Husband and wife Bob and Larissa Sullivan are behind the work to bring Firehouse Subs to the lakes area, with the restaurant expected to open this week.

They have plenty of experience from which to draw, a combined 45 years in the industry, with many of those as Bob Sullivan the former longtime owner of multiple Wendy’s franchises. The couple also took over Brick House Pizza in Brainerd as of February of this year.

Bob Sullivan had his eye on the prime spot next to Menards when Wells Fargo still had it’s branch office there, and when developers created a three-spot retail site called Northwoods Crossing, they knew that was the location they wanted. As they walked through the restaurant while it was under construction last month, vehicles were flowing in a steady stream along nearby Highway 371. The Sleep Number store is open on the other side of the retail strip with an open spot in the middle.

Bob and Larissa Sullivan are first-time franchisees. The franchise owes its start to its creation by firefighters and those names and the look of the restaurant follows that theme. Those entering should feel the firehouse vibe. The Sullivans contacted a host of area fire departments for authentic pieces to include inside the restaurant and give homage to the local firefighters serving the lakes area.

While a construction crew worked on the interior -- with its striking red, white and silver design -- the Sullivans noted a blank spot on the brick wall where a custom-made mural will be installed. Firehouse Subs employs its own artist to create the large murals, taking cues from the franchise owners to incorporate elements of their lives and the region.

The Sullivans were vacationing in Florida when they experienced Firehouse Subs for the first time. Bob Sullivan said the experience — of the food and the restaurant environment and service — so stuck out to him, they went to another Firehouse Subs in another area the next day to see if it was exclusive to the first spot or repeated. It was the same. It was delicious, Bob Sullivan said. Beyond the food, he said the way customers were greeted and the work team operated made the franchise remarkable.

“The crew was so welcoming,” he said. “The doors open and somebody walks in, they say, ‘Welcome to Firehouse,’ everytime. It’s never, ever missed. It’s kind of neat.”

The Sullivans also liked the focus on giving back to the community and first responders through the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation.

Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation has granted more than $539,000 in Minnesota. A portion of every sale at any Firehouse Subs in the U.S. benefits the Foundation, allowing the Foundation to achieve its mission of providing lifesaving equipment, funding and education to first responders and public safety organizations across the country.

This is the husband and wife duo’s first Firehouse Subs restaurant. The two have spent most of their careers in the restaurant industry, with a combined 45 years of experience operating restaurants for other franchise brands while being involved in the communities surrounding their restaurants.

Bob Sullivan said the firefighter brothers who started the franchise — Chris Sorensen and Robin Sorensen — came from a family of firefighters and were familiar with cooking from their work in the kitchen at the firehouse in Jacksonville, Florida.

“And that’s where they really came up with the idea and just opened up a sub shop,” Bob Sullivan said. “The quality is excellent and so are the portions. Larissa has really done all the training.”

Larissa Sullivan went to training in the Twin Cities area and at the company’s headquarters in Jacksonville, Florida.

“We knew we were looking for something else to get into and we were looking for something first and foremost that was big on community involvement and giving back,” she said, noting the focus on giving back to the people who respond to emergencies — firefighters, law enforcement, first responders. And they way the company operated was also appealing to them. “It’s very hands-on from the owners all the way on down and that’s how we like to run our business.”

They also wanted a franchise that was newer to this part of the country.

Bob Sullivan said they wanted to find something that would fill a niche. At Firehouse Subs they cut their own meat every day to use fresh meat every day.

“That kind of sold us, too,” Bob Sullivan said.

Larissa Sullivan said they also liked the fact all the meat was packaged and from the U.S. And she said by offering catering, the drive-thru, online ordering and pickup and the in-restaurant experience, they hope to serve the customer at every level. They are also looking at a couple of partners to offer delivery and might look at their own if it is feasible. The Baxter Firehouse Subs will have the drive-thru, which is something the company is just starting to add.

About Firehouse Subs

Firehouse Subs reports it serves a variety of hot specialty subs, piled high with premium meats and cheeses that are sliced fresh daily in-restaurant and steamed together to bring out the ingredients’ natural flavors, served “Fully Involved” for one of many plays on the firehouse connection with fresh produce and condiments.

In addition to its signature subs, the restaurant offers a variety of catering options from sandwich and dessert platters to salads and snacks.

The Baxter Firehouse Subs restaurant is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. The restaurant features a drive-thru window that is open until 10 p.m. It will offer third-party delivery and in-house catering services to accommodate occasions of all sizes, from office meetings to family gatherings.

In 2005, the Firehouse Subs founders established the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation with the mission of providing funding, lifesaving equipment and educational opportunities to first responders and public safety organizations. The 501(c)(3) Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation has granted more than $46 million to hometown heroes in 49 states, Puerto Rico and Canada. Each restaurant recycles five-gallon pickle buckets, available to guests for a $3 donation to the Foundation. Donation canisters on register counters explain the nonprofit’s mission and collect spare change, while the Round Up Program allows guests to “round up” their bill to the nearest dollar. All funds raised benefit the Foundation.

Celebrating 25 years of business in 2019, Firehouse Subs was founded in 1994 by brothers and former firefighters Chris Sorensen and Robin Sorensen.

This year, Firehouse of America LLC reports it will donate a portion of all purchases at U.S. Firehouse Subs restaurants to Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation, resulting in a minimum donation of one million dollars.

Firehouse Subs is consistently recognized as one of the leading brands in the U.S. among consumers. Newsweek recently named Firehouse Subs No. 1 in the fast casual restaurant industry on its 2019 list of America’s Best Customer Service Brands. In 2018, Firehouse Subs was named the No. 1 brand in the restaurant industry that “Supports Local Community Activities” and ranks No. 1 among Fast Casual brands in “Food Quality” and “Taste and Flavor” in Technomic’s Consumer Brand Metrics rankings. Firehouse Subs was also named No. 2 in “America’s Favorite Fast Casual Chain” rankings by Technomic Ignite.

Firehouse Subs has more than 1,180 restaurants in 46 states, Puerto Rico, Canada and non-traditional locations, has granted more than $46 million to public safety organizations via Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation and offers a rewards program with points for free items, free birthday subs and more.

Renee Richardson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchBizBuzz.