a lot of it has to do with brand exposure, which might be more important for a brand at an earlier stage.”
In Puerto Rico, where Firehouse Subs’ 12 units are operated by a Burger King franchisee, all of the restaurants serve a popular breakfast menu, but Fox said the operator had experience with breakfast in the company’s other holdings. The U.S. breakfast menu debut is narrower, with no pastries, for example, he said.
The menu includes egg and cheese; ham, egg and cheese; bacon, egg and cheese; and steak, egg and cheese sandwiches, as well as a popular pastrami, egg and cheese sandwich, Fox said.
Business over the first weekend was strong, he added.
“We’re Jacksonville’s hometown restaurant, so the airport workers were especially excited about our arrival there,” Fox said.
The airport unit shares a common seating area with other food-court restaurants, but Firehouse Subs was able to keep branding components, such as signage and localized murals, in the design. The kitchen is smaller than at traditional locations, about 80–90 percent of the space of a regular site, Fox said.
“When all you have is the counter frontage, you have to be a little more creative,” he said.
The brand elements included brick and firehouse imagery, as well as a number of grab-and-go items for travelers.
The limited-service sandwich chain does not have fryers or grills in its restaurants, so it had to be creative in the menu preparation, Fox said.
“The steamers that we use for heating our sandwiches can be multi-tasked,” he said. “We cross-utilize them with inserts to cook eggs.”
Expansion of the breakfast menu will be judicious, Fox said.
“The key thing for breakfast is that it is very much convenience oriented,” he said. “We don’t have drive-thrus, so we’d be handicapped on the convenience side.”
The new airport unit is also a homecoming of sorts for Firehouse Subs’ co-founding brothers Robin and Chris Sorensen.
“As Jacksonville natives and former firefighters with Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting at Jacksonville International Airport, my brother Chris and I are eager to serve guests at our hometown airport,” Robin Sorenson said in a statement.
Contact Ron Ruggless at Ronald.Ruggless@Penton.com
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