Are you hungry? If so, you’re about to be even hungrier. If not, you will be shortly.
Last Thursday, I attended the “Friends of Firehouse” event, where I had the opportunity to enjoy dinner with the sub shop’s founders, along with several Firehouse Subs employees and other fabulous Jacksonville-area bloggers. Their new Mandarin location in Jacksonville would have its grand opening on Saturday, so we were able to get a sneak peek at the new location, sample countless flavors of soda from the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, and try four super-delicious sandwiches as the Sorensen brothers shared with us their stories of failures, successes and how the whole story began. (FYI – The Mandarin location was their first-ever store. This is the 3rd storefront of the first store. Pretty cool!)
I’ll start with the bad news. I had two pages of killer notes (and inside scoop) from the event that I wrote on the back of a recipe. However, after I used the recipe the other night, I threw away the sheet of paper and I didn’t realize what I’d done until the trash had already been taken out. The good news … I was able to salvage some good info thanks to the event’s Twitter hashtag, my not-really-so-fabulous fabulous memory, and my boyfriend‘ s knowledge (he works for FHS headquarters.)
The even better news … my mouth can never forget how amazing the four sandwiches were that I got to try. (Thank goodness!)
We began with a brief tour of the restaurant, which included a stop at the Coca-Cola Freestyle.
I’m not much of a soda drinker, but I was very excited to learn that you can add flavors to Dasani water. I did try Sprite Zero with peach, which was very good, but opted for Dasani with strawberry for the rest of the time. Over 120 flavors … seriously?!
Then it was time to grab a seat and start the tastings. YES! I’d starved myself all day for this. Plus, I’m a creature of habit and have only had the Turkey Bacon Ranch, so I was excited to see what else was out there that I might enjoy. Chris and Robin Sorensen, the co-founders (and brothers) of Firehouse Subs, welcomed us and began sharing stories as sandwiches were passed around. First up, The Hook and Ladder: Smoked turkey breast, Virginia honey ham and melted Monterey Jack, served Fully Involved (Loaded complete with mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato, onion, and a dill spear on the side.)
Let’s get one thing straight. I HATE mayonnaise. I’ve never liked it … on anything … for my entire life. But I ate it on this sandwich. And I liked it. No, I didn’t have a fever and my sinuses weren’t screwing up my taste buds. It was seriously so delicious. The melty mayo with the steamed meats … the sweetness of the ham with the turkey …. it’s fantastic! No wonder it’s their #1 seller.
As we ate, Robin and Chris talked to us about the restaurant, how it began and where the idea came from, the ingredients they use, and 411 on their foundation (bulleted below.) Let me tell you – not only are those guys hilarious, they also have a heart of gold and are passionate about their community.
Next up, Robin and my boyfriend’s favorite – The New York Steamer: Corned beef brisket, pastrami, melted provolone, mustard, mayo, and Italian dressing. Yep, mayo again. And still good!
I think this was my favorite of the two. The meat is just so flavorful, and is perfect with the melted provolone.
Ugh – already getting full. Did I mention they were serving us 1/3 of the LARGE sandwiches??
Sub #4 – The Smokehouse Beef & Cheddar Brisket: USDA Choice beef brisket smoked for 10+ hours, melted cheddar and special sauces. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t very excited about this one. Remember how I said I don’t like mayo? Well, I almost hate BBQ sauce just as much. Call me crazy. The “special sauces” = Hickory BBQ sauce and mayo. Sounds disgusting.
Ehhhhh … wrong again. I liked it! I mean, I REALLY liked it. The meat was so tender, the bread was perfection, and the combination of the melted cheddar with the mayo and BBQ concoction that’d been warmed and melted by the hot meat was superb. Seriously … I would order this. I know .. who am I?
Ugh, so full. Must. Go. On.
And last but not least, it was time to try the #2 best-seller, the Italian: Genoa salami, pepperoni, ham, melted provolone, Italian dressing, and seasonings, served Fully Involved. Again, not something I would have ever considered ordering by choice.
But again, I was completely surprised and blown away. It was seriously like an explosion of flavors in my mouth. The meats were perfection, and the Italian seasonings completely make this sandwich. Top it with some Captain Sorensen’s Datil Pepper Hot Sauce and you got yourself a killer sub! (Okay, let’s be honest … I doused every sandwich with that hot sauce. It’s like crack!)
So full. Can’t move. Why didn’t I wear pants with an elastic waistband?
Everyone kept wanting to know everyone’s favorite. I really don’t know which one was my favorite. Probably the NY Steamer or the Beef Brisket (gasp!) Though I did stop and pick up a Hook and Ladder the following night for dinner. Should I be ashamed? Is there really such thing as too much Firehouse Subs?
Oh, but I can’t forget the most important part! Cookies. But not just any cookies. Lemon Cooler and Double Chocolate Mint cookies. Mint + Chocolate = my biggest weakness in the history of weaknesses.
Is the mint cookie really limited time only?? So sad. SO GOOD!
Let’s take a break from food, shall we? While we were indulging in the feast above, we learned a lot from the Sorensen brothers and heard a ton of great stories. So with you, I will share.
A few fun Firehouse facts:
- The beef on the Smokehouse Beef & Cheddar Brisket is USDA choice beef that comes all the way from Texas and is specially prepared for Firehouse Subs.
- Chris and Robin may be sub experts, but they are also BBQ connoisseurs. They searched high and low for the perfect beef to adorn their Beef Brisket sandwich. (FYI – They themselves were hesitant to put this on the menu, being that there wouldn’t be an in-house smoker. They didn’t think they’d get the perfect quality. Until they found the one place that met their standards…)
- When they opened their first shop in Jacksonville, FL, they admit that they had no clue what they were doing. They entertained the idea of franchising a local sub shop, but after meeting with the owners and looking further into it, decided they could do it on their own and do it better. So that’s just what they did!
- Many of the Firehouse commercials are filmed in Chris Sorensen’s home studio.
- The infamous ‘Welcome to Firehouse’ greeting has been part of Firehouse Subs since day one. Not because they wanted to stand out from the crowd or overwhelm their guests as they entered, but because they were genuinely happy to have customers, and grateful to every person that stepped through that door. And they still are.
- The first-ever Firehouse Subs had one steamer and one toaster. Now they have at least nine steamers and a gigantic conveyer toaster.
- Before the sub shop, the Sorensen brothers nearly started their own Christmas tree farm. That is, until they realized that there was more to it than growing and selling trees…and that Christmas tree farms in Florida are much tougher to maintain than most.
- Their first shop was about 15 feet wide.
- Firehouse Subs has donated $55K worth of food to hurricane Sandy victims thus far.
- It is super easy to help raise money for their foundation, the Firehouse Public Safety Foundation: If you pay by credit card at the shop, you can round your bill to the nearest dollar and the change is donated; Purchase a pickle bucket for $2; Or drop change in the collection boxes at the register. Funds raised go toward providing funding, life-saving equipment, disaster assistance and educational opportunities for first responders and public safety organizations. AKA “The heart of Firehouse Subs.”
- Jacksonville Firehouse Subs restaurants and guests alone have raised more than $200,000 for the Public Safety Foundation year to date.
- The Kings Hawaiian Pork and Slaw sandwich was the most successful limited-time sandwich in FHS history.
- If you miss The Engine Company sandwich, ask and you will receive. They will still make it for you!
- The Public Safety Foundation has donated $5.2 million in life-saving equipment & resources to first responders across the country.
- On November 27, 2012, Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation is donating $300,000 to Northeast Florida police and fire departments.
- FHS is the only restaurant chain you’re guaranteed to find the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, no matter which location you visit.
- Firehouse Subs is very selective with their franchisees so their brand doesn’t suffer and the value maintains. In fact, they have sat down and personally interviewed every franchisee since day one, and will continue to do so.
- They never had intentions of Firehouse Subs getting this big. They just wanted to open one successful shop because they knew they could do it better. Hence the saying, “Our way beats their way. If you don’t agree it’s free.”
- You can find a Firehouse Subs in 32 states in the US, plus Puerto Rico.
- It isn’t unusual for them to sell over 900,000 subs in a week.
- They go through nearly every food product in the shop at least twice a week.
- For their past two Jacksonville store grand openings, FHS gave the first 50 people in line 50 free sub cards!
Pretty awesome, huh? Well, it’s about to get even more awesome because I have two $10 Firehouse Subs gift cards to give away. Yeahhh buddy! To enter, just leave a comment below telling me your favorite Firehouse sandwich, or the one you’re looking forward to trying the most! For an additional entry, follow me on Twitter (@BlakeleyA) and tweet about the giveaway. Be sure to include @BlakeleyA, @FirehouseSubs, #FeedtheFire and a link to this post in your tweet. I will pick the winners at random on Monday, November 26. You can thank Firehouse Subs for providing me with them, and you can thank me for not using them all for myself :).