When Jack climbed the beanstalk planning to steal the Golden Goose he was met by a giant ready to eat him for supper. The lovelorn Beast who lost his heart to Belle in Beauty Beast and the nearly iconic Shrek are all examples of the "Gentle Giant" who while not impossible to find, is still elusive enough to make him nearly enigmatic.
Robin Sorensen, co-founder of Firehouse Subs is hardly an horrific monster. Yet he is a big man with big dreams and a heart equally as large as the sandwiches he creates. In an industry known for cutting corners, ignoring the worth of human capital and dominating communities without taking the time to give back, Sorensen is truly a rarity.
While I wanted to understand the man behind the sandwich that uses close to a pound of meat I never expected it would take me to Great Falls, Montana, where I spoke with Sorensen on a 9,000-acre ranch that he co-owns. Nearly 20 years ago, he and his brother Chris came together to create a faster food service product that tasted great in a market already known primarily for half-baked bread, pressed meat and toppings that would send any vegetarian into a of crisis of faith.
Nearly two decades later and with a following rivaling any celebrity, Firehouse Subs is now one of the leaders in the fast casual dining/food market. Robin is no shrinking violet but during a 2-hour horseback ride high into the mountains of Montana he was unabashedly honest and humble regarding his success. "My brother Chris (Sorensen) and I never expected things to get this big. In fact, we started it with my mother-in-law's credit card. We weren't without a vision, but never could have imagined where it would take us. It has been a wild ride, but one I wouldn't trade and to see others benefit from our dream makes success even more exciting."
Fast casual dining/food is a term that has been trending for some time and Sorenson seems to have found his niche as well as the Midas touch in serving subs that appeal to the palette and sooth the soul. With 760 locations in 41 states and Puerto Rico Firehouse is still considered small when compared to what some call the competitors but Robin makes it clear he feels no pressure to keep up with the Jones,' the Subways or the Five Guys. Open about his personal "obsession" for finding and eating great food, he has discovered a way to include this in every aspect of the business with a reputation for never cutting corners on a relentless pursuit for the very best ingredients.
With new offerings that are heart healthy, this franchise spins a love of food and hospitality into a web of genuine concern and support for the communities it serves by means of its charitable arm, that of the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation.
Dedicated to improving the life-saving capabilities of first responders and public safety organizations it provides much needed grants both independently, as well as in collaboration with other charities. Both the corporate owned stores and the franchisees have created a decade of hope, honoring the resiliency of the human spirit by "raising more than $9 million in funds for equipment, supplies, and safety education for fire and EMS departments in need," noted Robin Peters, the executive director of the Public Safety Foundation.
I didn't climb a beanstalk nor did I have to break a spell cast by an evil sorceress to meet a giant. But instead, as is the case in any good fairytale, I was introduced to a series of interesting characters, twists of fate and a host of life lessons served up by the larger than life personality of the "Gentle Giant," Robin Sorensen.
NOTE: In the spirit of full disclosure, I have no connection to any of the brands mentioned in this article nor was I paid to write it.